You’re at a professional networking event. Adult beverage in hand, you are chatting with a few colleagues, you know pretty well. You are conversing in a public venue—just like you do in social media. At some point a stranger joins you.
One of two things happens next:
Option A: The stranger intrudes on your conversation with people you know. He puts a business card in front of your eyes. He starts talking about what he sells and why you should buy from him. He keeps talking, as one at a time, you and your friends retreat from your small social circle and regroup elsewhere in the room
Option B: The stranger joins your circle, with a smile and nod, but doesn’t speak. She listens to what the three of you say for a while. When she finally joins the conversation, she adds an interesting or useful tidbit to the topic the three of you had been discussing.
So many companies, new to social media, come in not listening but talking—talking about themselves and talking about why you should buy from this intruder. Everyone knows that the conversational intruder will do poorly in real life? So why do so many companies behave precisely this way online?
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In real life we are rarely successful at being strictly business. We walk into an important meeting and start by asking about family or friends or how the team you both root for could have possibly lost that game.
Why so many business people try to mask their humanity online is beyond me. Why they intrude into existing conversations rather than join them is puzzlement. Why they try to qualify you as a prospect or get you to register somewhere seems to me less effective than starting the conversation about how pleasant it is outside now that winter is gone.
Both these stories are designed to make a point. The best way to win in social media is to behave there in precisely the same way you have succeeded in your business.
If you are a small business professional, chances are you have acquired the skills you need in social media, over the counter in a retail establishment or in professional gathering you have attended. You need to be a good listener. You need to read a situation before joining in. You should show a little of your human side. You should also use a professional but informal style.
I would vastly prefer to see your face than your business logo. I would rather talk to an individual referring to herself as I, then a faceless, nameless we.
This becomes particularly important in small business. Chances are strong that whatever you sell, there is a franchise, big box or chain offering similar goods or services at a lower price.