There seems to be a perception that online communication is radically different from offline communication. I strongly disagree. As Jennifer Jacobson said in her new book, “Communication is communication, both online and offline.” The tactics are certainly different, but the objective, tone and purpose is the same. It amazes me when I hear of people pretending to be someone else online – especially professionally. Yes, there are the stories where it worked to the persona’s advantage, but most of the time, this is not the case.
One of my favorite online/offline stories is about Britney Mason (aka Dave Peck). Dave was (and still is) a middle-aged father of five, by his own description. He was new to social media and created a fictional person, Britney Mason, who developed a really big following based on her knowledge of social media and her big boobs (again, Dave’s description). No one had met her, they had just interacted online. One thing led to another and finally Dave was forced to fess up on national TV with a profile on CNBC. For Dave, and Britney, things turned out OK. But this is definitely the exception and not the rule.
For most of us, we need to carefully consider our behavior and how it affects our brand, both online and offline.
Online: Online conversations have been compared to a cocktail party. In “real life” you wouldn’t walk into a cocktail party, or a networking event, or other gathering and start shouting “look at me!” The same holds true for online communication. Here are some of the rules of online etiquette you should try and follow:
- Be authentic: don’t pretend to be someone you’re not.
- Be honest: lies, even little ones, will come back to haunt you.
- Be polite: DON’T YELL AT PEOPLE IN ALL CAPS!
- Be relevant: in a conversation, don’t change the subject to suite your needs.
- Be friendly: make friends as they are the foundation of your network.
Offline: Offline conversations are more natural for most of us since we’ve been having these all our lives. Not surprisingly, the rules of polite behavior are pretty much the same whether you’re online or in person. In person, you can tell almost immediately if someone is being authentic, if they are trying to pull a fast one on you, or only care about what you can do for them. These are the folks who say “thanks” but you know they don’t mean it.
In a recent study I conducted I asked professionals to rank a list of activities based on how important they are in communicating your personal brand. 10 being the most important and 1 being the least important. The results are interesting:
- Personal presence and speaking ability are the most important elements when communicating your personal brand
- Twitter, FaceBook and LinkedIn – while important – are less relevant than articles, books or your website.
What does that tell us? Your brand lives both online and offline. We are no longer one or the other; we are now a combination of our personal presence on our social profiles, our speaking ability and our books and blogs.
When it comes to building your brand, remember, we are who we are. Who we are doesn’t change based on whether we’re online or offline. Unless you’re Dave Peck, of course…
—This article is contributed by Laura Lowell, Author of the Amazon bestseller ’42 Rules of Marketing’ and the upcoming ‘42 Rules to Build Your Brand and Your Business’. You can follow her on twitter at @42_rules.