You only get one chance to create a great first impression

Introductions used to be a personal experience; perhaps a referral from an existing customer or a chance meeting at a networking event. Today however, we are all publicised and connected across our company websites and social networking sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn – so much so that Forrester estimate that over 80% of B2B decision-makers now have a social presence.

The reality is that every day we are being researched and observed by potential customers and contacts we have never met or heard of before – and may never get the opportunity too, if we don’t make first impressions count.

Does everyone in your business represent your brand? Does being inactive and ineffective on social media mean you are missing an opportunity to be heard or send out the wrong signals that you aren’t listening on the platforms where your customers are most active?

At the outset lets make it clear – social networks like LinkedIn or Twitter are powerful tools but they are not a substitute for meaningful in-person relationships – so it’s important to view social media as a way to amplify your voice and not simply a means of communicating from the comfort of your desk.

Here are some quick tips on how to make sure your first impression is a positive one:

Ensure your profiles reflect your brand message
What you write about yourself in your biographies and profiles not only says a lot about how you perceive yourself but also how you want others to view you.

The most influential business leaders demonstrate continuity and consistency, with an authoritative but engaging tone of voice across all their online profiles.

They are also careful in managing their online personas, ensuring that personal and professional profiles are not obscured, ensuring that everything on public display has consistency with the brand image you wish to convey.

The art of connecting
Being aware of personal space is as important online as it is in person so don’t leave important interactions to chance – practise your approach and your message and know the right place to have the most meaningful conversations.

If you participate in a dialogue on Twitter, be sure to follow it up with a personalised request to connect on LinkedIn and if geographic proximity allows, then use this as an opportunity to convert a connection into a valuable contact.

One of the most frustrating mistakes that people make on sites like LinkedIn is not personalising an introduction. There is never NEVER an excuse for using the generic auto-generated “I’d like to add you to my professional network.” Take the time to write a personal note that shows you’ve taken the time to say a personal hello.

Add value to your contacts
Building an audience and contacts on social media is about engaging an audience.

As a rule of thumb, I always advise that about 50% of what you say on social media should be conversational – this is most effective when you find online discussions where you can add and receive the most value.

A further 30% of your interaction should be about promoting content useful to your audience, such as sharing news articles or videos. There’s no coincidence that many great business leaders are renowned for creating much of their own content, like writing thought leadership articles or blogs on subjects they are passionate and knowledgeable about.

The final 20%, is about selling yourself and your products and services. Keep this messaging subtle, targeted and unobtrusive to give yourself the best chance of generating leads and minimising the risk of alienating the rest of your audience.

Display a genuine interest in the other person
The most successful business leaders demonstrate the value they place on relationships – by engaging people in meaningful real time two-way conversations.

The real skill is to seek to understand something about the individual you are trying to engage with. Use tools such as LinkedIn to research them and when first connecting, ask them not only about what they do but what they love about it or maybe even what they find challenging. Practice active listening – hearing is one thing, showing that you are hearing can be another!

Be interesting
Most important of all, your online persona should be interesting. Do the ground-work in terms of defining who you are and what you do but also use social media or your company website as an opportunity to share a more interesting side to you.

When you are asked ‘what you do’, have a great punchy, concise, succinct and interesting response. Your ‘elevator pitch’ or ‘30-second impact speech’ is as important online as it is in person– the key is to deliver it in such a way that its naturally encourages follow-up questions … if you’ve nailed it the receiver will show further interest by asking additional questions and you’ve started a conversation with purpose.

Tips for “Managing your online persona”: