Through the Spyglass


Don't Be a Jerk: How to communicate you're a decent, respectable person online

We’ve all met that person. The one who only asks for favors without getting to know you or offering any value on their end. The first thing they do when they meet you is mention how you can help them with something. You feel put out or caught off guard, and immediately look for the nearest exit or excuse to get away.

It's easy to think that online conversations are different than conversations in person. You figure people are busy, so it's okay to ask for something right away without really introducing yourself. But remember that social media consists of people engaging with other people. So when looking to develop relationships with influencers or brands, remember that a real life person is on the other end of that Twitter handle.

Now, I’m not saying that social media communication is the same as in-person conversations. And, at the risk of sounding contradictory, people are busy – when communicating online, sometimes they want you to get straight to the point. Perhaps your boss is breathing down your neck and you simply can't spend the same amount of time nurturing a particular relationship before you ask a big question and get the ball rolling on an urgent campaign.

But the basic premise of don't be a jerk still applies. So when seeking to develop relationships online, try to follow these basic principles:

1. Do your research.

Before you message someone and ask them to promote your company, find out who they really are. Who are their fans? What do they post about? What are their interests as a writer/videographer/etc., and what are their fans interested in? You might read a Twitter bio and think, "Perfect! This influencer would be excellent for our campaign." However, as you review their content you might realize this person is a little more "colorful" than is appropriate for your brand. Or their geographical influence isn't quite ideal for the region you're targeting.

In addition to making sure someone is the right fit for your brand, by doing your research and seeing what they're interested in, you might discover something they need. Ideally, you will provide some value to the influencer as well as the other way around. Maybe the influencer has a personal icon they would love to interview, and your company has a relationship with that individual or company. You can eventually offer that connection as an opportunity for the influencer and I bet that influencer would be very grateful. It will leave a positive impression on them. They then would be more likely to reference your brand in a positive way to their audience.

2. Make yourself known... and welcome.

If you showed up at an event and simply sat in the corner eavesdropping on conversations, you wouldn't develop any relationships. You'd leave and no one would have met you or remember you. You definitely wouldn't have any warm business leads.

Now imagine you're at the same party and you strike up a conversation with someone while waiting for a drink or food, or you see a cluster of people who seem open to having another person join. You ask them questions about what brought them to the event, what interests them about the topics at hand; perhaps you bring up current events of note, etc. Eventually you share about what you do and maybe some projects you're working on. You find some commonality and discuss overlapping interests. Maybe you even think of some way you can help the people you speak with. 

You exchange cards, follow up with an email and LinkedIn invite, and reiterate that you'd like to help them with something you think they'd find valuable. You leave them with a positive impression that you are interested in them, their work, and that you're willing to go out of your way to help. When the time presents itself, an offer from you to partner with them in some way will be better received. 

Now apply this to online conversations. You participate in a Twitter chat or peruse a Google Plus community. Identify the main contributors. They know what they're talking about, contribute regularly, and people engage with their posts. Then start a dialogue with those influencers. Check out their websites and their blogs, reply intelligently to their social posts, and follow their social profiles. See where your interests overlap and develop a relationship.

3. Present an opportunity for partnership.

Once you have connected with an influencer, and are familiar with their communities and their interests, then you are in a better position to share about a meaningful opportunity. See what you can offer of interest to them and invite them to share it with their audience. Maybe it’s early access to a new product or an opportunity to interview someone of importance. Or maybe you're attending an event in their area and you'd love to connect with them in-person. Invite them to be a panelist at an event. Having that established relationship will assist with the influencer (who is likely very busy and often gets asked for favors from others) taking notice of you and responding favorably.

4. Follow up.

Don't forget to follow up with influencers. Once you present your idea for partnership, don't let the crickets chirp for too long. Email boxes get cluttered. Don't pester them, but remind them that you're really interested and want to make it worth their while in some way.

There's no formula that applies in all circumstances. Each brand needs to evaluate the situation and related influencers. But the main principal applies for everyone: don't be a jerk. Think about the other person and remember that even though they are busy, they are also looking to expand their own reach. Offer something of value that both of you can benefit from, and establish that relationship first.