So, by now we’re all becoming pretty adept at building relationships online through smart leverage of social media channels, embracing communities and participating in online conversations, en masse. But is online engagement enough? And, if we’re honest, are we sometimes hiding behind it just a little bit?
It’s an interesting dichotomy. On one hand, a lot of people are still unconvinced that the conversations taking place online could ever take the place of traditional face-to-face interactions and lead, somehow, to increased value for their business. On the other hand, we have plenty of believers who genuinely embrace the conversation and participate in the communities driving it, but who are not harnessing this energy to move their business forward.
Mass to micro
Failing to recognise the right moment to take the online conversation offline – to take mass communication micro, or one-to-one – is a major factor behind the lack of traction many businesses experience in their often carefully-cultivated social relationships. It’s here that we risk missing out on the opportunity to forge closer relationships, delve deeper into areas of mutual interest (and find out some incredibly interesting stuff in the process), have great conversations that are not limited to online formats – and ultimately, extend our sphere of influence.
It’s a matter of judgement …and of seizing the initiative.
To start, we need to take a realistic look around. Some connections are better off remaining online, or as part of the wider conversation. For example, when engagement is limited to passing and acknowledging information, the benefits of taking it offline can be hard to identify. But there are some factors which are tantamount to a flashing neon sign, signalling when the time is right for going offline, and for taking our communication from “mass” to “micro”:
When 140 doesn’t cut it anymore: Is someone commenting regularly on your blog or engaging in discussion with you on Twitter? If you sense a meeting of minds, let it flow. Whether or not the other party is a potential client is irrelevant at this point. You have the opportunity to expand ideas and concepts further…and you’d be a fool to ignore that. Hint: go for coffee, arrange to get together at a mutually-interesting event or meet-up, ask them personally (email/phone) for their take on a blog post you’ve drafted.
When you see a client engaging as a fan or ambassador for your product or service online: Online thank yous and positive comments on Twitter / Facebook, along with external blog mentions, should not be ignored. This person has an opinion about you and your service. They doubtless have plenty more thoughts to share on specific aspects of it, or would probably happily serve as a valued sounding board for new concepts…and of course, that will likely lead to greater engagement with your brand and enhanced word-of-mouth possibilities.
When it would be coy not to: You’ve engaged with someone for months or even years and view them as a true online buddy. Don’t be coy – your relationship can go from strength to strength on the back of some occasional one-on-one debate and banter.
The great thing about all this social conversation is that there is a spirit of openness and community which provides endless potential for value to be gleaned. And it’s OK to tell someone you don’t know personally, or whom you consider to be ‘out of reach’ (an industry leader, for example) that you appreciate them, or that you have an opinion on what they are saying. We don’t need to wait for introductions anymore. So don’t be shy (or lazy) about it. There are brilliant people in your online who should become real-life contacts, with whom you regularly engage both online and offline, at a mass and micro level.
Kate Spiers is Director at Wisdom London and can vouch for the value of taking mass to micro.