Last week I started posting about how to use social networking in a business setting. This week, I’m continuing that discussion with some principles that apply to social networking, and to online connections in general, and in the virtual part of the business world more generally. Are you a salesperson answering questions for potential customers? A thought leader helping people navigate the complexities of your field? A worker finding yourself constantly involved in endless Slack threads? A team leader trying to establish a successful work team online? Keep these principles in mind and you’ll avoid most of the perils of an online presence. These principles are adapted from my new book, Can You Hear Me? How to Connect with People in a Virtual World, published by Harvard this month. Please support this blog by picking up your own copy here.
Strive for complete consistency. One of the paradoxes of the online world is that we want other people to be authentic and vulnerable, but we punish them when they’re inconsistent. It’s because one of our tests for trust online is consistency.
Stay holier than thou. Groups online often become more moralistic than they would in casual conversation – and sometimes less. Don’t guess on this one; unless you have abundant evidence that it’s commonplace, keep the cursing off your commentary.
Know when to quit. We’ve all had the experience of getting cornered in a face-to-face setting by someone who won’t stop telling us about a topic they evidently love but for which a quick summary would have been plenty for us. That surfeit is reached even faster online; don’t be that bore. No oversharing.
Start face to face if you can. I know, I know. The whole point of the online world is that you don’t have to hop on a plane and go around the world in person. Heck, you don’t even have to change out of your pajamas. But if you’re starting up, say, a team that’s going to work together for a substantial period of time, then there are real human efficiencies in meeting at least once at the beginning face to face. People bond, exchange emotional information, and establish trust at a very high rate of speed face to face. Those same things usually never happen at all online. So think about starting in person.
Start as Simon says. Simon Sinek nailed it in Start with Why: people are much happier once they know why they’re working together. Online, that’s even more important, because a powerful ‘why’ can be a substitute for some of the missing emotional connections.
Make it personal. Send everyone on the team a questionnaire to start, asking them about their hobbies, interests, and favorite foods. Then have a discussion about them. It’s how we chat naturally in person, finding mutual connections and interests, so use the same idea more formally online. These topics don’t need to be complicated, and most people are happy to offer up this sort of information, consistent with their cultural mores and communication patterns.
Next time I’ll wrap up this series with a few more guidelines.