How to Be a Real Person Online

If I wanted to focus mainly on keywords in this piece, I’d probably have titled it “How to Encourage Online Community Engagement.” But that’s part of the problem; site owners and businesses try to “engage with the community” or “harness the power of social media” when they simply need to get real.

I’d like to give a tip of the hat to Stoney deGeyter for the insights in his article that inspired this one. I particularly liked his observation that “social media is more than just pushing content, it is actively creating content in small, digestible chunks. Or, as old people like to call it, communicating.”

As it happens, I’m one of those “old people.” And deGeyter makes one heck of a point here. When you’re chatting with your friends, you’re not trying to promote your business; you’re ENGAGING. If you own any personal social media accounts that aren’t connected to your business, I bet you get plenty of comments whenever you post something – possibly more than you do when you post as your business. I know I do, and I don’t have that many “friends”!

Why do you see such a difference? Well, your personal social media account probably has more history, but there’s also the fact that so many people know you AS a person, rather than as your business. What if you could get your business social media account(s) to behave – or dare I say it, engage – more like a real person? You’d probably get more people communicating with your business online, right?

So what should you do? First, stop mouthing off all the time about what you know. Yes, content is king, and continues to be king, but short attention spans online grow even shorter on social media sites. Do you remember the last time you went to a party and got stuck for three and a half hours next to the guy who was obsessed with bass fishing and couldn’t wait to tell you about his last fishing trip and the new lures he tried out and how he fixed his favorite pole and…you get the idea? Don’t be that guy!

Don’t get me wrong; I think most people enjoy listening to someone talk about his or her passions. Please remember, though, that talking is only half of being engaged; listening is the other half, and it’s even more important. What happens in a group if everyone only talks about what’s important to them, and no one listens to anyone else? “I belonged to a business networking group like this once,” deGeyter noted. “Everyone was there to promote themselves so nobody really cared about what everyone else was promoting. They wanted to get their spiel in and that was it. The group was a dud. If people only want to sell and never want to engage, nobody gets anything.”

Don’t just talk AT your audience; ask questions. Listen to the answers, and build your next communication with them around that. Heck, stop thinking of them AS your audience, if that helps. Audiences are passive; you want to get your readers ACTIVE. Ask for suggestions. Ask for opinions. Listen to the answers. You could get your next great article idea from your engaged community; you might even learn something!

Does that mean you stop posting articles or publishing quality content? Not at all. You can always do what we do here, and what I’ve seen many other companies do: publish an article on your websites and post a link to it on Facebook or Twitter or another site. But don’t just post the link; ask a question. Remember, real people post links to their latest blog posts on Facebook, too. Give your community a reason to want to read your content and engage with it.

Indeed, to some extent you can use what a real person would post as a guide for how you might communicate with your community. Real people look for advice, state opinions, listen to others, give thoughtful replies, and so forth. Think about what kind of “person” you want your business to be, and let your social media interactions reflect this vision. After all, it’s a lot harder to corner someone online for three and a half hours if they don’t want to spend the time with you!

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