Perfecting Your Digital Handshake
One of the first things you do when you meet someone — especially a new business associate — is to shake hands. A good handshake makes an important first impression on your new acquaintance.
Through your handshake, you convey that you’re confident, personable, pleasant, and a solid person to work with.
A weak handshake or an overly-aggressive handshake can send the message that you’re timid and uncertain, or difficult and overbearing.
A lot happens in that first exchange.
But, what about when you’re networking online? Do you have a digital handshake that conveys all the same things as a traditional handshake?
If not, you should plan to work on getting your digital handshake in order.
The Basics of a Good Digital Handshake
When it comes to making a good online impression, there are a few things you want to keep in mind.
Be a real person: No matter where you are online, you want to be a real person. That means you shouldn’t hide behind a company persona or take all the personality out of your communication. You can be personable and still be professional … mostly by being yourself while avoiding inappropriate topics. For example, let’s say you’re on an industry forum, and you’re responding to a post about social media marketing. It relates to something you’ve tried and you’re excited to share the results. It’s okay to let your excitement come through in what you say. However, if your experience relates to a bad incident with a client, you want to avoid naming names or getting into too many details.
Have a sense of place: There are lots of different places you might use your digital handshake, and how you execute it might vary from place to place. When you’re shaking hands on your website, visitors have come to the site because they’re interested in something you have to say. So, you want to make sure you let them know right away how you can help them. On the other hand, if you’re commenting on a blog post, you want to stay on topic and be generous with your knowledge. You don’t want to come across like you’re trying to sell something.
Perfect your USP: When it comes to a solid online handshake, it’s important that you can convey your value and do it quickly. You do that through your Unique Sales Proposition, which helps to set you apart from the competition. So, for example, using a USP on your website like, “I bring you more sales through better web writing” might accurately convey the biggest benefit you bring to your clients but it doesn’t necessarily convey it in a memorable way. “I bring you more sales by making your clients fall in love with you,” might stand out a little more.
Be generous: Wherever you are on the Web, you can make a stronger first impression by being generous. Share your knowledge. If someone solicits advice, do your best to give it. If someone asks you to contribute to his site, see if you can find a way to make that work. If someone wants to do an interview with you, say yes if possible.
A Different Handshake for Different Modes of Contact
Once you’ve nailed down the basics, it’s time to think about how you want to present yourself when you’re working in different channels. The first impression you make on your website might be different than the first impression you want to make through your email newsletter. This goes back to understanding where you are.
When you’re making a first impression through your website or an online event, you’re often connecting with people who are completely unfamiliar with you. You want to anticipate their questions and make sure you give them the information they’re looking for. Now is not the time to be cute or clever. Now is the time to be straightforward and to present your knowledge clearly and concisely.
When you’re making an impression through an industry forum or in response to an industry blog, the people you’re “shaking hands with” have even less context about who you are than those who arrive at your website or attend an event where you’re presenting. Be polite. Stay on topic. And, try to share something new and useful. Let your personality come through, but follow the basic rules of Internet etiquette.
Your handshake on your blog or through social media will be slightly different than on your website or in response to a forum post. Chances are, you’ve already made a first impression and you’re on to the relationship-building phase. Your handshake on your blog or in social media will be a little more familiar. Be friendly. Let your personality shine through. And, work to provide fresh information to your following. If you can’t help being cute, clever, or funny, this is the space to do it in.
How you present yourself to your email audience (whether through your email newsletter or through an initial email to a potential prospect) will be different again. In the case of email, you want to be aware that you’re entering your reader’s email inbox, which is like entering their home, so behave accordingly. Get right to the point, and let your host know why you’re there. Make your contact useful. And, always be polite.
No matter where you’re connecting online, you want to cultivate a voice that conveys your personality and credibility. You want to be professional, approachable, and consistent. Any time you make a first impression online (or a second impression or third), it’s the same as shaking somebody’s hand. Keep that in mind and approach every situation with confidence (even if you have to fake it), an eye for the opportunity to share your knowledge, and the willingness to let your personality and voice shine through. Work on your digital handshake, and you’ll find you’re more successful at developing relationships that eventually convert to clients.
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