Building Real-World Relationships in a Virtual Business Environment

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Do you remember, back in grade school, passing notes across the classroom to your crush to ask if he/she will “go with you”?

Do you still use an actual paper phone book?

More and more, these “traditional” methods of communication are being replaced by our ever-present companion, the smart phone.  Relationship building has gone virtual.

This is good and bad news for business owners. It’s a wonderful thing to have global reach but the inability to connect with people in an intimate, face-to-face setting can really put a damper on establishing connections and building trust with customers.

So, how do you build those real-life relationships in a virtual world? It’s not as difficult or overwhelming as you may think. Following are six tips to help you get started.

1.  Be Authentic

I think we can all agree the internet is full of crap. Brad Paisley sings a song about online dating, where a 100lb flabby weakling that still lives with his mother brags on an online dating website about his 6-pack abs, massive bank account, and Lamborghini wheels. Don’t be that guy. Be real and be honest. People will pick up on it and respect you for it.

2.  Be Personal

Talk to any social media professional and you will get stories about how the post with the backyard bunny picture or the owner’s hiking adventure got WAY more attention that this weeks’ carefully designed sales special.  Listen, people do business with you because of YOU. They want to know the face behind the brand and they like to know what happens behind the scenes.  Let them in and let them get to know you and your team.  Don’t be afraid to let the “real you” shine through…quirky personality and nerdy tendencies, whatever makes you, you. Almost nothing else will work better to build trust with your virtual audience.

3.  Know Your Audience

How can you know what people want from you if you don’t ask? Research your fans, know what they do for a living, where they are from, and why they are coming to you. Watch the trends in response to what you are posting and give them more of what they want (even if it’s the bunny in the backyard). Send a survey or ask them questions over social media. We all like to have our voices heard; reach out to your audience,  then be sure you listen and respond in an appropriate time frame.

4.  Give Good Stuff Away

I am in the middle of reading a book called Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary is a well-known and respected leader in the world of social media, and is a staunch advocate of what he calls a “thank you economy”. He claims that he almost guilts his audience into buying from him because he gives so much good stuff away, people feel a responsibility to spend money when he asks them for it. Follow Gary’s lead. Put great content out for your audience without asking for their credit card in return (most of the time).  You need to do this CONSISTENTLY. When people come to rely on you and look to you as the expert, they are eager to read and learn from your next post or email.

5.  Show Your Gratitude

Sharing is caring. Follow your fans on social media. Share some of their posts and events. Give them mention in your content. Nothing says “I love you” like a share or a retweet. Send unexpected gifts and handwritten cards. In this age of electronic everything, there is nothing so special as knowing that someone intentionally took the time to do something especially for you.

6.  Interact with your Audience

Treat your fans as you would your best friends. If they ask questions, answer them. If they post a complaint on your social media site (everyone can see, gasp!), respond to them appropriately and quickly (so everyone can see how cool & collected you are).  We all want to think that no one else is more important than me, so treat everyone like they are your best customer.  It may take a little bit of time, but it won’t steer you wrong.

Whatever your feeling on virtual relationships and social media, the fact is: it’s not going away. In fact, it’s the wave of the future. Today’s teenagers that crazily text each other are tomorrow’s executives. It isn’t far-fetched to think that businesses will be conducted 100% virtually. Building strong relationships based on trust and respect are always going to be the foundation of successful businesses, but the manner in which those relationships are forged will continue to change at a whirlwind pace.  Practice these six tips and you will be able to ride the rollercoaster of business with a following of loyal and dedicated fans.

Cre8vely Yours,

April Signature SM

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