Increasingly, we’re seeing the well-articulated fear that a consequence of our digital age is the loss of meaningful interactions, which are being replaced by “likes” and superficial conversations.
As a community manager, I look at things a little differently. By the nature of my role, I spend a lot of time conversing with people online. I always chuckle at articles that deem email to be the big distractor, as I unavoidably have it open at all times. That is because as a community manager, it is my job to establish connections with people – entirely online.
For this reason, I’ve come to understand you can develop meaningful relationships in this space, and the medium allows you to connect with people you otherwise would not encounter (surely we’ll soon have to rethink the “six degrees of separation).
If you are committed to connecting with people online in a meaningful way, here are some recommendations that come from my own experiences:
It is glaring obvious when you’re not being genuine.
I am a member of several LinkedIn groups, and I will often peruse them purely out of fascination for the dynamics at play. Most threads center on an article that is published, but every once in awhile someone will ask a question. For example, recently someone posted looking for advice on building a content strategy for their business. Out of the five answers, two of them were from people trying to sell their own services as a strategist. That I knew this from their one-sentence response is an indication of a failed attempt at making contact, stemming from a disingenuous agenda.
Personalized messages are much more effective.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for templates, and there are many situations where I would recommend using them. However, if your end goal is to establish a real connection, I recommend putting in a little research before writing to someone new, and making sure your message reflects it. Yes, it is a bigger investment, but if this is someone you want to talk to, it will be worth it. Think about the Golden Rule. Wouldn’t you be more likely to respond to someone if they demonstrated an understanding of who you are? Put the online pieces together to understand what interests this person, and how they might want to be approached.
Take it to the next level by picking up the phone.
The interwebs may be your starting point, but people are quite receptive to a phone call, (or even video conference) if you ask at the appropriate time. There are a few reasons why this is a good idea. For starters, tone is a lot more ambiguous in writing. Here is a great sketch that highlights how easy it is to misunderstand written text (warning: curse words are plentiful in this). A phone call will allow you the opportunity to show your genuine intentions. Secondly, you will deepen the relationship, and open the door for further dialogue.
You never know where you relationships will lead.
The vast majority of connections I have in the association space have stemmed from an email, an online community or even a tweet. From there I’ve gotten friendships, ideas for projects, referrals to other people and I’ve gotten inspired.
The online space allows you to connect with likeminded people in a powerful way, but you have to be willing to invest the time in people. One hundred “likes” will still never yield a true friendship, but consider these types of interactions an entry point into a much more human connection.