Here is a scenario – you are walking into the offices of a large, successful company. You step over the threshold, walk through the lobby, and approach the receptionist. She meets your gaze and smiles warmly.
You: I really like your products. But I have to ask – will they work underwater?
Receptionist: Thank you for your interest in our products. Your request for information will be submitted to our marketing department. We will be in touch with you shortly about your request.
Does this sound like a normal human conversation? Of course not – you would probably leave the building, feeling a bit put off. But a lot of online communication sounds like this. Replies to comments on blog posts, tweets, Facebook messages – stiff, formal, and claustrophobic.
The secret to genuine online communication is to talk like a human being. Nowadays, we’re inundated by automated messages and rote responses. As long as you maintain a positive attitude and voice, you can respond to your followers and commenters with warmth and good humour, rather than sounding like a lawyer sending a legal filing. Here are five important rules to follow with any type of online communication:
1. Be genuine – don’t use marketing-speak.
When it comes to communicating online, context is everything. The standard “thank you for your interest” line is most suitable to formal communications, like long-form e-mails and letters. However, social media is more like a personal conversation – a one-to-one encounter. People are used to speaking informally on Facebook and Twitter, so you should expect to speak easily and comfortably. Here is how that same exchange would ideally play online:
You: I really like your products. Will they work underwater?
Social media person: Hey, that’s a really good question. I’m not sure, but I’ll find out ASAP, and let you know
2. Don’t spam your readers.
“Help me get 200 likes on Facebook!” How often have you seen this kind of garbage on your social feed? This is one of the fastest ways to get yourself unfollowed or unliked. Don’t be “that guy” – develop a following by producing quality content. If you want to incorporate a call to action in your messaging, make a more substantial than “Like me! Please, please like me!”
Example: Hey guys, check out my new post: The Secret of Online Communication: Talk Like a Human Being. Also, did you know that you can “follow” me on Twitter (@nancyebain), and it’s totally not creepy?
3. Only commit to what you can maintain.
It may be better to burn out than to fade away, but to be successful in social media and blogging, moderation is the key. When beginning on a new platform for the first time, many people go on a message blitz, but go silent after a while. Don’t get me wrong – I’m as guilty of this as anyone. After a long succession of starts and stops, I learned the hard way that small, regular doses are much easier to maintain than a flurry of posts in short succession.
Example: That’s my post for this week! Check back next week for more; I’m going for a nice walk in the sun
4. Say what you mean, but remember that you’re in public.
It’s easy to get angry with someone if their comments are irritating or hurtful. But you should always conduct online conversations as if you are talking in a crowded marketplace – because, in fact, you are. Be direct, but also be prepared to stand by your comments.
Example: Hey man, that’s not cool. This is a family blog, and your language is way out of line >:(
5. Use emoticons regularly.
One of the biggest disadvantages of text is that it lacks the nuance of vocal communication. Emoticons may look unprofessional in formal correspondence, but are often useful in projecting a positive or irreverent attitude when there is room for misinterpretation.
Example: You don’t need an example here, there are four above this one!