Making Great First Impressions in the Digital Age

Whilst in years gone by introductions were largely a personal experience like a referral or meeting at a networking event, today we are all connected across our websites, Twitter and LinkedIn. Every day we are being researched and observed by potential contacts we have never heard of…and may never get to if we don’t make first impressions count.

Recent research from Forrester estimates that over 80% of senior company decision makers now have a social presence. Not being active and effective on social media therefore means you are missing an opportunity to project your own positive image of yourself and to be heard- it can also send out the wrong signals about how you view your business and your clients.

Let me also make it clear, social networks like LinkedIn or Twitter are powerful tools but they are not a substitute for meaningful in-person relationships- so it’s important to view social media as a way to enhance and amplify your voice, not simply a means of communicating from the comfort of your desk. The power of making lasting impressions on social media is all about observing the conversations that are constantly going on around you, participating when you can add value and knowing when to convert a ‘virtual’ connection to an in-person contact.

Those business leaders that continually create a great impression are always preparing for the next meeting/connection in advance. Great contacts don’t often happen by chance and your current social profiles (or lack of) are already making a statement about you and your business- so here are some tips on how to make sure your first impression is a positive one:

Look and sound confident
What you say about yourself in your biographies and profiles says a lot about how you perceive yourself and how you want others to view you. The most influential business leaders demonstrate a consistent, authoritative but engaging tone of voice across all their social profiles. They also carefully manage their online personas, ensuring that personal and professional profiles are not mixed and that nothing is left to chance, for example remember to Google yourself and see what a search brings up and not just text and links but also searchable items such as images or video’s. Ensure that everything on public display is consistent with the personal brand image you wish to convey.

Greet people appropriately
Building an audience and contacts on social media is about engaging in an informative and beneficial two-way conversation. Thus, one of the keys to making a lasting impression is to share information and insights which benefit your community.

About 50 per cent of what you say on social media should be conversational- finding online discussions where you can add and receive the most value. A further 30 per cent is about promoting content useful to your audience, such as sharing news articles. Remember also that the most authentic conversations are about subjects you’re knowledgeable and passionate about, that’s why so many great business leaders are renowned for creating much of their own content, like writing thought leadership articles or blogs.

When the time feels right to make that vital contact, ensure you make it meaningful. LinkedIn for example provides a generic auto-generated “I’d like to add you to my professional network,” when you want to connect with someone. Take the time to write a personal note – what could be worse than a generic invitation- this sends out a clear signal that you couldn’t be bothered to take the time to say a personal hello.

Watch your distance
Being aware of personal space is as important on social media as it is in person but don’t leave important interactions to chance – practice your approach and your message and know the right place to have the most meaningful conversations. If you participate in a dialogue on Twitter, be sure to follow it up with a personalised request to connect on LinkedIn and if geographic proximity allows, then use this as an opportunity to convert a connection into a valuable contact.

Display a genuine interest in the other person
The most successful business leaders demonstrate the value they place on relationships, be that with their customers or colleagues. They engage people in meaningful real time two-way conversations.

So seek to understand something about the individual(s) you are engaging with. Research them before hand and ask them not only about what they do but what they love about it or maybe even what they find challenging. Practice active listening – hearing is one thing, showing that you are hearing can be another!

Be interesting
Most important of all, your online persona should be interesting. They should do a lot of the ground-work in terms of who you are and what you do but they are also an opportunity to share a more interesting side to you. When you are asked ‘what you do’, have a great punchy, concise, succinct and interesting response. Your ‘elevator pitch’ or ‘30-second impact speech’ is as important online as it is in person– the key is to deliver it in such a way that its naturally encourages follow-up questions … if you’ve nailed it the receiver will show further interest by asking additional questions and you’ve started a conversation with purpose.

[box]Dean Williams is an acclaimed business coach and author of the book ‘Creating Grade A Business Relationships’. He works with blue chip companies and SMEs providing 121 executive coaching, team coaching, leadership seminars and alongside Olympic Gold Medalist Jason Gardener presents motivational speeches. He has been successful in helping suffering businesses by increasing their profitability and is a regular contributor to a range of business press including the Sunday Times.[/box]