So much of business—and of life—is conducted via the internet. Unless you only connect with people you have already met “in real life,” as they say, it is necessary to take a little risk in building relationships online. I have met many people online over the years. Some have become my closest friends, business associates and even mentors. Some I have been fortunate enough to meet and get to know offline as well. With others, the relationships haven’t gone so well. What is the key for me in building trusted online relationships? Integrity. Those with whom I remain closely connected have acted with the same high integrity online that they embrace in offline relationships and transactions.
If you are online for purely social reasons—to keep up with friends, play games and surf the web—then the integrity of your online relationships and persona may not be as much of an issue as someone who is running a business, whether that business is strictly online or has an internet presence as part of a larger business strategy.
Whether your company has just one employee and an office at the kitchen table or whether you are a multi-national corporation with thousands of employees, integrity is critical to your lasting success in the business world.
So how do you build integrity with people who you might never meet face-to-face? How do you build genuine relationships and the trust that is necessary to the success of those relationships and your business online? And can you do it without opening yourself up to those who troll the internet intent on evil?
Here are six ways you can build integrity in online relationships
Whenever possible, use the same name for all your online accounts that you will be using for business. Whether you are using your name or the name of your business, it should be the same on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Foursquare and whatever other social media platforms you use. If it can match your email, that’s even better. For a professional appearance avoid cryptic nicknames or number-letter combinations like free email addresses often assign. These are often associated with spammers.
Use a domain email address that is associated with your business.
Domain email addresses suggest a permanency and purpose that free emails do not. You can keep that cute email address you set up back in junior high, just save it to use when you email your mother or your junior high friends. Yes, I talk a lot about the benefits of Gmail, but my favorite thing about it is that it allows me to send and receive mail easily through my domain address.
Choose your image and stick with it
Ideally, an up-to-date professional-quality headshot is best for your business, especially if you’re a one-man show. You can read more about the how and why of professional business portraits here. A professionally designed company logo works for a second choice. This means you don’t want a photo from last summer’s beach party or a photo of your dog, your parakeet or your favorite weekend beverage—unless, of course, one of those represents the core of your business. And use that image consistently (there’s that word again) across all your platforms, making you easily recognizable as customers and potential customers begin following you in multiple places.
Post with care
It’s good to share; it’s better to share wisely. Think before you post. By all means, share news about your business, share tips and information, share some calls to action, and even share enough personal information that people can get to know you and feel like they are interacting with a “real” person and not a bot. For more ideas on appropriate posting, read Open Internet, Insert Foot here.
Don’t be a broadcaster. It’s social media not broadcast media. Social means having interaction. It’s great to be active with lots of informative posts at regular intervals, and you also need to comment on your follower’s posts, including retweeting, liking and sharing posts and tweets that could be relevant or of interest to your business or your connections. Respond to commenters on your blog. You may not be able to respond to every single one, but thank them for commenting, answer questions and use the opportunity to build a relationship as often as possible. Here is one of my favorite ways to quickly thank my blog commenters.
Monitor your accounts
Make sure you have a spam filter on your blog. Don’t allow spam posts to show up. Whether you use Akismet (my favorite) or another spam blocker, be sure you have one activated. Moderate your comments if you need to. Check your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts for spammers and fake followers. There are a number of Twitter management programs out there you can use to help weed out negative followers. Twit Cleaner and ManageFlitter are two I have found useful.
Integrity can make all the difference between success and failure, especially in the business world. What are you doing to be sure you have online integrity?