There are all kinds of tips, tricks and best practices for communicating what it is that you, uniquely, have to offer the world, and hey–it’s all good, baby!
But at some point, it’s useful to step back and look at the framework from which they’re all—and I do mean ALL—suspended. Examples of framing devices are the maxim (e.g., “It’s about them, not you”) or the creed (e.g., AA’s famous Steps or a set of commandments, like my friend Gretchen Rubin’s 12 Commandments of Gretchen.
Somewhere between a maxim and a creed is a set of guiding principles I’ve come up with after observing for myself what does and doesn’t work for me interacting with people via social media (and that includes older “new” media like emailing and participating on mailing lists, too). I’ve found that when I adhere to these principles, my connections form more easily and that when others do, I’m more drawn to them and more inclined to want to spread the word of their unique fabulosity to others.
What are the principles of Right Behavior online? They’re simple, and there are just three of them, so even my fellow focus-challenged brethren can stay focused on them:
- Be Useful.
- Be Specific.
- Be Nice.
Like most maxims and creeds, this is a super-abbreviated master formula or recipe. To get use out of it, you need a basic understanding of what each action looks like in, well, action. Then, once you really get it, you practice those things until like a great chef, you naturally combine the actions and ingredients in ways that are uniquely you.
Forgive me for getting woo-woo on you here, but ultimately, I believe each of us is here to grow by learning how to share our unique gifts in a way that helps others. Even if you don’t believe that, one cold, hard look at the way people are wired tells you that when you can feed people’s core preservational self-interests by being profoundly useful, they will love you. A lot, probably.
But you’ll also get a charge out of it because doing it makes you feel better. When you share the name of a great book you read or post a link to some fabulous TED talk you just saw or answer a question someone has or anything else you know someone else will get something out of, you feel good (come on—at least a little good!)
And when they feel good because you wrote a cogent review about something they were interested in, or share a batch of resources they’re pretty sure they will find useful, they remember you as the person who created that feeling in them, and they start to feel good about you. Win/win!
As any actor will tell you, each of us can play anything. Only we can’t, probably, and even if we can, presenting ourselves that way to the people looking to hire someone to fulfill a specific need is not useful (ruh-roh! start to see how this stuff is all connected?)
Actors do better when they present themselves as a type—at least, initially. It helps casting directors and producers know where to put you now, or to file you in their mental filing cabinets for easy future retrieval.
Similarly, there is no such thing as a business that can solve every problem or a blog about everything (like, um, mine. Hey, take my advice; I’m not using it.) Staying within your area(s) of expertise when giving advice on a forum or even posting updates to Twitter will help brand you better. Not to mention keep your head from exploding.
Nobody likes a meanie, and online, it’s all too easy for things to get misinterpreted. Be really careful about tone online, and watch out for spreading mean gossip or even venting, unless you’re sure you’re in a secure space. (And even then, just assume that whatever you say can be seen by anyone.)
Also, give what you have to offer with a kindly spirit. Nobody likes someone who grudgingly gives up a contact or a shortcut or a tip. If you can’t give freely, consider finding a nice way of saying “no”; the “no sandwich” comes in really useful here.
* * *
Once you’ve started to look at your communications through this lens, it’s virtually impossible to go back to the old, flailing, “Look at me! look at me!” way of doing things. It also removes a lot of the anxiety you can have about what to post on your blog, how to use Twitter and Facebook, or what types of comments you should be leaving to maximize your time spent online.
Next month: The Three Prongs of Usefulness, and how to make use of them to build your brand online.
[Volume 3, Number 08 | August 2009]