We all know how important a first impression is. It can be a friend maker, a breath taker, or a deal breaker.
No matter how you slice it, the vast majority of us form an opinion of others in just a few quick seconds. But here’s the kicker. Now it’s happening online. Facebook is the new social mixer, Match.com is the new first date, and LinkedIn is the new first business meeting.
Yes, that first face-to-face meeting is still important. And you should do all those things your mom (and your career counselor) always told you to: Make eye contact, have a firm handshake, and dress the part. But you should also realize that it very likely isn’t a true first impression. Let’s be real, here. That person shaking your hand has probably already looked you up.
Like it or not, your online presence is your new first impression, be it personal or professional.
The new normal
What do you do when you’re considering making a purchase or finding a new service provider? You go online, of course. You search profiles and websites. You ask your networks. And if you think for one second that your business associates, clients and prospects aren’t doing the same, you’re in some serious denial.
Chances are very good you’ve already been Googled. Your various networks have been searched. Your articles, posts, and comments have been read. And yes, your photos have been looked at.
Whatever your prospects learn through their online research is now the first impression they will bring with them to your initial email, conversation, or meeting. If this thought makes you shudder, you may have some work to do, especially when it comes to your professional image.
Think you’re safe?
Maybe you’re one of those people who hates social media or refuses to use it. You might be feeling pretty good about now. You’ve put nothing out there. Your first impression is pure.
Well, this is where the bad new comes in. If your potential clients can’t find anything on you, they won’t have a compelling reason to meet or do business with you. You may be clean, but you’re also invisible.
Meanwhile, your competition could be showing up for their “first” meeting with a huge advantage. That company has an awesome website and blog. That person has been out there on LinkedIn and other platforms sharing thought provoking content and ideas. Your coveted prospect already feels a connection with this person, even though they’ve never actually met. And it’s not because they know nothing about them. It’s because they know something about them. And they are intrigued.
Avoiding social media doesn’t give you an advantage in today’s business world. In fact, it can put you at a huge disadvantage. And using it wisely can give you an edge. The key word here is wisely.
Here are a couple of ways to get started down the right path:
1.) Define your personal brand
What thoughts and feelings do you want your audience to have when they think about you? What do you want them to know about you, your organization, and why they should work with you? What skills do you have? What things do you care about? What is it that makes you different from your competition?
2.) Communicate it
Once you’ve figured out what you want to share, be confident in putting yourself out there. And don’t worry! You don’t need to be everywhere. Research platforms to find out where your target market is. Then, choose one or two that are most relevant and start interacting (hint: you at least need to be on LinkedIn). Follow people who are talking about the same things your prospects are, and get your message across in an interesting and professional way.
Introducing… the new you!
It won’t happen overnight, but you may be pleasantly surprised at how quickly you can elevate your online presence and start separating yourself from your competition. Just make sure everything your audience finds when searching you online matches your desired first impression. Because in the end, that’s exactly what it is.
Photo by rawpixel