HOW TO TALK TO STRANGERS ON THE INTERNET
As a kid, I grew up on an isolated farm here in Oregon. Our nearest neighbors were half a mile away. One day, when playing in the orchard to the left of our house, a woman on horseback rode up.
She said hello and I stammered a hi back, then ran. She probably honestly thought I was a ghost, a child in a long dress (my mom had a REALLY big thing for Little House on the Prairie) playing by themselves among a bunch of hazelnut trees? That’s already an X Files episode.
But I toiled over the interaction for months. I had talked to a stranger! I could have been murdered! When I finally got the courage to tell my dad, he said, “well, I’m glad you’re being safe, but sometimes, it is okay to talk to strangers, Molly.”
Interacting with your audience online is no different. There can be some hesitation to open up when you begin receiving attention. Maybe you don’t think that’s how business is done, or you’re afraid that people have bad intentions. Here are my guidelines on engaging with your community in a safe and responsible way:
1. Trust your gut.
I can pretty much tell immediately when a message or comment I receive is spam. The fascinating book Blink breaks this down, but we are hardwired to be able to smell a con. The trick is to not let your ego get in the way. If they want to feature your product and have never spoken to you before, there’s definitely a catch. You don’t have to be rude, but focus on the real people that matter. If they really want to work with you, they’ll keep coming back.
2. Take your time.
A lot of online connections will begin with something simple: a like or a comment. From there, as the brand, it’s your job to take time to continue connecting and acknowledging your audience members are there. It might be love at first sight, but it also may take some time before they make a conversion. That’s okay. Just keep being yourself.
3. If you’re not sure, ask.
Many pitches are open-ended. I’ve had people reach out just looking to talk, but if you think there’s something that you could help them with, just ask. It’ll be more engaging than dodging the partnership and show that you’re open to non-traditional means of marketing.
4. Remember it’s a 2-way street.
You can’t expect people to find you and love you without giving a bit of yourself in return. That’s why you’ll often see accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers, but only a few hundred likes per post. You’re not Beyonce: if you aren’t interacting with people or at least sharing your story, then what’s the point of having the audience?
5. Cut through the noise.
I turn off all notifications for likes, because you don’t need to follow up with that. Instead, focus on the comments and messages you’re receiving. Turn on notifications for Twitter replies, Instagram DMs and comments, and Facebook comments or messages. Whether you know the answer or not, reply to acknowledge you see that person.