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To Do More Business Online, Be a Little Less ‘Businesslike’

It’s nearly 2014, and you know your business has to be on the internet.

But once you’re online, just how businesslike do you need to be?

Obviously, your company’s online presence has to meet some basic standards of professionalism — make sure all the text on your website has been spell-checked and, if you use social media, avoid embarrassing meltdowns, for starters.

But succeeding on the web requires a business to discard some traditional practices and attitudes from the offline world. Here are a few ways you should alter your approach online to connect more easily with potential clients and customers:

Don’t overdo formal language.

You need a consistent voice for your web presence, determined in large part by the market you serve. But even if you are shooting for a relatively high-end market, don’t be afraid to loosen up occasionally online — especially when using social media.

With apologies to Spinal Tap, it’s sort of like a volume knob. If your overall goal is an “8” in serious, it’s okay to dial down to 6 or 7 at times. Users implicitly understand that the web is a little less formal, and using a contraction or addressing users more directly won’t turn them off.

Don’t be a broadcaster.

Old media was a one-way transaction — businesses used media to send a message to people. The people had no effective way to talk back.

The internet has made just about every new form of communication two-way. Now, with features such as social media, comment threads on articles and live video chats, the web has made it easy for any two parties to have a conversation.

Customers know and expect this. Businesses ignore it at their own peril. It may feel more “businesslike” to send out your message and wait for the customers to start rolling in, but that’s not how things work online. You need to post your content, see how people respond, and respond to their responses.

Be transparent.

Many businesses are afraid to post their prices online — “It might scare customers away,” they say.

Business blogging expert Marcus Sheridan refutes that line of thinking with five convincing points. Perhaps the most persuasive is this: You shouldn’t waste time trying to sell a product to
someone who can’t even afford to buy the product.

Talking about price isn’t the only way transparency can help a business online. If you use your website to tell customers a little more about how your business works, what the people who work there are like, and even what you think of the state of your industry, they will identify with you and even trust you a little more. And that should lead to good results.

Be human.

In a way, this sums up all of the points made above. Technology often seems to be anything but personal. But with the widespread adoption of the internet, technology has had an opposite effect on business. It’s much more personal.

Understanding and adapting to that fact is just good business.

Jon DeNunzio runs Squarely Digital, a digital consulting firm that aims to make the internet a little bit easier and a lot more profitable for your company. Contact him at [email protected].

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By Jon DeNunzio

Jon DeNunzio runs Squarely Digital, a consulting company aimed at helping other organizations get more out of their efforts online.

Specifically, we can help with editorial content, search advertising, SEO, analytics, social media and other customer/user engagement efforts.

I started this company after nearly 20 years working in the newsroom at the Washington Post -- both on its print edition and website.

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