Me And My Big Mouth

Six Ways To Lose Friends & Alienate People Online.

Like many of you, I’ve been excited by the numerous ways that we can connect online, and wondering how I can adopt them to get closer to my customer. It seems there are endless opportunities out there and a day doesn’t pass without an invitation to join this new group or that special interest discussion, whilst my inbox grows heavy with comments and notifications from my new friends and colleagues.

But, like many of you too, I’ve grown dismayed at how quickly many of the new conversations have turned to mindless chatter, with contributors offering banal snippets of whatever comes into their head at that particular moment (like the Steve Carrell character in Anchorman who says he loves ‘table’ and ‘lamp’ when asked about the object of his affections during a discussion on love).

It seems that we’re offered so many opportunities to hold forth that many of us grow heady with power, and simply talk for the sake of talking. And that’s just as fatal online as it is in the offline world of meetings, get-togethers and social events.

So, before you rush to tweet, mail or post and risk putting your foot in it, beware these six common ways to lose friends and alienate people online:

The Russell Brand: Like many celebrity figures, Russell Brand seems to be someone who’s famous simply for being famous. He’s highly amusing, of course, prattling on about any and every subject, but rarely offering anything of substance. If you were cruel, you might suppose he was in love with the sound of his own voice.

Online forums and LinkedIn Groups all have their Russell Brands, contributing breathlessly to every topic without saying very much at all.

Suggestion: Don’t just say the first thing that comes into your head. As a business professional, you’re expected to look before you leap so that you can then add something substantial to the conversation.

The Cheerleader: Whatever anybody else’s contribution, this enthusiast jumps in with a fervent ‘hear, hear’ or equivalent. Whilst this uncritical approach is to be expected in the nursery or at party headquarters, it quickly becomes an irritant when scrolling down a professional message thread where every second message amounts to a pat on the back for the previous contributor, and a waste of time and attention for anyone trying to follow the discussion.

Suggestion: Show that you appreciate what’s been said by building on previous contributions, then offering your own take on them; rather than simply raising a cheer.

The Gatecrasher: Wherever two or three are gathered online, this party-animal assumes an invitation, and barges in to offer an ill-judged comment or criticism or simply hoover up contact details. Often taking advantage of lax moderation and determined to outstay their non-existent welcome, the Gatecrasher samples the best of what’s on offer before barrelling on to the next get-together.

Suggestion: Build trust and establish rapport by only going where invited or by politely requesting an invitation to join in the conversation, and don’t be an opportunistic fly-by-night when you’re welcomed to the party.

The Lampard Echo: Radio’s Gift Grub occasionally features a parody of Frank Lampard, who in interviews seems to simply repeat the unremarkable comments of his England and Chelsea colleague John Terry: “Well, as John says, at the end of the day…”

This habit has become a particular favourite of those on Twitter who simply retweet news and comments from elsewhere without thinking for a moment how relevant these are to their readers or adding anything to the conversation. Twitter, and other instant messaging, quickly becomes background noise unless it’s both timely and relevant. Followers may appear to be listening but really they just switch off.

Suggestion: Check whether something really is worth repeating before reaching for the share button.

The Know It All: Some contributors are so determined to make the most of every opportunity available that you find them posting on every forum, regardless of the subject. Wherever you turn, they’re online, pitching their wares and twisting themselves into knots in order to present themselves as experts on the topic in hand.

It’s no fun being in the company of a know-all and participants soon grow tired and fade away into the background, leaving the bore all alone.

Suggestion: Be prepared to listen first and learn from the expertise of those around you before bringing your own knowledge and experience to the party.

The Messiah: Followers, connections and fans, and the more of them, the better; that’s what this busy networker is about. Pass on your details and sooner or later you’re receiving invitations to link this way, fan that way and befriend in any number of ways.

Quantity, not quality, is the name of the game and once you’ve become another trophy ‘sign-up’, you’re unlikely to hear anything again, unless you’re on the receiving end of another mass mailing.

Suggestion: Be discerning about who you connect with and remember that, over time, you’re judged by the company you keep, and the quality not the quantity of those following you is what really counts.

So whilst there are numerous ways in which we can connect with our customers online, let’s not make the mistake of assuming that we have a captive audience and can say what we like, whenever we like.

The same rules of engagement apply there as they do offline: Before opening your mouth, ask yourself how you can help make the conversation even better (and sometimes that’s by simply being a good listener) and be thoughtful and generous in your contributions.