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online-vs-offline-business“In real life” is the common phrase used to distinguish offline relationships from online ones. As the number of business transactions, customer service conversations and brand building efforts occurring online grows, understanding how to communicate and build relationships virtually becomes that much more important.

The good news is: there is no trick to be learned.

This is a question I hear a lot, but the fact is you already know how to talk to your customers on social media because you should chat with them online in the same way and about the same things as you would if they walked into your store. For example, if a woman walked in with her baby, chances are you’d compliment the baby’s cuteness or clothing, or ask how old the baby is. If a man was standing at the counter checking out, and commented about heading to a movie that night, you’d likely ask what movie he was going to see.

The parallel between the online and offline business worlds continues with business blogging and marketing materials. You can easily compile a list of content ideas for your business blog because you are very familiar with the questions your customers frequently ask you. Also, you already know how to promote your online properties because your website and social media profiles are pieces of your contact information, and you already know the places where you’ve put your mailing address, phone number and email.

Let’s take this one step further.

Your online properties – meaning, your website and social media profiles – are the internet equivalent of your physical store location. You would never be OK having burnt-out bulbs in your sign, having an unkempt front entrance, setting up your store in a way that was confusing to navigate nor allow the phone to ring endlessly without answering it. You would never do any of these things because you know it would give your customers a very poor impression of your business.

The online equivalent of these examples would be having dormant social media profiles, not responding to @mentions or comments left, having social profiles missing imagery and bios, and a website that frustrates visitors to the point to clicking away.

Chances are very good that every online question or challenge you may face has an offline parallel. Knowing this should help many small business owners feel more at ease about growing their businesses online.

Just remember that when in doubt, think, “What would I do ‘in real life’?“, and you’ll know how to proceed.

*Photo credit SEOPlanter