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December 6, 2011

What Internet Marketing Can Teach Us About Interpersonal Communication

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Audience: Web marketers
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes 

I have a clogged ear. It’s filled with fluid and the doc tells me there’s nothing I can do but just wait. Now I find myself asking those around me to repeat themselves, because I can’t hear a doggone thing. When I speak or chew, all I can hear is the inside of my head.

It got me thinking about listening; loss of hearing in just one ear can totally change not only your experience in the world, but also the experiences of those around you when they interact with you. Then I began to think about the art of listening and communication in business.

One to One (or a defined many) communication

See, nobody knows how to communicate to a business’ customers better than Internet marketers (backed by the wisdom of the business owner, of course).

Our job is to listen to and anticipate what people want, and then deliver it to them.

Web marketing teaches us many lessons in communications — how to listen, how to speak, how to understand needs and react accordingly.

Think about all the things we as professionals can learn from this craft and apply to our interpersonal communications.

Let’s explore …

Twitter Helps Us Be Concise Communicators

How often are you trapped in a conversation with someone who just can’t seem to get to the point? It takes them a whole trip around the block and back to get to that last sentence that carries the entire meaning of the conversation. Some people do it unintentionally, while others have agendas behind the blab.

Twitter has helped millions of blabbermouths learn how to get to the point and accomplish the very same thing it would have taken them to do in 10 minutes, in just 140 characters.

Truth is, people are busy. Lessons from Twitter can teach us to respect people’s time by communicating what it is we want to say to them quickly and concisely. Throw in a couple keywords and hashtags, and you’re well on your way to ensuring people know exactly what you mean in the shortest time possible.

Try it in your next business meeting, and see what you can accomplish in less time.

Facebook Teaches Us How to Use Discretion in Our Communication

Not long after social media became a part of many people’s lives, many of those people experienced the backlash of word vomiting all over the place mixed with posting incriminating photos. We learned over time that we have to be somewhat careful what we say on Facebook, because the world is listening.

When we market a business in a social community, the audience is watching its behavior and how it  speaks to them – and there are a lot of personalities to please. That doesn’t mean lie about who the business is, because transparency should be one of the key drivers of social media engagement … but a little discretion goes a long way.

Think about how many people do not use discretion when they speak throughout our interactions. While we can appreciate straightforwardness and being forthright, having to hear every single detail, thought or opinion a person has can be exhausting. In these cases, the communicator is not respecting the wants and needs of the other person in the conversation.

This goes hand-in-hand with the responsibility we as marketers have to understanding the community we are talking to. Once we know who our audience is, our conversations are more engaging, more worthwhile.

The same can be applied to our interpersonal relationships. Make sure the conversation is balanced and tailored to the person; otherwise, you’re just another worthless print advertisement having a one-way, uninformed and self-serving conversation.

Google+ Reinforces That it’s OK to Speak Differently to Different People

And if you don’t want to feel guilty about not being 100 percent open and honest about who you are 100 percent of the time, Google+ tells us it’s OK to go ahead and compartmentalize your communication efforts.

In this very interesting presentation pre-Google+ (looking back, I now understand this was pre-empting Google’s impending social community), Google talks about how social communities online should mimic our social circles in real life. We wouldn’t talk the same way to our grandmas as we would to our friends, right?

Google+ reinforces the idea that it’s OK to tailor our conversations to the right audience. This works in business and interpersonal relationships. Grandma doesn’t need to know all about your wild days back in college, just like your best friend doesn’t need to know about that rash that grandma gave you a home remedy for.

We Learn from Websites to Put Our Best Foot Forward

When you visit a website, do you see a bunch of copy that’s complaining about all the problems a business has about itself, its clients and the world at large? No, because when we write content for a website, we want to be as helpful as possible to those reading it, while at the same time presenting the business in the best light.

This does not mean we as humans should run around with masks on that hide who we are and what we are feeling, nor does it mean we have to have a solution to every problem. But, there’s a time and place for everything.

Putting your best foot forward in your communications positively affects your own psyche as well as those around you. Words can be used for good or bad, and they are very, very powerful. We think about what we say as businesses within our communications to ensure we uphold the brand.

But, do we always apply the same thoughtfulness to our communications as ourselves?

Think about this next time you have a conversation with others, and how what you are saying is staying true to who you are, while at the same time respecting others’ right to their opinions.

Great websites also offer food for thought; helpful information. This same approach can be applied to your interaction with others. A friend approaching you with a problem with her partner can be met with you either focusing on all the things that are wrong in the relationship or you thinking of ways to help give added perspective.

Conversion Optimization Teaches Us How to Listen and Be Perceptive

As marketers, we have learned to listen to what a business’ audience wants, and then deliver on that. Conversion optimization is listening in action. We observe the audience and deliver what we believe they want in order to gain a more favorable response.

One to an undefined many communication

In our interpersonal communications, we may not always know what a person needs right off the bat – we make assumptions. It’s only until we really listen and observe, do we begin to understand the needs of others.

In the discipline of conversion optimization, you have to be willing to put aside your assumptions and you have to be willing to be wrong.

In marketing, we would never deliberately offer up a Web page, for example, that we knew had all the wrong elements. We would not use colors, words and design layouts that were proven to turn that prospect off.

In fact, there are all sorts of ways we as marketers learn to appeal to others to get a favorable response.

Conversion optimization can teach us that if we listen to someone, understand what they want and deliver on that need, we can strengthen the relationship between the company and its audience. Imagine how many interpersonal relationships could benefit from those same tactics.

That age-old saying, “the customer is always right,” still rings true in today’s Web marketing efforts. And never before have we been able to cater so precisely to what the customer wants. Perhaps this newfound insight into what people want can shift our ideas of what it means to communicate to others in all aspects of our lives. Just a thought …

What’s your take?

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13 responses to “What Internet Marketing Can Teach Us About Interpersonal Communication”

  1. Brent Rangen writes:

    I think about this all the time actually, cool topic!

    Here’s my past thoughts:

    Universities should use an Twitter Clone Internally
    – Reduce teacher office hours
    – Helps introverts ask any questions in a timely fashion
    – populate FAQ’s over time, incorporate into learning materials

    Project Management software too, we have local businesses that use 37signals to communicate better in house.

    I’m really looking forward to seeing how ipads and apps will streamline repair businesses or any business with a fleet of vehicles. I think we are the brink of technology changing business and non-profits VERY SOON, it all comes down to communication too.

  2. Jessica Lee writes:

    Brent, all brilliant ideas! I think universities are slow to adopt Web marketing — so much red tape to get through to implement. But they are moving more and more stuff online and we are seeing them integrate social media, too. How great for students all that would be. I like your thoughts on the apps for service-type businesses. Is that something that could also work for other businesses, too, you think?

  3. Kent writes:

    Internet is about human, it is about relationship and it is about communication. The world doesn’t change. It is still human world. We don’t deal with machine, we deal with human even on internet. Just some people still don’t understand.

    I always remind myself that, the only difference between online and offline is, you can reach farther and more people online, the rest is the same, we still need to deal with human.

    For that reason, communication still no.1 factor for internet marketing to be success. :)

  4. Jessica Lee writes:

    Hi, Kent! Great to hear from you again. You’ve got the right perspective. Sometimes it’s hard for people to see past the technology. It’s all about connecting in new ways, and in 20 years, there will be new and different ways to connect that people will be calling a “phenomenon,” just like they call things like social media. Have a great week.

  5. jason walker writes:

    Listening and social media all starts with listening, but the first listener has to be the client (and t many readers that may mean YOU!)

    By this, I mean that listening should begin with using the expertise of those that are putting social media together. Just because you have a Facebook account (personal) doesn’t mean that you know what a website needs to say.

    And just because you read the Tweets in The Independent doesn’t mean that you know what to say on your own Twitter account.

    Listen to what the experienced people say and TRUST them. Add to their comments and don’t override them! You know things that they may not know, and they the same. And if they listen to you, you do the same to them!

  6. Ed writes:

    Hi,

    Great post. The interesting thing about web marketing and
    internet marketers generally is the foresight to answer
    objections in the minds of website visitors and readers.

    Generosity is another aspect of web marketing that is hard
    to beat. Behind generosity is un-obstuctive call to action
    to buy this or that product. Cyberspace of Greek gifts!

    Thank you.

    Ed

  7. Jessica Lee writes:

    @Jason Walker: Ah, yes, the age-old battle of the clients learning to trust the people they hired to the job. It’s one we might be fighting for a long time. I think it comes down to education by the marketer mixed with a willingness on the part of the client to let go of total control. Thanks for your comments!

  8. Jessica Lee writes:

    @Ed: Great insight on the abilities of marketers. It’s almost a discipline of psychology, really. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  9. Sara Renae writes:

    Hi Jessica,

    Great post! I love the analogies you use to make these rather abstract concepts more tangible, especially for those who are new to online marketing.

    Another aspect that came to mind, as I read through your article and the responses, was the lack of facial expressions and body language in online correspondence. Whether online or via mobile messaging, the absence of these nonverbal cues has to have had an impact on how we build and maintain relationships.

    What are your thoughts on how we can compensate for the absence of body language and facial expressions in online communication?

    Regards,
    Sara

  10. Jessica Lee writes:

    Hey Sara,

    Thanks for stopping by! As a writer, you know how important it is to use words to paint pictures and emotion. But not everyone does that instinctively. How many texts, e-mails or tweets have been misinterpreted due to lack of face-to-face communication? This is why people in the profession of Web marketing have to take extra care with their communications — especially when you are speaking on behalf of a brand.

    There are many traits we can exude through our words and the way we say them. There is a distinguishable difference between a simple communication and the voice of a brand. It takes many words and many messages over time to establish the latter.

    The voice and the personality of that brand is what will help maintain and strengthen relationships over time. And most people are smart enough to tell when people/companies are not being genuine, so always respecting their intelligence is key.

    Thanks for the thoughtful discussion prompt, Sara!

  11. Brian Johnson writes:

    Very thoughtful post, it’s always great to see people taking deeper lessons out of everyday things and sharing them. I did have a thought about website and blog content though. I think your comments about a company not complaining about things and showing their business in a good light actually has a couple sides to it.

    I recently read an article that said that blogs with occasionally negative posts had much higher readership and were generally much more successful than always-sunny ones. Why? People look for honesty and realism in a blog. They don’t want to feel like they are being given a sugar-coated, dumbed-down message. They want the real thing. If you mention a problem with your company occasionally, you can actually get readers to trust you more.

    Now obviously there is a balance here, you don’t want everything to sounds like it is going down in a fiery wreck. And you also don’t want to come off as merely complaining and not being constructive. But some healthy constructive criticism and honesty about the state of your company can go a long way to gaining the trust and loyalty of readers.

  12. Jessica Lee writes:

    Hey Brian,

    Thanks for the nice words.

    I totally agree. Being genuine, being human — these are all great things for a business to be online. And how many helpful case studies come from businesses sharing their challenges and how they solved them?

    Great companies recognize that they need to evolve with the changing times of what their community expects from them. And the way things are going, their communities expect them to be more transparent than ever before.

    It’s definitely hard for some of the more conservative companies to do make this transition, which is why they need people like you educating them on it. :)

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

  13. Kevin Blumer writes:

    The way i communicate is threw English but i use emotion some times as well in my blog and i love to speak that way or talk. I went to uni for a little bit and they made us talk different or to be afraid of everything and question everything. The internet i love always have because you can get out what you want and you don’t have to worry about being in front of people. What you do learn on the web is what works and what doesn’t it has its own way of telling you.



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