by Tony Vidler
“how, and when, do I take the online engagement offline into the real world?”
Let’s assume for the exercise that you have made a new connection on Linked for example. Often professionals will make new connections and then wonder what to do with them from there, and perhaps it is most helpful to think of it in terms of “online dating”. It is after all about building a relationship with someone you want to get to know, right?
If you were connecting with someone online and then immediately threw an email at them urging them to get together and meet soon, it is likely the prospective date would run for the hills, right? That’s because you are being a bit creepy, or at least a bit too pushy. On the other hand, if you just perpetually emailed them weekly with inane or irrelevant stuff for months you will find that even though they remember you, and you have certainly created some top of mind awareness, they are likely to be less than enthusiastic about meeting you. Because you are a bore.
So what would you do if you were doing the online dating really?
You’d swap a couple of emails that are relatively low key and not intrusive to try and find if there is rapport, or areas of common interest over a few weeks. Having found areas of common interest you’d probably have an email conversation over a period of a couple of days. After that you’d probably offer to have a phone conversation about the area that interests you both the most. THEN perhaps it will feel right to arrange to get together for a coffee and chat.
How is connecting in business any different?
It is still two humans trying to connect and work out whether each is interesting to the other and worth spending time with, and many of the social norms still apply. So don’t be creepy and don’t be a bore….but don’t spend too much time doing idle chit-chat either.
The online dating world has boomed globally in the last decade and we have learned a few things about how people take online relationships offline successfully.
A useful general rule of thumb to apply is that it is appropriate to take the online engagement offline after the other person has sent you 3-4 messages electronically. Naturally there is a requirement to exercise good judgement as it is not a universal principle that applies equally to every human being, and some people take a little more contact whiles some will take less, so some good judgement is required is in determining the level of engagement and rapport reasonably accurately.
Essentially you are looking for “interest” from them, or more appropriately, the “common ground”. When you have a level of interest in a particular topic or a shared interest that warrants a deeper or more detailed discussion then it is appropriate to take the engagement offline, whether that be on the phone or in a personal meeting. And when it is time to take it off-line, the phone call still remains the ideal step between digital and meeting in the cafe…