Be Your Own Ambassador

These days, your identity on the web can be quite broad. You might have a blog, you almost certainly have a Facebook account, you’ve probably at least heard of Twitter and LinkedIn, and at the very least, you watch YouTube videos and read other people’s blogs. To make things seem even more spread out, many interactions in these spaces tend to be very short — and I don’t just mean Twitter, I bet your comments on Facebook and several other social tools are usually a few hundred characters or less.

With such a wide set of places to leave your mark, and these interactions tending to be shorter and shorter, it’s easy to make a lot of them and its easy to make them without thinking too hard. Lately I’ve been trying to put more thought into comments I leave on people’s blogs and tweets that I’ve whipped up on the spot, and the other day I realized something: Every tweet, every status update, every forum post, and every comment I leave online, anywhere, is an opportunity to make a good first impression.

Pause and consider that for a moment. Every time you submit any content online, someone else is meeting you for the first time. Sometimes it might really only be one person, but often it’s dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people. Now imagine meeting this many new people in person rather than through a screen. Would you still just blurt out a quick statement without thinking? What kind of first impression would that leave?

Think of this from a branding point of view. Every time you write a quick, pointless statement online, you’re wasting a chance to properly introduce yourself to a handful of new people. Why not seize every opportunity to make a strong first impression — something people will remember?

Some tips for making those first impressions count:

When you post on a blog or forum, link your name to something. There are plenty of options: your blog, your twitter, your shared items in Google Reader, anything you have that says more about you. If I like what you have to say, I’m going to want to know where I can go to listen to more of you.

Please (please, please, please!) don’t just write “great post!” when you comment on someone’s blog. That doesn’t tell me anything about you. Mention why the post is great: what do you like about it? Do you have a similar experience to share? Does it remind you of something funny/stupid/unique? If you’re going to take the time to leave a comment, leave something worth reading — or better yet, something worth re-reading.

Along the same lines, when commenting on something in Facebook, don’t just say “lol” or “epic!”. That’s what the Like button is for. If you’re going to comment on someone’s status, add a bit of personality. You never know who might gain value from your reply, and something heartfelt and sincere could really make the original poster’s day.

Try to be helpful. This doesn’t just apply to question-answer sites like Stack Overflow; people are asking for help all the time, using every tool available to them. This includes the obvious ones like Twitter and most forums, but the same goes for blogs and Facebook/MySpace/Yammer. You probably know all kinds of things that others don’t — share that knowledge!

Be personal. Remember that you’re interacting with one or more human beings. Don’t spam us to death (I’m looking at you, LinkedIn “power users” and Twitter “experts”) and try to talk like you would talk to someone you’re meeting at a park or grocery store. Be humble and respectful, and don’t just talk about yourself.

Proofread before hitting submit. Those typos and basic grammatical mistakes that ruin otherwise great resumés can also sabotage thoughtful comments. Don’t let easily-correctable errors distract me from what you have to say.

Finally, practice makes perfect. This post isn’t meant to scare anyone away from online interactions. Make lots of them; just remember that each and every one is a chance for you to show the world how great you are.

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