Online. Offline. Align. – about good digital communication

Published on, May 3, 2011

When did we find so much to say? Why do we communicate differently online than offline?

Picture this:

You’re at home, enjoying a cup of coffee. It’s so delicious you run up and down your street yelling, “Hey, at-sign neighbors! This is the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had! Hashtag, caffeine makes me happy!”

If you wouldn’t say it offline, why say it online? Because it’s easy? Technology gives us speed and convenience – but not judgment. Whether communicating as an individual or representative of an organization, online communications need to match the way we interact as people. You, as a communicator, need to know your individual style and be true to it in both locations.

As I see it, there are three types of communicators:

The randomizer

You never know what’s coming from the randomizer. Communications may be about business, their kids, or using the restroom. You may hear from the randomizer multiple times a day, then not for a month. The randomizer is not grounded in anything.

Think about the quintessential randomizer – Charlie Sheen. Whether answering interview questions or filling the Twitter stream, Mr. Sheen is about as random as can be. It’s unclear whether he’s a calculated and intentional randomizer or an accidental randomizer, never pre-thinking what he’ll say next. Both types of randomizers leave the audience asking “What the…?”

The firehose

Communications from the firehose come fast and furious.

Helloooo, Opraaaaaah.

Oprah Winfrey, like any good firehose, shares some original information but, most often, forwards other people’s thoughts and ideas. Offline, the Oprah magazine is one big collection of things Oprah likes and endorses. Online communications are similar except that in this, the final season of her television show, her social posts mimic Bette Midler’s character in Beaches: “But enough about me, let’s talk about you…what do you think about me?”

The firehose may have good information to share. Unfortunately, volume overshadows value.

The thought-leader

Thought-leader communications are meaningful and relevant. The thought-leader shares information grounded in a point of view. When sharing information written by someone else, the thought-leader gives the audience context for its relevance and practical application.

Enter post-Microsoft Bill Gates who is holding his own as the voice of philanthropy and addressing tough world issues. He doesn’t talk much but when he does, we listen. He’s a popular lecturer, TED Talks speaker and Tweeter. His Twitter profile shows just 277 tweets garnered him over two million followers.

So how do you translate online who are you offline? Following basic marketing communication guidelines will help you begin to figure it out.

Start with the big picture. Instead of asking “Should I tweet,” or “Should I blog,” ask:

1. “What do I want to accomplish?” If you don’t know, stay right here until you figure it out. Don’t advance to the next question.

2. “Who will help me do that?” The folks who want to hear what you have to say. Be sure to balance what they want to hear with what you want to say. (If you’re not sure what they want to hear, ask them. They are nice people).

3. “Where do I find them?” Figure out if you’re speaking to a Facebook crowd, Tweeters or those who prefer an e-newsletter. Make it easy for them to find you (and provide engaging, thoughtful conversation) and they’ll be poised to listen.

The next time you are drinking coffee and have the urge to tell your neighbors how good it is, remember the randomizer, firehose and thought-leader – then align.

Thanks, at-sign reader. Hashtag, the end.


What else does Elen do?