Building Reputation and Relationships When We Can't Be Face-to-Face
Six tips to help as we navigate the new normal.
Chemistry. Charisma. Character. Collaboration. So much of what builds personal brands and reputations focuses on human connection and interaction. But how can we maintain relationships when we’re apart?
The coronavirus pandemic hit us all, in every corner of the world, in real and unexpected ways. Previously, we built engagement with others through eye contact, image, conversation and relationship. Now we find ourselves isolated and conversing with our cats, dogs and children instead of prospective clients, networking contacts, students, audiences and co-workers.
Building or maintaining reputation without in-person interaction
Today, it is still critical to be concerned with our reputation and brand as we navigate the new normal. These six tips can help.
1. Virtual meetings. We are all undoubtedly familiar with the virtual meeting tools available today. Are you using them? Seeing a human face gives us an additional layer of connectedness over a phone call or email. We get to see the person’s eyes and get a glimpse of their environment. We can read tonality in their voice differently than without these visual cues. I’ve recommended to my clients that have remote teams that they do a daily “stand up” check-in by video. Each morning, they do a quick group meeting to facilitate conversation and engagement as they discuss what they're working on, call out any roadblocks they’re facing and focus on goals for the day. This keeps continuity in the team and ensures everyone feels supported. I’ve heard of groups doing virtual coffee meetings, virtual happy hours and more. We can’t forget the power of a smiling face, even if we can’t physically be in the same room.
For virtual meetings, ensure your video presence represents your presence accurately. Will you take the video call from a bedroom, garage, kitchen table or home office? Check the background of your environment — not to sterilize and depersonalize it, but rather to ensure there is nothing inappropriate or distracting. One case I heard of involves a sales professional who began taking video calls with international clients and forgot to remove several pinup posters in the background. He was speaking with a very conservative client and the client was disturbed by the posters in the background. Another IT specialist did video calls with a client in a bikini top, as she was grounded at her beach house. These are simple steps you can take to ensure your visual reputation is intact.
2. Voice calls. Similarly, if given the option of an email or a phone call, try calling. It’s likely the person you’re attempting to reach is at home, maybe at their desk or managing their children’s schoolwork (if they are suddenly home schooling). A phone call — even a short one — gives us human connection. Warmth, compassion and empathy can be communicated differently on a call than an email.
3. Social media. The online space offers us a compelling place to gather, albeit not in person. The flow of information and insight is constant and global. While it will never replace in person human interaction, social media offers some unique ways we can leverage our strengths, help others and come together as a global community.
4. Share your resources. Do you have skills, talents, experience or work you can share online? There’s a mathematics professor in California offering to tutor college students online for free. A musician in Nashville offers free concerts to lift spirits and entertain. A neighbor posts an offer to run to the pharmacy for her neighbors. Personally, I reached out to former and current executive coaching clients offering free sessions if they need it to help them manage their businesses. Many of us are mentoring military veterans who are trying to transition to a civilian career in a completely chaotic civilian work sector.
As you share your resources, consider connecting your offer to your “why” — your values. Personal branding and reputation are anchored in values, and without them, offers are meaningless. The neighbor who says she’ll run to the store for neighbors adds, “I believe it’s important to help those who are at risk.” The professor offering tutoring services adds, “Without learning, we are nothing as a society.” And the musician who performs concerts on live-streamed platforms says, “We come together as a world through music. And I was gifted with the ability to help, so I am.” Adding your value statement to your offer creates greater meaning, without depreciating the offer. Authenticity is key here — the value must be real and not opportunistic. Values, after all, are your moral operating system.
5. Share your humanness. What are you feeling and experiencing? We all see the posts of individuals scared and lonely. We also images of empty (or fully stocked) shelves and the meanings those images are meant to imply. In all of the ways we share content online, we are sharing our humanness and insight into what we believe and value. Some people offer continuous posts of meaningful scripture to remind their followers that the Bible shows the way out of this situation. Others use humor and levity to help their online community release some stress and smile for a moment.
However you share, remember that human beings are sharing human thoughts and emotions, and other humans are reading them. Consider how you’ve presented yourself online in the past and whether it’s appropriate and necessary for you to post more authentic, heartfelt messages at this time.
For example, a client of mine is a mental health specialist. She works with a specific population who regard her as strong, competent and knowledgeable. In the past, this reputation has empowered her to give hearty and meaningful advice meant to help her community navigate their unique circumstances. She’s rarely shared her own feelings or fears. Today, as her small audience blends into the larger community of people struggling with broader mental health issues, she finds herself speaking differently. We’ve broadened her messaging to ensure she’s not professing academic advice and protocols, but rather is sharing her feelings and concerns, along with real recommendations for those listening. This step took a lot of faith for her to do: She was reluctant to speak about herself for fear it could dispel her credibility. In fact, as she has shared more, and pulled other colleagues into the conversation with her, she’s found her clients and audiences grow and appreciate the trust she placed in them to share her story. Her personal brand stands on helping others. In these times, she is helping others by sharing her vulnerability and enlisting the support of others to grow strength in her community.
6. Share carefully. I’ve noticed several colleagues sharing inflammatory information, and while I have to believe their intent is good, the message can be harmful. In some cases, the information is later proved untrue. Or the information upsets followers who are trying to remain calm. Social media has become a news source and a respite from daily life (especially when we get a lens into the lives of famous people, access to concerts, museums, and other art forms we otherwise couldn’t visit, and can hear from leaders who might otherwise stay quiet). Social media offers access to information and inspiration to help keep us grounded and proactive in our own response to current situations. Online posts that gaslight panic are not helpful, and it could be argued that when we find our new normal after the pandemic has resolved, reputations of those who stoked the flames of these fires could be negatively impacted, if they aren’t already.
Your reputation is about more than you
What do you care about? If you are moved to action during this time, consider sharing your ideas online so others can be inspired to do the same, or can help you. Many people are struggling to find ways to support and help and protect others. If you have ideas, consider it your obligation to share those. From fostering shelter animals to donating blood to offering free coaching, how can you help? The goal is not to get gold stars for your efforts, but rather to inspire, influence and impact others to help as well. That is the greatest way to build reputational equity and help the world at the same time. Win-win.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer