6465424519_d2d2c1fab7_nLast week I encountered an article that was very strange. Most of the post was in praise of a person and how friendly their online presence seems to be. The blogger wrote about how this person is able to bring everyone in and make them feel like they are a welcome friend. The post explained that there are certain facets of the person’s emails and blog posts that help their content seem more personally directed, to the point where they get responses back saying, “I felt like you were talking specifically to me.”

But then the post veered off in a rather strange way. After being very complimentary, the blogger noted that in talking to this super friendly person, it was revealed that the tactic people found most human and most attractive, if you will, was only used because it tended to drive the most traffic. This observation changed (at least for me) the entire perspective of the post. No longer was this person really reaching out to people or trying to make people feel comfortable. They weren’t using this particular tactic because it made people feel welcome. The post indicated that this person just was after traffic, and had this beloved ploy not worked, they would simply try to move on to something else.

As I completed reading this post I wondered if other readers would find this as odd as I did. It also made me wonder if it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate between being nice versus manipulative in the online world.

Before being nice, be honest

There is a lot of pressure in the online world in particular to make sure that you are likable. The emphasis is on relationships, communities, networking, and friendships. If you are trying to grow your business, however, you must balance this desire to grow your network with a desire to increase your sales, and that is where things can get tricky. For the person I was describing above, more traffic means more people see affiliate links, sponsored posts for which they get paid, webinars and workshops they offer, and more. Being friendly is a way to get more people to see the stuff that pays the bills. In order to avoid coming across as manipulative, you need to begin by being honest with yourself. What are you really trying to do? If your emphasis is on growing your business, there should be some indication to people who visit your blog or your Facebook page (or whatever else) that that is what you are really hoping to do. You may not win as many friends as you’d like with that approach, but you will not be misleading anyone, either.

People expect to be disappointed online

Lets’ face it. It’s pretty easy to get deceived in the online world. Surrounded by avatars and “handles,” it’s hard to know if the face you are seeing is really the person to whom you’re speaking. In this kind of environment, people are ready to discover that they have been duped. They are able to sniff it out before it comes all the way to the surface. If you are being nice to people and are pretending it’s all about them when really you are primarily trying to use them to grow your business, you won’t make any friends. Not in the long run. Moreover, once people get the idea that you are manipulative rather than nice, they will tend to talk about it with their friends. You’ve heard about the online “word of mouth” phenomenon. It can be great for business, but it can also be terrible.

It’s been a week since I first read that post, and I wonder if the person who was the focus of the post is getting any negative feedback as a result. I wonder if they are getting any responses along the lines of, “I really liked what you were doing and found it a way to connect with you – I didn’t realize you were just doing it as a traffic booster.” I suspect that I am not the only one who came away from that post wondering if it was an exposé versus a favor.

How do you make sure you are being truly nice versus being a little manipulative? How do you navigate these complex online waters?

We’d love to hear from you.

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