Danielle Di-Masi is a digital communications expert and marketing strategist. A guest speaker at AGSM@UNSW Business School, Di-Masi's special interest is digital behaviour and online reputation. She spoke to Julian Lorkin for BusinessThink.
An edited transcript of the conversation follows.
BusinessThink: When we’re continually sending out digital messages, how do we ensure that the way we’re perceived digitally is how we want to be perceived? And then how do we build that sort of digital community around us?
Danielle Di-Masi: This is something that I hear all the time, [with] people questioning these things. I just want people to stop and go, “You already are doing it. You have these answers.” It can simply come down to whatever works offline works online, because we’re still the same people. So if we just stop to [consider], “OK. What works for me when I'm in meetings, or at networking events, or when I'm really connecting with someone face-to-face?” Because we know how to do that, most of us. Then we just start to go, “OK. How do I do exactly that online?”
If you’re really great at making good short connections by seeing people’s achievements when you’re face-to-face in a meeting, then do that same thing online. That’s how you build a brand of the experience of you. So, whatever works offline for you, works online as well.
BusinessThink: But many people don’t seem to understand that there’s a little bit of a dividing line between your social life, and those people you talk to socially, and being in charge of the corporate Twitter account.
Di-Masi: That line is getting quite blurred more and more as the years go on and we get so much more comfortable online. But I think we just need to stop [and realise it’s] the whole piece now. Unfortunately, our personal lives have been smashed open thanks to social media. It’s not about being fake. You still need to be authentic, but you need to consciously decide how it is you want to be perceived. What is the narrative that I'm creating about myself online, so when people Google, me, what is it that I’ve got out there that people go, “Great. I see you, I get you, and this makes sense”.
'You still need to be authentic, but you need to consciously decide how it is you want to be perceived'
– DANIELLE DI-MASI
If we can answer those three questions by our behaviours – so, I see you, I get you, and this makes sense – and what you do in your personal life that we present to the world makes sense, [and also] what you do in your professional life, then that’s a connect and we trust you. And that’s what it’s all about.
BusinessThink: That’s great in terms of building a community, but some people don’t seem to want to do that. I’ve often had emails from people who are sitting right next to me and they’ve never even said a word to me during the day. That seems to be terribly divisive. How do we get away from that?
Di-Masi: It can be so comfortable to do the tech option sometimes when we’re texting and then that person calls and we’re like, “Oh, I gotta talk to another human being”. But this is something that we actually want. We want human connection. Technology is just a function and another channel for us to connect with people.
Last year I had a meeting with the Dalai Lama and we talked about how do we continue to be what is great about humans and of society? How do we build connections when, more and more, we’re spending time alone with a phone, with a computer, with a laptop? And his answer was quite profound, as you would expect. The Dalai Lama said this is a human problem, not a technological issue, so we don’t need to find the technical functions of this problem, and it needs a human answer.
So, whenever I say what works offline works online, think of the person that you’re trying to connect with on the other end of that email, phone call, text, social media post. Even if it’s one-to-many, what does that human being want, and then give them that. But we have to be conscious if we’re going to be that human, and consistently be that human.
BusinessThink: And being consistent is a problem, because I’ve seen some people where they’ve sort of brought across how they are as a person into a corporate email, and they’ve suddenly got the smiley faces in there, they’re suddenly shortening words down to two or three characters with a number in the middle, and I'm thinking, “Well, who is this person? Are they 18?” And quite often they are. That’s a real problem.
Di-Masi: Yeah, it is. First of all, it is a problem about a lot of people outsourcing their digital communications to a younger generation. I want to cover that first by saying we should never outsource our comms. You would never send a grad to go network for you or to conduct a meeting for you, so we shouldn’t be doing that online. So, don’t outsource yourself or your brand.
If you’ve got younger generations coming in and you want them to look after emails or any sort of technological function or communications or marketing, that’s fantastic. They bring a freshness and lightness and insight to your organisation. But make sure that that’s also matched with some experience of the industry and the market. You always need to match that.
The second point of that, [regarding] the style of your emails – so smiley faces, all that sort of stuff. I'm not offended by a smiley face, but I also have been very clear in my communications that that’s what I may do. It’s like if you go up to someone you like, [and say] “I'm a hugger”, you’re kind of being very expressive about who you are and what your personal brand is. So then when they see your email – it’s called permission marketing – they know what to expect. Or if you’re not showing up the way that you have presented for years, then it’s incongruent and then we don’t trust it.
So, if you aren’t a person that would put smiley faces in an email, or you have never had that relationship with someone, or it’s the first email, then don’t. But again, what works offline works online, and if you were to go to a meeting or a networking event you wouldn’t walk around with the equivalent of the offline thing which is, like, I love smiley faces, or jazz hands or something, you know – whatever the equivalent is.
You need to go, “Look, I love this style, but it may not be appropriate for the other human being on the other end of this keyboard.”
BusinessThink: And it may not be appropriate as well when we’re talking about marketing. I’ve seen some dreadful marketing campaigns that cause people to wonder, “What were they thinking? Where did they get that image from?” And if only they just ran it past one other person in the office it would have saved a disaster.
Di-Masi: Yes. There’s a really famous story. American Apparel in the US, which did hire a younger generation person to run their digital comms, and they wanted to put out this tweet to be like there’s an explosive sale on at American Apparel. The person Googled explosions, saw in Google Images a really awesome image and went, “That’s great for an explosion”, put that out, and there was a boycott because it was the Challenger explosion.
So exactly like you said – if they would have run it past one other person, they would have said, “No, that’s not appropriate”, and helped them find a more appropriate route. You’re right, in that sense.
'If you can’t answer who they are and why they are connecting with you digitally, then you do not have a message for them'
– DANIELLE DI-MASI
We want to make sure that if we are marketing or communicating more on a macro scale it still comes down to who the human being is on the other end of this digital message and what it is that they want. If you can’t answer who they are and why they are connecting with you digitally, then you do not have a message for them. We need to bring it right back to the start to say, “Who are we? Who are they? And what is this benefit of us to communicate?”
BusinessThink: And quite often people are shocked if they actually Google themselves. There’s almost this cult that people shouldn’t Google themselves because it’s just egotistical. But if you’re applying for a job, that’s the first thing an employer’s going to do.
Di-Masi: A million per cent. So recently it’s come out that recruiters, once they get your resume, 93% of them will look online. And I always ask my students here, “OK. They’ve Googled your name. What’s the first thing that they’re going to look at if they’re going to hire you?” And they’re like, “LinkedIn”. I'm like, no. That’s the last thing they’re going to look at. They’re going to look at your Instagram account, or Facebook, to see what they can find, reverse Google images just like the [TV] show Catfish, right, but professional.
We want to make sure that we are definitely doing a digital audit on ourselves. That is, simply just Googling our name or our location to see when other people Google us, which is 80% of just general people, not recruiters but just the general population of people that come across your name will then go to Google. If we’re talking about the narrative of our personal brand, then we need to know what they are going to see so we can control that narrative to be exactly who it is we want them to know that we are.
BusinessThink: We don’t want people to be too scared about this. After all, social media is fun; we all use it. But at the same point, you almost want one persona for your company for being professional, for getting jobs, and one where you’re just with your friends. Should you actually have two Facebook accounts, two Twitters – keep everything separate?
Di-Masi: I don’t think so, because if we can see that you’ve got a more personal account, we’re going to go there to find out who you really are. But again, what happens offline can happen online. We do this naturally anyway – we will go out with our friends or family to a football game and act a certain way, and come to work at a meeting and perform how we need to there. It’s just about who is showing up, who is in my tribe, what are they looking for, and how do I need to explain my story in a way that they can say those three things – I see you, I get you, and this makes sense.
BusinessThink: So often I’ve sat in meetings, or expos, conferences, whatever it is, and looked around at a sea of faces of people who are on their phones. Once I went to one where everybody was asked to not take any digital media into the meeting. And it was great, because people talked to one another. Is there a case for just putting the phone down every now and again and talking to somebody?
Di-Masi: Well, sometimes I think that it’s just like when we call IT and say, “This isn’t working” and they go, “Press the reset. Or turn it off and turn it back on.” Sometimes I think we need that as well. Just turn yourself off sometimes.
But I think it’s about being conscious around what you are doing digitally, and as long as you’re not trying to replace that for something else, if it’s you’re replacing looking at your phone because you’re nervous or uncomfortable. So address that. Be the human and be that human consistently, and show up at your best so we know who you are.