by Steve Strauss

That there is a big difference between doing business offline and online is no secret. Take networking for instance. Offline networking is still the old school, one-on-one meet and greet affair it always has been; hand out a card, make a joke, create rapport, follow up. You know the drill. But online? Online, as we all know, social networking is a new beast with new rules that take some getting used to.

One of the places where the difference between the virtual and non-virtual worlds is most stark is in the realm of credibility. Creating credibility online is also very different than it is offline, yet it is no less important when it comes to growing your business, and as such, you should employ new tactics for this new world.

Here are my top four suggestions:

1. You should look legitimate: In the “real world”, looking legitimate is not much of a concern. Either your business seems legitimate or it does not. When people drive by your store, when they call your office, when they see your sign, they can instantly tell whether your business is the real deal. As I said, it’s actually not much of an issue.

But online? That is a whole different deal.

Online, people don’t know who you are and they don’t know what your business is about. Should they do business with you or not? Should they take you seriously, or not? There is a natural skepticism online, and as such, your first job is to create legitimacy.

For starters, you do this by having a professional, up-to-date, excellent website (no “© 2011” for you!) Your social media presence must similarly be top-notch. Your LinkedIn profile is especially important as that is one of the first things people will see when they Google you as a business owner.

2. You should create rapport: One of the ways people foster credibility offline is by creating rapport. You can look someone in the eye, crack a joke, tell a story, have a firm handshake and so on. All of these work instantly to create rapport, and thus, credibility.

Again however, this is not possible online. So how do you create rapport there? There are a few ways:

  •        Post video on your website. Ideally it will have you in it.
  •        Have a blog. Blogging is a fine way to break down the impersonal barriers of the Internet.
  •        Create connections with your social media: Social media is best not used as a bullhorn. Instead, use it to meet and interact with people you otherwise would not normally meet.

3. You should be verified: Along the same lines, the problem is when someone encounters your business for the first time in the cyber-world, they have no idea whether you are a scammer or the real deal. So how do you let them know it is the latter and not the former?

My friends here at Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. have recently launched an ingenious new product; called “VERIFIED™” that allows you to update your business information and Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. will verify and distribute the information to more than 125 online publishers, rather than you having to update each platform individually. Presto – instant improved legitimacy.

4. You should have a great reputation: Finally, credibility is established offline by word of mouth, among other ways. Your business’s brand has a reputation in the community. You have created goodwill. These work to your benefit.

You have to do the same thing in virtual reality. For instance, you can request happy customers give you recommendations and post those on your website, or you can ask them to give you a review on Yelp. If you work with established brands, make sure people can see that when they find you online.

By letting people know that other people like doing business with you, you go a long way to creating that all important credibility.

Picture Credit: thinkpanama, Flickr