The Internet World is all about relationships

Your friends like you; honest, trust me, they do. If they didn’t like you, then you wouldn’t like them and, hey, you wouldn’t be friends. Web sites are the same; if they demonstrate they like you – by providing exactly what you are after – then you like them. It’s simple really, give your audience what they want and you are home and dry.

So, why oh why is that so few web sites do that? They tell us all about themselves – and frankly, we couldn’t give a stuff could we? Sign on at Amazon and the first thing you see is a list of books all suited to your personal preferences; the site is about you. Is there material about Amazon itself? Sure, but it’s tucked away.

You see, Amazon knows about relationships. They know that to build a relationship you have to ask questions. Imagine how difficult it would be for you to get new friends if you were never able to ask people a question. It would be impossible. But you can’t ask any old question. To build relationships you need to ask questions that allow people to provide you with information about themselves.

Amazon does this in subtle ways – you provide them information on your buying preferences, but also in answering their questions such as “do you want it gift wrapped?” They know from that whether you are a “fluffy” person or not – and that helps them direct the right kind of materials to you. In building friendships we do the same. We ask questions that help us create a picture in our mind of the kind of person we are dealing with.

So, tell me why today when I went to the Internet World exhibition at London’s Earl’s Court was I faced with so many people who were unable to ask me the right questions. The questions I received were useless in helping the exhibitors find out anything about me; as a result they were unable to build any kind of relationship with me.

For instance, if I got asked once I was asked a dozen times “are you looking for more traffic for your web site?”. I answered “no” every time, at which point I was met with a stunned “oh” and a “well thank you anyway” before they moved off to the next victim. But what if I had been asked “how do you get people to come to your web site?”. I have to give more information – and then they could enter into a dialogue with me about how they could help me get more of those kind of people.

I wandered around the exhibition for over two hours noting what was happening at each stand. Apart from the fact that most stands had almost no visitors (they were all at the various presentation “theatres”), most of the people wandering around were doing just that – wandering. When I did overhear people being accosted, just like me they were all asked completely closed questions, making it almost impossible for the exhibitor to build any form of relationship.

huddle.netNo doubt the exhibitors will go away with a huge pile of business cards and say it was an event worth going to. I doubt it – except for one company, Huddle. This is an online collaboration and project management system that incorporates social networking principles.

However, Jon Landau from Huddle was different to almost every other exhibitor I met. He asked me several open questions and engaged in conversation with me. In other words, he treated me as a human being rather than a “prospect”. Interestingly, the Huddle stand was amongst the busiest; no surprise there.

Do I know if Huddle is better than its competitors? No. Do I think it is? Yes. How do I judge it? On the fact that the company, through Jon, engaged with me. And that’s why most web sites do not work – they don’t engage. Most web site are rather like those hapless exhibitors at today’s Internet World, asking closed questions and letting me pass on by without engaging. That’s what most of the world’s Internet traffic does. It stumbles across a site, which asks “do you want to know about us?” – a lovely closed question to which we all say “no thanks”. But the owners of those web sites measure their success in terms of the number of visitors they get, just like today’s exhibitors counting business cards into the small wee hours. It’s one measure, but not a very good one.

Far better for you to really engage with people. Not only do you get more business, but you get more recommendations. You might have noticed I spent a couple of hours in a large exhibition centre and only found one company to recommend. Now what does that tell you about the Internet World?

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