Walking into the office of a real estate services firm recently, we were met, not by a receptionist, but by the “Director of First Impressions.”   And the woman in that job lived up to her title, warmly greeting us and making us feel welcome and upbeat for our meeting.

Both the title and the personality say a great deal about the company and its culture, suggesting that it places a high value on relationships–and customer service.  In a way, we are all our own directors of first impressions.  How we communicate with our words and body language can make a huge difference in our ability to lead and make things happen in our businesses and organizations.  In this age of voicemail, tweets, and texts, our first impressions are most often made through what we write. And while nothing replaces face-to-face communications, productive relationships can be formed and nurtured online.

How can you make a better first impression?

Understand the norms of the communications platform you are using.  For example, a first email should include some sort of greeting such as “Hi Sue.” If you were on the phone or in person, you would say hello first.  Too many emails just dive right in.

  • Respect your reader’s time and cut to the chase where it counts.  Make your subject line clear and short, and if something is urgent, specify that.  On Twitter, use hashtags to increase your visibility and don’t tweet the full URL—use a service like bit,ly to shorten your URL.
  • Don’t repeat yourself.  Tailor your posts to different platforms.  Even if you are posting about the same subject with similar content, change up the intro to show you understand the different audiences who might be reading and following you on different social media
  • Have a personality, but don’t make it all about you.  The only person who cares about your every move is your mother and even she might not want all that detail about the sundae you’re enjoying or the sleepless night you didn’t.  Think about your tweets, emails, Linked In and Facebook posts as threads in a larger conversation.  It’s not about you, but about you and me and what we share and what we can do together.
  • Watch the spelling. It’s hard when typing on a smart phone with a slow connection to make your text letter perfect.  But you have to make the effort.  Otherwise, you create an impression of sloppiness.  And double-check to make sure the self-correct goblins haven’t betrayed you.
  • If you wouldn’t say something to someone’s face, then don’t say it online.  Civility is on the decline and social media may be the ultimate in truth serum.  But your truth can be hurtful and stymy further conversation.  If you are angry, apply the 15 minute rule: write it, walk away from it, breathe deeply, then read it again and see if you really want to send it.  (And don’t insert an email recipient’s address until you’ve taken that breather.)

In the end, creating a positive first impression and delivering on a customer service promise, whether in person or online, is about respect for your audience.  It’s about drawing people to you and making them feel like they matter to you—just like the delightful and charming DFI (Director of First Impressions) we encountered.