The Virtual Handshake: How to make the best digital first impression

Do you know what first impression your business gives online? Here are some tips to make sure it's the best it can be.

Making the right digital first impression is crucial for any company. Just as we all judge individuals on first meeting them, so businesses are immediately assessed by their online presence. 

Having a clear and consistent approach to corporate digital presentation offers a signal of quality and openness. Ultimately, this is a question of reassurance as attention paid to the online presence reflects the overall standards that a business sets itself – a compromise on quality raises questions about the state of the rest of the business.

The central pillar of online presence is the website. This has to be exactly right as it will be judged almost instantly and instinctively as a person’s handshake. Researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology claim that within merely 0.2 seconds a visitor to a website will form a first opinion of your brand. It then takes just a further 2.6 seconds for that viewer’s eyes to concentrate in a way that reinforces the initial snap judgement.

Feedback from entrepreneur group, E2Exchange reinforces this. Its 2,000-strong member base of SMEs and fast growing companies considers the website to be the most critical aspect of a company’s identity and establishes the brand from the outset. Shalini Khemka, founder and CEO of E2Exchange believes that a professional online presence is of particular importance to SMEs and growth companies as it helps to project the image of being far bigger and more professional than their size may otherwise suggest, enabling them to successfully compete with larger peers. 

Design, content and functionality are vital to shaping this impression. Web designers use a technique called AIDA to model response: measuring how much a page generates the desired Attention, Interest, Desire, and finally Action on the part of its users – if a site is slow loading, difficult to navigate, or hard to read, it fails the test.

As for social media, a Forrester report last year found that over 80% of senior company decision makers reported that they now have a social media presence. However, the fact remains that it is very difficult to accurately estimate ROI, which is troubling given the vast opportunity it represents: a recent white paper by Adobe revealed that 88% of marketing professionals are frustrated by the difficulty of measuring social media ROI.

YouGov has led the way in tracking businesses performance: its SoMA tool enables companies to measure their audience, add customised demographic filters and analyse reach and impact. The twice annual BrandIndex Buzz Rankings use a representative panel to assess whether they had heard anything positive or negative about a brand. These solutions are a step in the right direction for companies that lack the analytics to evaluate their social media investment.

>See also: Six things preventing your website from succeeding

The first priority is to handle these new forms of interaction with caution and a deft touch as they can backfire and harm a carefully crafted corporate image. The most successful companies are those that adapt their messages to each media outlet to develop a distinct profile for each one, while building a harmonious overall presence.

LinkedIn has established itself as a universal research tool for professionals, so a company must look the part if it wants to be taken seriously and attract new talent. Tips for an effective approach include joining relevant LinkedIn groups, inviting long posts from employees about positive experiences at the company, and providing behind-the-scenes insights into your business. Effective Facebook strategies tend to include analysis and clever language while retaining a conversational tone. As for Twitter, recommendations for maximising impact are: broaden your profile’s focus to tap into industry trends and discussions, use sector hashtags strategically but not too heavily, and engage directly with your followers.

Most of all, making the best first digital impression is about getting the fundamentals right. Key general stipulations include: integrating the firm’s main website with all your platforms, establishing synced news flows to maximise impact of all announcements, and posting some unique content on each website to retain followers. Above all, social media presence should fit in to the wider brand structure, displaying a consistent approach to not only how a company is marketed – but also how it conducts its business.

Finally, the mobile revolution also has consequences for business, as smartphones and tablet computers supplant laptops and desktop computers. At the start of this year, mobile devices accounted for more than half of all internet use in the US for the first time, amounting to a record 55% of traffic in January. Apps made up 47% and 8% came from mobile browsers, according to data from ComScore. Thus at the very least, websites need to be mobile compatible so they can fit properly on a phone screen. Apps also offer added value as they demonstrate dedication to the customer’s experience.

What is clear is that a virtual presence is no longer for the few, but instead a core driver of brand image, advertising and networking, indispensable to the success of a modern company. The challenge is to retain some control of the message which by nature is being taken over by those the company desires to reach: the easiest way to avoid the risk of anarchic spiral is to make a great first impression.

Further reading on digital business: Expanding your global footprint

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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