The Virtual Handshake Making the best digital first impression

This article first appeared in Growth Business magazine, and was authored by Keith Holdt, Investment Director within the Value Enhancement Group at LDC.

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 reflects the overall standards that a business sets itself. 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.

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. 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. Such solutions are a step in the right direction for companies that lack the analytics to evaluate their social media investment.

It is crucial to handle social media 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. 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.

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. Thus at the very least, websites need to be mobile compatible so they can fit properly on a phone screen. 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.

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by Sophie Reed