5 Very Official Tips for Building an Online Presence

by Shannon Paul on December 28, 2008

online-presence The other day Arik Hanson, someone I met recently on Twitter, asked me if I could provide 5 tips for cultivating an online presence.

Now, with that in mind, please let me preface this by saying that in many ways, I feel like any kind of online presence I have began by accident. I never really set out to cultivate an online presence, I was only ever trying to learn: I didn’t have a business, or even a blog, to promote. I probably did a lot of things wrong in the text book sort of way. In some ways, I probably still do. But, since people seem to be interested, here are the tips I have to offer. Please feel free to add to this list in the comments.

1. Leverage Twitter
I realize Twitter is just one social network; a social network without a viable business model that could disappear tomorrow, but while it’s still around use it!

There’s no other platform out there that lets you access people who are already where you want to be with so little acquaintance. On Twitter, you can have passing conversations with a CNN Anchor, a Director of Corporate Communication for a major pro sports league and a CEO all in one day, not to mention all the people who are just super smart and doing great work. If you build your relationships organically, through genuine, authentic discussion, you can have direct access to your mentors and precious professional connections you may never have had the opportunity to cultivate otherwise.

2. Make friends first
If you’re interested in throwing your voice into the mix of any social network or community of bloggers, start participating in their content, have conversations, meet face-to-face with as many of them as possible. Form relationships in social networks before you start your own blog or start trying to get people to participate in your content – whatever that may be. If you already have a blog, participate in other peoples’ stuff anyway. Promote them and comment on their stuff. Eventually, they will be curious enough to check you out in the same way. They may even promote and comment on your stuff. Building relationships gives people a reason to care about your content.

3. Listen to smart people (and meet them offline if possible)
One of the first online people I made sure to meet offline was Chris Brogan. He was giving a chat one morning on social media at an ITEC conference. I took the day off of work and went down to see him speak. After the presentation, I spent a good portion of the afternoon asking him a lot of questions and sharing a lot of unsolicited opinions.

Luckily Chris is a pretty patient guy, but at some point during the conversation he told me that I should start my own blog. If I recall correctly, he said something like… You’re really smart. In fact, you’re so smart that I would ask you to write a guest post for my blog, but where would I send my readers… your Twitter page? Maybe he was just being nice, but it made me feel like I should probably be contributing something more.

I was really afraid to start sharing my opinions with the world (and Google), but then I thought no one would actually read them… so, what the heck? I’m glad I was wrong and people actually do read my blog, but in the beginning, if I’m being totally honest, it gave me a lot of anxiety. Sometimes it still does. But once people like you started reading and subscribing to my blog, I started feeling a sense of responsibility to write stuff and a lot more comfortable sharing my thoughts.

Since meeting Chris, I’ve met lots of other really interesting people who are doing great work in the realm of social media including Scott Monty, Brian Solis, Jason Falls, Kami Huyse, David Armano, Kaitlyn Wilkins (aka the Catch Up Lady) and Jeremy Tanner. In the case of each of these people, I knew them from reading their blogs and interacting with them on Twitter before ever meeting them offline. There are others I could include on this list, but you get the point. Find out who’s in your town and go see them, drive long distances if you must and go to every conference you possibly can to meet the smartest, most influential people in your sphere.

4. Be interested
In the wise words of Harvey Danger from the song Flagpole Sitta, “If you’re bored then you’re boring”. To be interesting you need to be interested. Phoning in content or conversations online is a waste of time. You’re better off taking a break.

5. Forget everything I just said
Really, what do I know? What worked for me may not work for you, but I don’t know that — only you know that. It’s not about right and wrong, it’s just about sharing what we feel works for us with others so they can take it or leave it or make it even better.

There is no magic bullet. In some ways it feels like telling people to eat right and exercise. The people who are really into living this way seem to get it immediately. However, those who want to reap the benefits without the work will just keep researching crackpot schemes promising to make you an online influencer overnight, or some other such nonsense. The irony is that things can happen so quickly online anyway. Why push the river?

Maybe building an online presence requires a sort of lifestyle change. There are things I do every day now that I didn’t do a year ago. I post updates on Twitter, check my blog stats, read and comment on other peoples’ blogs, answer comments on my blog on a daily basis… this is all in addition to writing for my blog and working full time.

I still feel like I’m figuring out all of this as I go and you probably should, too. I launched this blog in a single evening. I had no idea what to name it so I came up with Very Official Blog as a kind of joke. It stuck and I’m glad, because as serious as a lot of my posts are, I really, really love to laugh.

So this how I think I’ve been able to build my online presence. I’m sorry if you were looking for more of a step-by-step approach, but that’s really not my style. For me, there were no steps, just daily participation as myself. I’m sure I’m leaving a lot of other great advice out, like don’t worry about numbers and stuff like that, but a lot of other people have already said them better than I could, like Greg Verdino and Mack Collier.

Please feel free to add your thoughts here, I know a lot of people are looking to people like you and I to help them navigate and establish a presence on the social web. How do you cultivate your online presence? How did you get started?

How are you taking your presence to the next level in 2009? If you need some time to think on the matter, distract yourself with this very fun video and remember, if you’re bored then you’re boring… [vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/173714]

Update Dec. 29, 2008 – 11:12 a.m. EST: For those of you asking for some background information about the Flagpole Sitta Lip Dub video posted above, you should check out Christopher Ming Ryan’s blog. He wrote a post back in November that gives a bit of the back story of this video with some interesting details. Turns out the company used this as a recruitment tool… who knew?!
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{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

December 28, 2008 HowToMakeMyBlog.com 1

Nice article!

It all really is about being consistent and not giving up. Most people start good but they give up easily because of no visitors, no comments, no ideas, no revenue etc etc.

Keep doing it, keep writing interesting articles, keep posting/commenting/guest posting in social media, forums and relevant blogs… sooner or later you’re tipping point will come and you will have established yourself as an expert and you will start having people coming to you…



December 28, 2008 Cameron 2

Hi Shannon,

Nice post! Although I’m new too all this, much of what you say makes perfect sense, in that it’s how one would go about making friends in life anyway – Just connect, don’t be afraid to give your opinion (in a respectful mannor), be friendly, give positive advice where possible, do any ‘marketing’ of your own material as an afterthought – make it available for those who want to know, but don’t shove it.

I just wish I was closer to my heroes. Living in South Africa puts me a bit out of the way.. :) but twitter, blogs and facebook makes the world a much smaller place! and so much easier to connect so that one day when I’m in the area.. the connection’s been made and developed..

Thanks again – great post, and I’m keen to just plug on at it, and see what happens with my own online presence – as you say, I’m doing things now I wasn’t doing even 3-6 months ago – it can only get better – I’ve met so many great people already!



December 28, 2008 Derry O Donnell 3

Hi, Nice post. I’m a complete newbie when it comes to blogging and am only finding my feet now so to speak. I have found Twitter to be fantastic for meeting new people and learning new things. Like yourself I was tweeting before blogging. You are clearly miles ahead of me now on the blogging and I look forward to reading more of your posts.


December 28, 2008 bugsyrocker 4

happy to have just stumbled across somebody’s blog who i actually sort of know, or at least have talked to before. happy detroiting!


December 28, 2008 Kami Huyse 5

First, let me say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

I would have to agree that to know and be known online is more a set of habits than any magical steps. Plus, you should have a reason for doing it. If it is just to be “Internet famous” then I would beg anyone to give it up. Also, there are very few that will become rich, or even make a living, from blogging or Twittering alone.

I like to participate because it gives me access to a network I would not otherwise have. In addition to this being personally fulfilling, it is also professionally helpful. More than once my online professional network has saved my bacon.

I am glad that you are part of that network and that I can consider you a friend and colleague.



December 28, 2008 Arik Hanson 6

Great post, as always, Shannon. To clarify, when I approached you earlier this week, I wasn’t really looking for a way to promote myself online–just looking to find new ways to interact, engage and learn from good folks like you.

Your point about interacting with folks you wouldn’t normally have the chance to engage with is a good one. Ten years ago, would you ever dreamed you would have had the chance to chat with folks of the ilk of Chris Brogan, Scott Monty and Robert Scoble on a regular basis? Personally, I’m hoping to do more “listening” the “talking” in 2009. However, when it comes to the “putting myself out there” part, I just thought it’d be wise to try to learn a thing or two from a few people who “get it” in this space.

I’m looking forward to many more conversations online–and continuing to learn from you. Also, if you’re ever up in the Twin Cities for a Wild game, give me a shout. Like you said, always good to meet in person.


December 28, 2008 Tyler @ NHL Digest 7

Hi Shannon,
Thanks for this post. I’m sure you wrote it just for me!
Maybe i should just stop by your blog more often for this great insight instead of “Direct Messaging you to death” on Twitter.
Keep it up – I’m learning from you so you better not stop learning :)


December 28, 2008 Sarah Stewart 8

Hi Shannon

The other thing I would say is that it takes time and energy to build an online presence. I would think that it is rare it happens over night, and you do have to put in some effort, as you have already said. It has taken me 18 months to come up ‘first’ in a google search of my name, and that has taken a lot of work. But, then again, I have a very common name and a subject matter that would only appeal to a small audience. So, I’d say that its worth making your name your ‘brand’ and think about what you want your ‘presence’ to look like and who your audience will be. cheers Sarah


December 28, 2008 Sterling Minerals 9

Great post about social networking. So much of this rings true for me. I am typically not one to put too much of myself out there, so this has been a learning experience and thankfully I have met some great people by simply putting it out there for people to find.

Thanks For This!



December 28, 2008 Frank Da Silva 10

Thanks for sharing!


December 28, 2008 penina 11

What an awesome post, especially tip #5!

The beauty of the web has always been that it’s a work in progress. It is my dream that it remains that way.

I’m glad to have found another great social media blogger (thanks Mack C!) who is jazzed by the web, and what you can form it/make it/allow it to become.


December 28, 2008 Fae Yamaguchi 12

Am taking your advice and leaving a comment. I feel like an old artist trying to keep up and be with it. Or is it an old dog? But I never really knew any tricks…Thanks for all the info. I will keep reading.


December 28, 2008 Ryan Viers 13


As someone who put your methodology into motion (before reading this post) by meeting you on Twitter and later that week in person, I can honestly say that building relationships online and then meeting later in person, is such a great experience…and one that I would have never known of without utilizing this resource (Twitter) and exploring other areas of the web.

I totally agree with all you are saying especially when you say, “In some ways it feels like telling people to eat right and exercise. The people who are really into living this way seem to get it immediately.” It takes a certain mindset. A person cannot expect great results without putting forth any effort. It takes pushing oneself out of the comfort zone that many tend to sit in. By doing this it opens up so many doors that one would be ignorant to otherwise.

Great post!



December 28, 2008 Joe Olsen 14

Good stuff for personal presence building. I think building for brands/commercially is more complicated, but many of your insights can be applied to some extent.

Social media exposure for brand building (not brand launching) is a very strategic and concentrated effort to interact directly with individuals across multiple networks on a one to one basis. Some if it is getting engaged in “their” conversations and some of it is simply listening and executing the best response in a network specific matter.

Many companies are realizing this with Twitter customer service initiatives and its paying off.


December 28, 2008 Joseph Rueter 15

I think you’re spot on. Numbers 1-4 are, to my mind, on target. Then number 5 is a home run. It seems the space is so new that we only have a vague idea of the strike zone, if that. The rules are still being written.

Humbly, I’d add to the list a consolidated place for all your links. I started http://www.extendr.com for this reason and have had great results sharing this one place. http://joseph.extendr.com for an example.


December 29, 2008 Big Red Notebook 16

Good post and I’m with J. Reuter re: your 5th point. I’m beginning to believe that participation trumps having a “master plan”.

Oh, and the best part of this is the inclusion of the Flagpole Sitta lip-dub. It’s a personal favorite.



December 29, 2008 krissy knox 17

Be helpful to others. Give more than you take — give instead of taking. The more you help, the more others will help you. You don’t give to get, it’s just the way it works — others will reciprocate. But never give to get, give with the intention that if you don’t give back, it’s okay. And watch what happens! Your blog and your online presence will grow!

Also, remember that in the world of blogging, there is the law “that there is plenty to go around.” I heard that from a Professional Blogger, but can’t remember which one right now. I wish I could give him credit. Don’t be afraid to give, to even give some secrets away. Don’t be so aggressive and competive that you harm others to get ahead. Even share ideas. Don’t feel threatened. The reason is because you can feel safe and secure, believing in yourself, your own ideas, and your own creativity — confident in the knowledge that “there is plenty to go around!”

Live by those two principles, principles of integrity, and you will have a good online presence!

And don’t be afraid to be a leader. Break from the norm. Try something different. Be creative. Do something different than everybody else. Create a new way. not just a new widget, but perhaps a new system. Or a whole new way to look at something. Be an innovator, create something people want! Whether it be for work or play. Now go out and get ‘em! Provide a service and let them remember your name!

Krissy :)
visit my main blog: Sometimes I Think
visit me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/iamkrissy


December 29, 2008 Jen Knoedl 18

Everyone has to get there their own way. And as my mom always said…

“Jen… to have friends, you have to be a friend.”

Thanks for the post.


December 29, 2008 michael 19

was impressed up until I saw you had brian solis as a “social media” guru. Anyone who quotes him loses some points in my book – totally overhyped mess. But your stuff is great, so keep doing what you’re doing.


December 29, 2008 TonNet 20

I’ve paid special attention to # 2. Certainly, if you don’t have friends first, it’s quite hard to attract someone to read your blog or even drop a comment. From my own experience, I can tell this process takes time, and for me still is hard to make room among millions and millions of good bloggers.

Great post. Thanks!


December 29, 2008 Todd Schnick 21

Thanks for the great post. As far as blogging is concerned, I have adopted a strategy I call “Blogging By Thirds” – where you spend only a third of your time on your own blog, a third of the time finding other great blogs, and a third taking the time to care enough to comment and contribute. The strategy has increased traffic to my blog – and it has been fun too! http://intrepid-llc.com/2008/12/10/no-blog-traffic-start-blogging-by-thirds/


December 29, 2008 deepikaur 22

Very nice post! I actually just came across your blog because someone tweeted about this article. So obviously, you must be doing something right. ;) I’m going to give it a swing and try out your method – it might just work out better than what I’d been doing before. Keep up the great posts!
- deepikaur


December 29, 2008 JanSimpson 23

Nice posts – and good advice – as you didn’t start with a strategy – you still built one -which is important – and everyone should know a strategy should be planned, implemented and tweaked along the way – you follow and unfollow – all the time – don’t follow someone that you doesn’t want to follow you – that means that they believe their information is more important and the relationship with you and others is meaningless – you can’t learn from someone who doesn’t want to have a conversation with you or others to question their veiws…it is just that simple – have confidence in who you are and just breathe, and more importantly expand your horizons and have fun!



December 29, 2008 Sonny Gill 24

Great points, Shannon! I’ve definitely found these points to hold true personally, especially meeting people IRL.

Meeting my online friends in person this past year has definitely solidified my relationships with them and can truly call them friends. Not e-friends or twitter buds, but real friends. It’s amazing the types of relationships that come from having conversations through online tools but it happens everyday and it works.

They know your worth and it becomes contagious as that network spills over to your blog and other places you have an online presence in, as people begin noticing. You just have to be willing to put that effort out there and believe in what you’re doing.


December 29, 2008 Shannon Paul 25

I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to respond to the comments here. I’m getting ready for a work-related trip and it’s my last day in the office so I’m a bit swamped, but I really do appreciate everyone’s input here! Thanks for sharing your tips for building an online presence.

Michael – I didn’t list anyone as a “social media” guru, but I did include Brian Solis as an example of someone I have had the chance to meet who I believe is an interesting person doing great work in the realm of social media. While I respect your opinion, I happen to think that Brian is actually under-hyped in many respects. He gives a lot to the community and also works a lot behind the scenes to promote his clients, shepherd them into the tech community and connect them with others. Isn’t that what PR is really about?


December 29, 2008 Philippa 26

Thanks for the post Shannon. Great advice. I am glad to hear that I am starting off on the right track. I will keep this post and read it often.


December 29, 2008 Dave Glenn 27


This is a really insightful post – just “favorited” it.

I especially appreciated your points on making friends first, and on meeting people face to face. In this world of always on, online connectedness, it’s easy to forget that at the end of the day, behind the blogs, behind the @… we’re still people, and things are still built on connections and friendships.

“Putting a face with a name” is still a key factor in relationships.

That said, I’ve established some really great friendships with several people I have not had the pleasure to meet in person. I hope to meet as many as I can f2f as soon as I can.


December 29, 2008 anwith1n 28

Shannon, I enjoyed reading this post after our brief exchange on twitter about online presence. Fundamentally, I think all of these tips boil down to being open – open to sharing who you are and receiving what others have to offer.


December 29, 2008 Jim Gray 29

Wow!Great article and I discovered Zemanta! One good read for social media that has helped me is “The New Media Frontier” although it has a Christian bias, it has some excellent pointers that helped me get jump-started into blogging and networking.


December 29, 2008 Brandon Chesnutt 30


Just wanted to add something to number 2.

One thing that resonated with me is something you mentioned when we first met at the Tweetup at BlackFinn – get to know your local community.

Those who are active on a local level are more than likely going to be your first “online to offline” relationships, so it would be wise to get to know them!

Be sure to keep the tweets flying from the Winter Classic. Go Wings!



December 29, 2008 Julie Roads 31

Hey Shannon – I love this post…because you are just so frickin’ honest. My dad’s here for the holiday and he’s reading The Outliers and driving us all crazy talking about why people are successful – but it’s all very apropos – you must love what you do, be excited, be creative and, most importantly, be in the right place at the right time.

I think the ‘how to’ for social media includes: be yourself, do what feels right, take risks, never discount anyone (unless they’re selling porn or pharmaceuticals), PARTICIPATE.

I write about all of this a lot because I’m just fascinated by it and how it changes and grows every day. http://www.writingroads.com/blog – and from a writer’s perspective.

Happy New Year…


December 29, 2008 Sami Ghazi 32

Thanks Shannon for the insightful post. I’m still learning about how to approach social media, but it seems to me that for all the strategic thinking that can go into it, it’s important to remember that at the end of the day, it is human interaction by technological means. So while the etiquette of the social web seems to be evolving day by day, my sense is that the first question we should ask ourselves re: interactions on the social web is: “How would I approach this if it was a face-to-face encounter?” That seems to be a good rule of thumb.

- Sami


December 30, 2008 Kevin Boon 33

Great points Shannon…
I can certainly relate to the hesitations and fears that come up around blogging.



December 30, 2008 Daria Steigman 34

Hi Shannon,

I love your five tips, especially #4 on being interested (and interesting).

I’d add one more tip: It’s Not About Numbers. Despite all the online chatter about popularity rankings, building an online presence isn’t about getting voted prom queen. Rather, as you so aptly put it, it’s about building relationships “organically, through genuine, authentic discussion.”

Happy New Year!



December 30, 2008 Fayza 35

I’m finding more and more than Chris Brogan is rarely – if ever – wrong. I’m glad you took his advice.


December 30, 2008 WebTechMan 36

Love your stuff here. So many Social Media sites are just filled with fluff mixed in with the latest buzz words. You have useful content. Please keep it up.

Wishing you the best,
Daniel Hudson


December 31, 2008 Krista Parry 37

Thank you so very much for your valuable insight. I may have been convinced to start my own blog. Maybe I’ll make that my 2009 resolution. I enjoy reading your blog!


December 31, 2008 Heather RAst 38

Given that at the time of my commenting there are 39 predecessors (I’ll go for self-deprecation and confess I haven’t had 39 legitimate commenters in the 6 months I’ve had my own blog!), I’d definitely say you’re doing something right, ‘textbook’ ((maybe an oxymoron for socmed, anyway)) or not).

And while there’s a sliver of me that wishes I could yank a part of that interest/following (hey, just keepin it real, like our foresome @ambercadabra, @bethharte should), I wholly understand why you have followers and readers and hold your own with someone like Chris Brogan. You have a light.

I like your candid, funny, and honest approach, with a dash of your own self-deprecation thrown in. What’s more, I appreciate that you didn’t stand on a pedestal and proclaim “this is the way to build an online reputation” with authority. We’ve each read/twittered enough about socmed ‘experts’ to wrinkle our noses at that presumptive attitude.

I think we’re all fortunate that you “fell into” your own blog and tweet like a fiend…looking forward to meeting you at SxSW and growing our twitter friendship! Heather


January 1, 2009 Jennifer Larson 39

Hey Shannon,

I feel like i’m in the same boat as you. I just started my own internet marketing consulting business, and have one very good client. But, even though I’ve been writing for other’s blogs and writing content for three years, there is still so much I don’t know. I’m definitly going to utilize twitter this year to learn from the best. That’s probably the best peice of advice on your list. They are already doing what works, so building relationships with them gives you the opportunity to have as many mentors as you want.


January 2, 2009 Daniel Edlen 40

It’s funny how the best way to be a bird on the wire on Twitter is to evesdrop. Wasn’t that a social no-no? I love it. Hard to follow a lot of people though. Thanks for this!



January 2, 2009 Lindsay Olson 41

Shannon, excellent post! I am with you on how you felt starting your blog. I felt the same way and still do sometimes with mine. I talked about it for years and the thought of posting my ideas for the whole world to read gave me so much anxiety I put it off for 2 years!

I really like your number 3. I started using Twitter a year and a half ago, well before I started my blog, and I can’t even count how many valuable connections I’ve made through the people I’ve met on Twitter. It’s also helped me strengthen those relationships with people I already know that I can’t get face time with due to geographical constraints. Twitter has enriched my life in ways that no other online medium does consistently.

Thanks for sharing!


January 2, 2009 Jared O'Toole 42

I think leveraging twitter is key. Because everyone is on the same level it truly gives you the opportunity to be in a discussion with someone who you could never have imagined having access to. In time they might just notice you and you’ll find yourself with an amazing connection.


January 4, 2009 Sean Bailey 43

Hey Shannon,

For school I’m going to have to have a blog for an Online PR course, but I decided to get a head start on that in November. Right now I’m just learning how to keep a focus with my site and write in my own voice more. I’m trying to keep my content interesting because I’m definitely interested in it and I hope people that drop by my page will find it the same.

At the moment I think twitter is the greatest way to build on online presence simply for its accessibility to so many people, as you mentioned. I also agree that meeting people in person is second to none, and I plan to get on that a little more in 2009.



January 10, 2009 Morgan Sully 44

Hi Shannon,
I just added you because of this post filtering through on Twitter.

Thank you!

Here’s some Googled Twitter results for it (lots!):



{ 4 trackbacks }

  • 5 Very Official Tips for Building an Online Presence | 4 entrepreneur December 29, 2008
  • Shannon Paul’s Very Official Blog « Beacon Hill NW December 29, 2008
  • PRos in Training » Blog Archive » New Voices for a New Year: Blogs to Read March 13, 2010
  • PRos in Training » Blog Archive » Some of My Favorite Posts on Social Media Basics March 22, 2010

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