How’s Your Digital Handshake

How’s your handshake? Let’s start with the in-person kind and I’ll get around to how it relates to digital. Humor me here, ok?

A handshake is such a simple gesture and can help to build important relationships. Yet, in that split second, people make a myriad of judgments about you!

C’mon, admit it. Remember the last time you shook hands with someone and it was like taking a hold of a limp fish? Yuck, right? Did you want to shake hands with that person again?

And even though you don’t like to admit it, when you shake hands with someone and it seems like they died maybe a week ago [or at least are well past their sell-by-date]…would they be someone you would want to do business with?

Probably not. It made you feel uncomfortable, but what was your first thought about that person? Did you think that they were lacking in confidence? Or worse?

Did you feel that maybe they were lacking in honesty or integrity?


Perception of nervousness can be interpreted differently from person to person. It might be interpreted as a lack of confidence, or just a little shyness, or acting suspiciously, or maybe even deceptive.

That perception may be far from the truth, but you only get that one first impression.

So how about the other guy, on the far opposite end of the handshake spectrum? The one who squeezes your hand as if trying to crush it. Ouch!

Again, the feeling is something of distrust, that this person is either SO lacking in confidence that they’re trying to fool you, or maybe trying to bully you? Either way, it’s uncomfortable and you would probably avoid wanting to shake their hand again.

And feeling that someone’s a bully would certainly affect your wanting to do business with them, right?

And then there are those who are just creepy. They take your hand and keep on talking and talking and won’t let go. You try to politely extract your hand and they resolutely keep a hold of it. I don’t know if this happens more to women but it’s just creepy.

It definitely transgresses boundaries, both personal and business and we’d all think twice about doing business with this person!

It’s pretty clear that even though this business practice takes place in just a few seconds, there’s an etiquette involved and clear expectations.

If you want to make a good impression, a good handshake is part of it.

So, what is a good handshake?

First, you need to be in the moment! Be with the person. Make yourself available. Put your attention solely on the person with whom you’re shaking hands.

Look at them! Not deep into their eyes in a creepy way. Not down at your feet or at their chest or over to the person next to them as if the person whose hand you’re holding is an after-thought!

Be attentive. Simply look at them and smile. Let the other person know that you’re genuinely interested in them and in what they have to say.

Make sure your handshake is confident and firm without trying to break their hand or show dominance and by all means, be sure to let go!

What if you can’t help it because you’re a nervous wreck?

We’ve all had times and occasions where we’re really nervous and sweaty. Can you wipe your hands discretely?

If not, and you’re really nervous and clammy, rather than the cold fish feel, just smile and acknowledge the person and have a good excuse. Maybe you have a cold and really don’t think it’s a good idea to shake hands today. Maybe you were just holding a dead fish or copier toner? No one wants those germs, scales or ink!

It’s all really about the greeting and impression. Maybe you can come up with a funny excuse that deflects your nervousness? You can still come off as warm and confident without the actual handshake and that might work better if your hands sweat a lot.

We know that offline this handshake ritual is very important and part of the first impression we make on others. It’s the beginning (or not) of a business relationship.

In the online world, we;re always talking about building relationships too. How do handshakes translate online? Is there a digital handshake?

Turns out, there is!

So what is a digital handshake?

Building a relationship online takes time, the same as on offline relationship does. But you’ll never have a chance at the relationship at all, if the initial handshake flops!

Your digital handshake is part of branding. Your brand is something you should be conscious of every second of the day no matter how small your business!

Where do people make their first impression of you and your business online? Online touchpoints are your website, social media sites and review sites, to name a few. These would be the most likely first encounters, so what impression are you giving?

How would you give a memorable digital handshake? And by memorable, I mean not a limp fish sort of way!

The main online touchpoint, of course, is your website. If we look for your company and we find only some Google streetview pics on a review site, that leaves a really poor first impression. That would be similar to a limp fish handshake.

You should have your own website. Make sure links are working and that contact information is easily accessible. Make sure it’s easy to navigate to find information. Confident. Friendly. Approachable. Just like your offline handshake!

Your digital handshake should be like your physical shake in other ways, too. You want to be available. You want your visitor to know that THEY are exactly who your attention is focused upon. You want to be exactly what they’re looking for! Each visitor should feel that you put that website there with him in mind!

Be sure that you aren’t overbearing or bullying or hand-crushing! Online that might be annoying popups that blast videos and won’t let a visitor move on until they watch the video! Or badgering us to buy something when we’ve only just landed (met you) two seconds ago!

And the popups that won’t go away or have invisible x’s are similar to the lingerer handshake, no?

Finally, I understand the value of retargeting ads but sometimes that can feel a little creepy too, can’t it? As a business owner, be conscious about what impression you’re making with all aspects of your site and marketing.

Online Presence

Although your website should be your main touchpoint online, sometimes people find their way to you through different platforms. They may have seen a blog article that you posted on LinkedIn. Maybe a quote that you posted on Pinterest caught their attention or a Tweet peeked their interest.

In these cases, your handshake would be there, on that impression, on that social media platform. What impression did you give?

Your social media presence is part of networking, advertising and branding. Be sure that it all fits together, showing a unified and consistent approach. We should still recognize you and your brand and how you do business, no matter which platform you’re on.

So spruce up those profiles. Make sure that ANYTHING you post is consistent in reflecting your business. Show people who you are by the information that you share with others.

Your digital handshake should be warm; friendly and confident, no matter which platform we happen to meet on! If we meet on a social media platform, your handshake and first impression should entice us to click over to your website to get to know you better.

Your digital handshake is a simple comment or post and yet in that split second, people make a myriad of judgments about you! Follow this advice, and that impression will be a positive one.

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Patt Timlin
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15 thoughts on “How’s Your Digital Handshake”

  1. I stumbled upon this I have discovered It positively helpful and it has aided me out loads. I am hoping to give a contribution and help other users like its aided me. Great job.

  2. Thank you, Patt Timlin, for reminding us that our Social Media posts are also our online handshake. Additionally, making sure that our posts, on the different social media platforms, are congruent with each other is a point I wish more would notice as relevant. Nicely put. Our brand & how we present ourselves/and said brand goes further than our handshake when those we are connecting with are online and not in front of us.

    Our online handshake is there if we realize it or not.

    • Yes, Paula Helgerson, we have quite a reach with out digital handshake so we all need to be sure we are putting out best face forward at all times. Sometimes people forget the social media posts as reflecting on their brand. We’ve all had to stop mid-share sometimes because even though we might agree and think it’s funny, we realize it doesn’t fit in with our big picture! We want to use our reach to our advantage and not to our detriment!

  3. Very useful tips for those of us who did not grow up in the digital age! Considering how much the marketing landscape has changed in the past 20 years, with the growing presence of social media and the internet, it’s more important than ever for businesses to stay current with all of the options available to them. And many of us (of a certain generation) are not aware of internet etiquette, concepts, or terminology. Your article is a great reminder of how businesses of all sizes can’t afford to overlook or ignore their online presence.

    • So true Patty Graham. Many business think that all their business is done off-line and that they don’t have to bother with it. But all business needs to bother! Something like 80% of searches are now done on phones and people are out and about and searching for whatever they are looking for and they expect to find it then and there, on their phone! I’ve been in one grocery store and checked online to see if the other local store had something on sale! The idea of word-of-mouth has changed. It’s still there only expanded and multiplied!

  4. Thanks for stopping by Ginny Mulligan. One-on-one is still very important for business and life, not doubt about that. But where people would never go out to a meeting and expect to shake hands with someone with bedhead and rumpled clothes, they sometimes don’t take care with their online presence or even realize that it matters.

    A business brand should be consistent across platforms and like you pointed out, we should be conscious of our personal “brand” and our online reputation because they do meet up out here in the real world!

  5. Very good points, Patt Timlin. Thank you for the observations and helpful professional reminders. You don’t mention Facebook impressions, but I have a friend who is a teacher and learned (the hard way) that your likes and posts on Facebook should also be carefully thought out as well.

    As a business professional and someone with plenty of experience in grass roots organizing, service on a county commission, and support and service on a number of non-profit boards, I mourn the loss of importance placed on one-on-one, face-to-face introductions and communications. Having said that, you show how the embrace of the online world can be navigated to achieve the same connection, just maybe not as personally.

  6. As a business women I can definitely relate to a face to face, good quality hand shake but the new age virtual on-line hand shake is something I haven’t put as much thought into. This was an eye opening article for me. I spend so much time just running my business. Perhaps even getting into a rut of the same thing over and over. I realize I need to get into the 21 century way of thinking if I want new customers to come through my front door. Time to spruce up that website of mine and reach out to more people on social media.

    • Hi Darlene, I truly believe that brick-and-mortars have so much to gain through their online presence and many just don’t see it yet. Your new customers are going to come through your door by searching for you online so you definitely want to get positioned so that when people search, there you are! People could live a block from your shop but they are not finding you online so they drive miles to another store, to pay more, for lousy service and all because they didn’t know you were there! I’m glad the article opened your eyes as you say. I hope it helped you think of some new ways to reach people.

  7. Great article! A handshake is so personal and reveals much. Thinking about my online presence in the same way sparked some contemplation about what I am letting the world know about me!

    • Hi Michele! Yes, I think we are all starting to realize the importance of personal branding! as well as business branding online! As business people, we need to be conscious of first impressions on and offline!


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