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Digital Body Language

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Taylor Davidson called it “my phrase” at Tribecon, but it isn’t really mine– it’s been used many, many times before.

I started getting interested in it when I began doing Alexander Technique, which attempts to return your body to a natural, relaxed state through re-training (or “un”-training) you out of your bad posture habits.

But there’s more to it than that. The reason Alexander Technique is valuable is because it does a lot more than change posture– it also changes the way people see you, the way you project your voice, and a bunch of other stuff that is really valuable on a human level– particularly to me as a public speaker. (This is why many actors and musicians practice it.)

So I started to think: “If you’re sending non-verbal signals in person, you’re also doing it online. So how can you improve the signals you’re sending that aren’t verbal?”

If body language is a large part of what you’re showing people when you’re not speaking to them, digital body language is what you’re displaying to people on the web without speaking. And trust me, you’re sending a lot.

Let’s take the metaphor a bit further. If body language includes “stance,” what is stance on the web? It’s the way you or your company stand, what you look like, when you’re “in neutral.” What does your stance say about you, if people are just observing?

If being “tense” in real life means you look uncomfortable and frightened (which results in people feeling ill-at-ease around you), then what does tense mean in digital body language? Maybe a defensiveness in your writing and the way you position yourself vis-a-vis your market? That you’re not at ease with yourself?

People that are hunched over don’t look healthy– people with good posture do. What signals are you sending out that people assess as showing illness within your company or yourself?

Think about all of the signals you’re sending out. They’re happening all the time– they’re not just verbal, they’re everything you’re doing (or not doing). People intimate information from what they feel, and you’re making them feel it through your digital body language.

Like our body, which we often take for granted and forget about, we lose track of what our body language is telling people. But it’s vital not to ignore it like we do our body. It really is speaking volumes. Think about it.

* Filed by at 2:32 pm under strategy


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8 Responses to “Digital Body Language”

  1. kimatsprig Says:

    So, if we take this metaphor further, there are people (like chiropractors) that do checks for posture to help diagnose internal issues that may contribute to posture. What is the equivalent online? How can we self check?

    • Julien Says:

      I don’t think it is something that we can self-check. It’s a part of us. As a matter of fact, IT IS US.

      For that reason, I can see people really developing entire businesses around their footprint– what they’re showing people, etc. Do you agree?

  2. Whitney Says:

    It’s all about reading the more subtle signals people project, like how the stories we tell and find memorable tell things about us as well. Malcolm Gladwell has a bit in his new book talking about someone who did a motion study of Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, and how he conveyed things to animals through his body language and posture- it was fascinating.

  3. Steven Woods Says:

    Julien,
    Thanks for the call-out to the Digital Body Language blog, much appreciated. It’s an interesting take on the concept that you have here, which is actually quite different than mine, but very powerful. In Digital Body Language, I’m mostly looking at the audicence, but you are very correct in the idea that a personality/business online has their own posture, good or bad, that they should be aware of.
    Best regards,
    Steve

  4. Ohdoctah Says:

    It’s funny how some people think that people only pay attention to what they say. It’s a total package of who you are that people see, feel and relate to. Online and OFF.

  5. allan isfan Says:

    I sometimes privately ping people I’m close to when they say something online that I think gives the wrong impression of who they are.

    I do this only for people I know well. For example, if someone in passing mentions how many followers they have, I DM them “Dude … I know you didn’t mean it that way, but it looks pretentious”.

  6. Michael Hinton Says:

    Julien, Digital body language is not as farfetched as it first appears. McLuhan would have approved. This is what he was talking about when he said “the medium (electric/digital print) is the message (the effects on our thinking and the environment). Cheers
    and keep on blogging, Michael

  7. Taylor Davidson Says:

    The source of my confusion: I thought it was your phrase because of this conversation you did with Valeria Maltoni: http://www.conversationagent.com/2009/09/julien-smith-trust-agents.html

    My bad.

    The interesting part of the concept of digital body language to me: our physical body language sends strong signals to the observant, signals that are often universal across people and can be understood even if we don’t know the other person.

    But how does this come across digitally? Can being “tense” come across as clearly and as fast, or does it require one to understand a lot more background and context about the individual to understand if they are truly tense? I’m sure there are some obvious tells, but I’d guess the truly powerful ones are harder to pick up digitally than physically.

    Not a bad thing. Just a thought.

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