Social distancing is keeping most of us in our homes for longer than any of us would like. As a behavioral economist, I have never liked the term "social distancing," as it primes people for the wrong experience. While it is important to remain physically distant for safety, there's an opportunity to be more social than ever

The world is virtual in a way we have never seen before. The inability to connect in person is creating a void people are looking to fill. And the good news is, finding the right ways to fill the void for yourself and your employees can also help build customer engagement and loyalty. Here are three ways to do just that.

1. Be genuinely social on social media.

Before coronavirus, you could argue that social media had become anything but social. It was more like a billboard -- a global megaphone with built-in earplugs. Putting in your daily time on social media meant posting about yourself, seeing what others have commented on your posts, and deciding whom to connect with based on their likelihood to buy something from you. Now is our opportunity to change that. 

Potential customers who were too busy for LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube are finding themselves spending more and more time on these networks, looking for connection to fill the gap. Instead of seeing social media outlets as a tool to grow your business, consider a reframe. Regard them as a chance to stay engaged and have genuine conversations with people. 

  • Use the 80/20 rule and share at least four posts from others for every one about your business.
  • Seek out long-lost connections and start up a conversation. I like asking "What are you passionate about right now?" or "What are you working on in the next year that has you excited?" 
  • Read and leave thoughtful comments on posts from at least 10 connections a day. The general rule of thumb is that for every 100 people who see a post, 10 will like it and only one will comment. Being one of the few commenters makes you stand out, so people are more likely to remember you. I like to include a thoughtful question to spur conversation and learn more about my connections. 

The most important thing is to slow down and be genuinely interested in what your connections are up to. It's probably pretty fascinating when you take the time to look.

2. Send physical cards and notes.

Using the same mindset that drives your thoughtful social media posts -- connecting and deepening relationships with your contacts -- set aside some time each day to send a handwritten card or note. These cards are not about your business, services, or offerings. Instead, they are a way to say hello and stay social.

You can, however, prioritize the list of people you write to based on hot leads and other potential connections (though someone might turn out to be a hotter lead than you'd though if you reach out to them in a sincere way). 

We may be in this separated environment for the next 18 months. One card a day is an extra 550 connection points and opportunities to brighten someone's time at home.

3. Give a little bit away without asking for anything in return.

All of these actions trigger reciprocity, because the natural tendency for humans is to reciprocate whenever they are given a gift. The first two are small gifts (but they can still generate big rewards). This third technique is an opportunity to take it to the next level. 

Look at your products, services, knowledge, and other offerings. What do you know or have that people want right now? How can you turn that into a free (or significantly discounted) offering people can take advantage of from home?

This could be part of an online course, a how-to sheet or checklist, or tips you previously reserved for paying clients. Giving a little bit away can help you to stay top of mind and endear your business to people in a way they are likely to remember when things get back to normal (or whatever the new normal is). 

We may be physically separated from friends, family, colleagues, clients, and everyone else, but now is the opportunity to be closer and more authentic than ever. 

I've found LinkedIn to be a great place for connections right now -- where will you start?