You’ve heard it time and time again – you need to have a website. You need to have Facebook. You need to do this, you need to do that.

They always bundle this in with the blanket statement that you “need to be online.” Everyone says it but very few people actually take it at its literal meaning. They think that because they have a website with a logo on it, that they’re somehow “online.” They think that because a couple of people have Liked their Facebook page, that they’re “online.”

They might have a few of the bare essentials but we think that the statement that you actually need to be online means something completely different, and so much more. To us, being online actually means existing. It means having a presence. It means that a personality is coming through the screen that identifies you as a company.

Beings have all of these things. They have their own individual personas. They have distinct personalities that separate them from one another.

Companies that have actually figured out what it means to be online are companies that don’t have customers – they have fans. They don’t have consumers that they cater to – they have advocates that work to sell their products for them at no cost by sharing the company’s content through their social streams.

As consumers, we’ve become very good at picking up on when a company is actually putting effort into their online existence and when it’s just something they’re doing because someone told them that they should be doing it.

You’ve seen the fakers – you know who they are. They are the companies that do nothing but post outward-bound messages and don’t engage with the messages and feedback that come back to them. They are the companies whose websites look like they were put together by a friend of the family rather than making the investment in quality code and design that will stand the test of time.

Actually being online means that a consumer is just as likely to visit your company’s website as they are likely to visit a friend’s blog. It means that a link from your company in their social stream carries just as much weight as something sent out by someone they know.

It shows the personality of your product and the culture of your company – it’s an illustration of the kind of lifestyle that’s made possible through your product or service.

We all have favorite companies – those companies whose products have won our loyalty because of how they make us feel, either about ourselves or about our relationship with the company as a customer. Take a few minutes and visit a few of those companies online. Look at their websites and their social streams and figure out what it is about them that makes you feel good about doing business with them.

After you’re done, take a look at your own presence and ask yourself: do I have a website or am I actually online?