Building (and Breaking!) Relationships Through Social Media

This post was originally published in April 2011 on my old blog. As always, the content and concept is still relevant today. 

A recent ExactTarget report titled The Social Break-Up (Wait, don’t click yet! Read this post first!) caught my eye in my Twitter stream. The headline caught me and the concept intrigued me, so I filled out a brief form, providing my contact details and email address, and then downloaded the report.

Why am I calling out the process? I’ll explain later.* Let’s talk about the report itself first. There is a focus on e-mail subscriptions, Facebook “likes” and Twitter followers; in each case, ExactTarget provides a “dating profile”, showing consumer stats for the channel, how they like to use the channel (”turn-ons”), and what drives them to not use the channel (”turn-offs”). They also dive into the reasons why consumers break-off this relationship.

There are a number of interesting findings showcasing how Facebook Fans and Twitter followers differ in their reasons for connecting themselves with a company page or profile and their expectations of that connection. Facebook Fans have reasons that vary from showing their public endorsement of the brand to the deisre to stay up-to-date on promotions and offers. Some Fans are just looking to engage with like-minded individuals or the company behind the product. Since these reasons vary so much, it’s tough to tell what an individual consumer is really saying when they hit that “like” button. Twitter users have one general goal in mind: interaction with and accessibility to the company. Therefore, each channel attracts different users, which requires a different strategy to build and maintain a relationship.

On Facebook, brands should be wary of how much they broadcast versus how much they sit back and let their Fans interact. If a company is too pushy, posts too frequents, or gets repetitive and boring, they’ll lose fans that signed up expecting to interact with the company and other Fans. But they’ll be in the good graces of those Fans looking for product information and new offers. Alternatively, if you attracted a fan using a one-time offer (”Like my page and you’ll get a coupon!”), it’s possible that as soon as the offer is fulfilled, the Fan will “un-like” the page. It’s not tough, it’s just the click of a mouse. As ExactTarget says, it’s “like”, not “love”.

So how do you get from “like” to “love”? You build the relationship by providing human interactions – by peeling back the corporate mask and exposing the personality and culture of the brand and the employees who represent it. If you move too quickly and jump straight into selling without first providing valuable content to the Fan or follower, you’ll have about as much chance of closing as a horny 19 year old on a first date (credit@garyvee with that gem). Whether that content is information (quick answers to Twitter questions) or entertainment (an internal video of employees rapping) depends on the audience and the channel.

Finding that sweet-spot is a challenge for all companies engaging with the public, whether it be through traditional or social media. Changing the channel after seeing the same commercial for the 10th time during the hockey game is the equivalent of un-following a company on Twitter that posts their services and website address every hour. On the other hand, if you’re too casual and off of your corporate line, followers might feel you’re not relevant or focused enough for them. An ExactTarget interviewee put it best:

“I think each channel should be customized for that group of people, so that each group feels important. That way, a consumer can follow on Twitter, Facebook, and by email and not be overloaded with the same information”

That’s pretty much the perfect scenario for the company as well: You get to talk to a variety of consumers in a way that’s particularly meaningful and valuable to them. As well, there are even some customers who will follow your brand through a variety of channels because they trust that they’ll receive unique and valuable content through each interaction. And as we all know, good relationships are based on trust!

And of course, all of this data just provides further proof that the number of Fans and followers are not the most important metrics in social media. Just because it’s already in a convenient number that you can compare across different points in time doesn’t mean it is the correct measurement for campaign success. The true value of social media lies in the relationships you build, the creation of brand ambassadors from those Fans and followers, and from growing the lifetime value of customers through honest engagement and communication.

What are your thoughts on building and maintaining relationships through social media? What strategies would you use instead of offers and contests, which potentially “buy” Fans and followers?

 

*Oh right! The call out! When I went looking for the report again through Google, a simple search for “The Social Break-Up” produced the PDF without the need to provide any personal info. This would have been handy, as I have already received a call and multiple emails asking me about my email marketing needs. I’m certain I didn’t give my permission for these communications, and since I didn’t download the report because of its focus on email, I can tick off a few reasons from the report (not relevant! too frequent!) that explain why I have already unsubscribed from future communications. It’s also a tad bit ironic.

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