Carefully Crafted on January 21

Online Community Building: Don't Believe Everything You Read

Dear brands: People don’t want relationships with you.

Or, do they?

Perhaps the answer depends on the size of your organization …

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Earlier this month, digiday ran a post from Adam Kmiec, formerly of Walgreens and now head of digital/social for Campbell’s Soup (and someone who I think is very smart). In the post, he asks a fair question:

… would you maintain a relationship with someone who publicly complains about you and expects to receive financial compensation because they publicly took you task? Of course not.

Adam points to data that shows less than a quarter of people posting about companies want to share and/or give credit. Meanwhile, 24% “vent feelings to friends and family”; 14% use social media as a last resort; and 8% turn to social to get an immediate response. That same data also shows that complaining people want financial compensation, an apology, thanks for an offer/voucher.

Feels like a one-way relationship, right?

Not so fast.

At Geben, we work with a lot of startups, emerging brands and small- to mid-sized businesses. With few exceptions, we don’t work with FORTUNE 500 companies. (This is a purposeful decision on my part … a topic for another post.) Suffice it to say, my perspective is very different than Adam’s. However, my experience working with these companies tells me that people ARE open to “relationships” with brands.

Is it a brand/consumer relationship the same as a peer-to-peer relationship? Or course not. That’s just silly. However, a brand/consumer relationship can be powerful, meaningful and mutually beneficial. But, like any relationship, it requires time, attention and a willingness to break out of the corporate “talking points” mold.

Not all social media relationships are created equal. Just because someone follows or “likes” your page doesn’t necessarily mean they want a relationship. There are different stages of online community development. As people progress through those stages, relationships evolve and become stronger. Consider your Facebook page: Some people who like the page are just lurking, perhaps looking for a deal or an answer to a specific question. But, there’s also a group of people who buy into your mission and believe in what you’re doing. Some individuals are such strong believers in your community that they want to recruit others to join as well. When nurtured, these relationships can become so strong that your fans informally serve as an extension of your team — not requiring anything in return except exceeding their expectations.

For international organizations with millions of fans/followers, it’s much harder to scale this more personal approach to social media, which may explain why the “relationship” piece is lacking for global brands. But, that doesn’t mean other companies should throw in the towel and give up.

Building relationships is a two-way street. Social media is different for every organization. But, I know from my experience, that brands absolutely can use social media to create strong, mutually beneficial bonds. And, these relationships can turn into sales and other business-driven metrics. We’ve seen it with a number of our clients, and I’ve even witnessed it with larger brands, such as Outback Steakhouse. (Just look at their history with Dave Parsons.)

There are very few absolutes in social media. Just because one person declares relationships dead — or unrealistic — doesn’t mean that’s the case for your organization, especially if you’re a startup or small/medium-sized organization. Instead of settling on the assumption that relationships can’t be achieved, why not aim higher?

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