Building social relationships–and meaning it

Are your social conversations for real? (image via *clarity* on Flickr)

By now, it’s safe to say that almost anyone who takes part in social networking–especially in a business sense–has heard that the best way to use it is to build relationships and talk with people, not at them.

It’s easy to spit out information–whether it’s websites you want people to visit or products and services you want to buy–but chances are few people will care enough to react to it if they haven’t established some sort of personal connection with you.

It’s just like building relationships face-to-face; once you make a genuine connection with someone, they’ll likely be a lot more interested in finding out more about you. But if you act like you just want to use them as a one-sided sounding board, chances are they’ll start ignoring you and turning the other way when they see you coming.

In my experience, this is a simple idea to understand, but a not-so-simple one to actually put into action. It’s easy for people to act like they care about building relationships with the people they’re addressing, but how often is that actually the case?

For example, frequently people posting on behalf of a company on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook will ask questions of their followers–things as general as “What are you doing this weekend?” to specific questions like “What do you think of our new site design?” That’s great, as long as they actually care about the responses, and show people that they care. A good conversation doesn’t end after one question is asked and one response is given. In good conversations, responses lead to follow-up questions, and sometimes other topics of discussion. That’s how relationships are developed. Remember the last time you responded to a post on a company’s fan page and they responded back? Didn’t it feel really refreshing (maybe even a bit shocking, in a good way)?

If you pass up the opportunity to take the conversation further, you’re probably not going convince people that you really care about what they have to say, and run the risk of them flagging you as a phony (and if you actually don’t care about what they have to say, you probably shouldn’t be asking the questions in the first place).

Recently, I actually saw one of my Twitter contacts call this behavior out, literally tweeting something like, “How often are companies who tweet out questions actually interested in my opinion?” It was a perfect illustration to me that this kind of thing doesn’t go unnoticed; most people can sniff out a faker a mile (or Twitter steam) away.

It’s true, social networking works best when it’s actually social. When you care, people will care back, and you’ll probably have a lot more success reaching the people you want to reach.

What do you think? (I swear, I really want to know).

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