Is It Really All About Relationships? Yes, It Is!

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There is so much buzz lately surrounding the term “Relationship Marketing.”  My friend and social media guru, Mari Smith’s newest book is titled “The New Relationship Marketing: How to Build a Loyal, Profitable Network Using the Social Web.” In her book she outlines the ways in which people and brands can use social media to build a tribe of influencers and brand ambassadors to help them reach their core audience.

As a lifelong networker and alliance marketer, I find that the fact that these ideas are now getting focus is a bit backward.  Relationships should ALWAYS be the focus of our interactions.  However, I understand the “Mad Men” mentality.  Convincing people to buy through the use of advertisements was the pervasive philosophy back in the day, and worked for years and years.  The ad agency model was one of “give the agency your creative ideas and let them come up with something.” Brands were (and are) reluctant to change, and that’s where they run into trouble.

With the explosion of social media, companies and service providers are forced to adopt a different mindset.  The mind shift I’m referring to is from “convince and convert” to “converse and convert.”  Traditional advertising and marketing on one-way channels was about convincing people to buy your products.  Many times this included cutesy catch-phrases (remember “Where’s the Beef?”) or not-so-subtle comparisons to competitors’ products brands used to convince people to buy.  Today companies need to converse with their audience using the two-way communication of social media. They need to offer great information on ways and whys to use their product, and only periodically turn on the sales spigot.  In other words, brands have to take back the ownership of their voice rather than letting someone else come up with a catch-phrase or ad copy.  Plus, the conversation must continue after the sale to reinforce the relationship with the brand. In today’s world, brand loyalty is captured by continually offering good content, great customer service and responsiveness.

My friend and soon-to-be co-author, Ted Rubin, has been using the term the “Return on Relationship ™” since 2009 when he realized this mind shift.  While so many were looking at the “ROI” or return on investment in the traditional sense, marketers like Ted and I were looking at it from a different vantage point.  While many people were attempting to quantify the “value” of a Facebook Fan or a Twitter follower I felt they were asking the wrong question.  In my opinion, there is no real way to put a dollar value on a bunch of people who “like” or “follow” your product.  The real value is in the people who are the “super” fans or brand evangelists who market your product for you.  Measurements like people talking about you on Facebook and watching for the RT’s and mentions on Twitter (or check-ins on Foursquare) are more likely to give you an idea of value.

What is the return on the relationship measurement?  Simply put the value that is accrued by a person or brand due to nurturing a relationship. ROI is simple dollars and cents, whereas ROR or (#RonR) is the value (both perceived and real) that will accrue over time through loyalty, recommendations and sharing.

I realize many marketers don’t want to invest the time in the philosophy, but I have learned (and so will they) that the time investment is well worth it.  There have been published studies that show the recommendation of a “friend” or “follower” is far more valuable than traditional advertising.  I’m not sure why there is even a need to write and speak about this; personal recommendation has always been by far the best way to generate buzz and positive sentiment about a brand.   Social media makes it more visible and easier to share and disseminate, so people are more likely to do it.  If they have to call ten friends or stop then people on the street they are less likely to spread the positive message.  But the average Facebook user has 130 friends—so sharing positive (or negative) information about a brand can be viewed and shared much easier and at a much faster rate.

How do you measure the value of a relationship?  You see it in the engagement you receive.  There are also tools that measure brand “sentiment” that can help you see the #RonR of your efforts. can give you snapshot, other tools like SproutSocial and Radian6 are paid tools that give in-depth analysis of consumer brand sentiment.

Here are some #RonR tips you use to foster better relationships with your clients:

  1. Listen – any social media campaign I begin for customers begins with a listening campaign.  What are people saying about you, your brands and your competitors?  Formulating a Return on Relationship game plan is much easier when you know the players and positions.
  2. Find out what your constituency wants – whom does your product or service serve and how does it serve them?  When you flesh this out it is easier to figure out what your market wants to hear about from you.
  3. Figure out where your market lives — don’t try to be everywhere.  If your target market lives on Facebook and Twitter, spend 75% of your time there and 25% of the time on other channels.
  4. Learn the landscape, jargon and etiquette of the tools you use — For example: Please, please, do not post using hashtag (#) symbols on Facebook. The hashtag symbols are exclusively used on Twitter, and since most Facebook users are NOT on Twitter, it looks totally out of place and could alienate your audience.
  5. Be consistent and communicative — Many of the larger brands I work with still think that tweeting three times a week is a good strategy, or that posting on Facebook twice a week will get them engagement.  Use the tools properly.  Also, be responsive; some bigger brands still require me to run every response through their legal department.  Many times it is several days before I am able to get an answer to a question. This is not how social media works, and those who use it will not get the return they desire.
  6. Have disaster communication plan —  You cannot please everyone, so take the time to figure out what you are going to say and how you are going to say it when the inevitable negative comment is written about you or your brand.  Do not assume ignoring it will make it go away.
  7. Measure, measure, measure — Don’t just measure numbers of fans and followers; measure the number of comments, shares and retweets that your messages are receiving.  Look at the demographics of your fans and followers.  Are you reaching your target market?
  8. Tweak your efforts — realize that while a magazine ad or TV advertisement lasts weeks or months, you may need to tweak your social media strategy as much as daily if your message is not resonating. Thankfully, the immediacy of social makes that task much easier.

So tell us, what are your thoughts about the Return on Relationship™ philosophy? Do you have any #RonR tips to share?  Be sure to include your Twitter handle in your comment so we can tweet it out.

Kathryn Rose
This monthly Relationship Marketing and Social Media column is contributed by Kathryn Rose. Kathryn is an author, social media and marketing keynote speaker and trainer specializing in alliance and relationship marketing. Kathryn is the CEO of the Social Buzz Club the world’s first online marketing collaboration and content syndication system. Prior to her career in social media marketing, Kathryn was a top Wall Street sales executive, responsible for over $100m in sales per year. She used her collaboration skills to partner with salespeople from other companies to form a lucrative referral network. Kathryn is the author of 6 books on social media marketing available on +Kathryn Rose
Kathryn Rose


Social media speaker, author, trainer, fun facts and quotes lover of laughter, family and friends. Never short on good ideas, just short on time...
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Kathryn Rose
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  1. says

    My Take > Interesting Aspect~They say “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover.” But the reality is that Facebook (twitter and other social networking sites) has made it easier than ever to judge books by their covers. 
    In the near future Company will consider job application after analyzing your social networking profile.(just saying!!) ~~ @IMSoumo:twitter

  2. says

    Kathryn, interesting stat that the average Facebook user has 130 friends. That tracks with the ideal “tribe” size of 150 highlighted in Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” (credited to observations made by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar).  Glad you spotlighted the importance of measurement.  That’s an area where there seems to be plenty of systems, solutions and answers, but mixed levels of agreement and satisfaction.  Will enjoy reading more of your ideas and views in that area.

  3. says

    Conversing with influencers is absolutely essential. Word of mouth marketing is still the most effective method for reaching people and social media has made it easier, just as you said. For all businesses, it’s important to prioritize your outreach to the tribes that make the greatest impact. Not just, customers but industry experts who have an impact on your brand.

    Remember that like the facebook users who have a dunbar number, you too have a theoretical limit to the number of people you can maintain a relationship with. It’s thus important to be able to identify the influencers of tribes who generate content based on the value you show them.

  4. says

    For me, it is nice to see the change in mentality, but the truth is Trainers in hotels or service sectors have been saying this for years.  Loyality programs,  Favors ( items given to return cliental) were always a part of a relationship building process.  I personally know many General Managers who hand wrote “welcome back notes” to guests returning. 

    All social media has done is hammer home that philosphy on a larger scale and give people no choice but to engage with their clients (not necessarily easy for a traditional workplace) and some are still fighting the changes.

    Two fantastic books (pre the social media craze that really do deliver the same message) Be Different Or Be Dead (Roy Osing) and the pioneer of building relationships when no one thought anyone would care or be interested, Isadore Sharp (founder of Four Seasons).

    The vocabulary has been altered… but true service companies have always known, Engage with your client, Engage with your team and something amazing happens…. Revenue follows

  5. says

    I hope Malaysian businessmen should read this. This is one of the most important blog post that I have ever read. Network and relationship are always the most important things we need to build, without them, there is no way we can be succeeded.

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