| On Building Relationships, Part 1
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On Building Relationships, Part 1

On Building Relationships, Part 1

Relationships can be tough. In-Yan-2400pxSurely you have seen many headlines promising immediate success in life:*

  • 12 Steps to Make Him Fall in Love with You
  • Personal Growth and Development in 5 Steps
  • 7 Steps to Achieve Your Dream

The social media landscape isn’t so different on the surface, with offerings of quick easy solutions:*

  • The Easy Path to Unprecedented Growth
  • 10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Social Networking Sites
  • 5 Social Media Tricks to Boost Your Business

*=Actual Googled articles

Enough already. If you are living your life and/or in the social media marketing business, you know nothing is easy, nor are there a few finite simple steps to what social media marketers do. Well, I take that back. Actually you only need to know one, now that I think about it:

  • Build relationships

Everyone seems to agree building relationships is an important goal in social media marketing, but one that is harder to do than it is to say (like so many things.) Let’s start with a working definition of a relationship in social media environments by looking to the Social Sciences. Social Science sources are not antidotal experiences that too often define the advice of many social media gurus; Social Science findings are the result of objective research, statistical analysis, and interviews and surveys of social media users.

Jan H. Kietzmann et al (2011) define an online relationshipSocial-Media-2-300px as when, “two or more users have some form of association that leads them to converse, share objects of sociality, meet up, or simply just list each other as a friend or fan.” Let’s look at each aspect of a relationship by Kietzmann’s definition.

Kietzmann et al claim a relationship can be as simple as being a friend on FaceBook, liking an Instagram photo, or pinning a recipe on Pinterest, but these interactions are only the beginning, a lead. These activities aren’t yet social media marketing. To form a useful relationship, you need to “converse,” or have conversation, and share some “object of sociality.”

Converse. A social media conversation can take many forms,like commenting and responding. cinema-2The first question Marwick & boyd (2010) ask you have to answer is, “To Whom are You Speaking?” You must take into account that your audience can be a diverse and varied group, which is only exacerbated by the variety social media platforms that exist today.

For example, conversations on FaceBook are posts between a specific group of people in a community you created by accepting friends and friending others. Twitter, on the other hand, is a conversation with the world. Since you have no control over who follows you or reads your tweets, you mostly speak to an “imagined audience,” which is a “mental conceptualization of the people with whom we are communicating” (Litt, 2012). Imagining the audience is the way a movie actor often works on set while filming or a writer often writes.

In fact, Marwick and boyd (dana boyd always uses all lower case in her name) call this last type of relationship “micro-celebrity,” which “implies that all individuals have an audience that they can strategically maintain through ongoing communication and interaction. Twitter is used this way by many people – including marketers, technologists, and individuals seeking wide attention – to establish a presence online.” The upshot: Understand your audience, whether they are real or imagined, and interact with them–often.

IMO, conversation is actually a subset of a broader category in social media interactions: Sharing objects of sociality (Cetina, 1997; Kietzmann et al., 2011).

Objects of sociality. These objects can be shared at the beginning of a relationship or any time later. Social media is an object-centered environment, which can define individual identity just as much as communities or families used to do in the real world (shared values and norms.) The shared objects are content, be they text, images, or video, and in social media environments, content is king. All exchanges in social media are made up of these objects; there is no other type of exchange. Without your content, social media sites are just a bunch of servers and software.

More importantly, that content, therefore the subsequent relationship, needs to be useful to your audience, not just the other way around: Your audience needs to find the shared objects interesting or useful. In other words, the relationship needs to be mutually beneficial. Both participant and marketer need to gain by participating in the relationship. On this point, traditional marketing and social media marketing diverge. Traditional marketing is not interactive.

Further complicating the issue, the object of sociality is generally a “functional objective of the social media platform. For instance, the objects of sociality are pictures for Flickr, Indie music for MySpace, and careers for LinkedIn” (Kietzmann et al., 2011). Choose wisely and post content where your audience is most likely to be “hanging out.”

Meet up. If the endgame of your business or service is to meet face-to-face someplace like a showroom or gym, then by all means, “meet up.” At this point, you should go old-school on building relationships.

A useful relationship, in sum, is one based on the ongoing sharing of objects of sociality between you and others in your community (aka; exchange of useful content.) Few shortcuts exist: It takes effort and that effort is on going. There are no simple steps or easy paths to building relations. Just ask your wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, mother, father, sister, brother, etc.

So now you’ve defined a useful relationship. Next up, we’ll talk about the characteristics needed to build and maintain a good relationship. Stay tuned.


Cetina, K. K. (1997). Sociality with Objects: Social Relations in Postsocial Knowledge Societies. Theory, Culture & Society, 14(4), 1-30.

Kietzmann, J. H., Hermkens, K., McCarthy, I. P., & Silvestre, B. S. (2011). Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media. Business Horizons, 54(3), 241-251.

Litt, E. (2012). Knock, Knock. Who’s There? The Imagined Audience. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 56(3), 330-345.

Marwick, A. E., & boyd, d. (2010). I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience. New Media & Society, 13(1), 114-133.

Author: David Zemmels, Ph.D., @davidz621


Published by: Gothard Enterprises LLC, @GothardELLC

Date Published: 08/25/2016

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