| On Building Relationships, Part 2
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On Building Relationships, Part 2

On Building Relationships, Part 2

system-1527680_640In this blog space, we talked before about creating useful relationships (On Building Relationships, Part 1) in social media environments: Social media marketing is having conversations and exchanging objects of sociality (content,) so using social media to talk with the members of your online communities and exchange ideas. But more can be done to build even better relationships. Once a relationship is established, let’s talk about creating a good relationship, one that lasts and bears fruit (marketing-wise in this case.)

No matter what your area of social media marketing, you should ban the words, “client” or “customer” or “consumer” from your mind. Marketers tend to think of customers as “targets” with a focus on waging “campaigns.” Put all that aside because those are not the words for building relationships. The people in your online communities are real people. Instead we should use words like trust, authenticity, transparency, and presence as the goals of a social media marketing process. These are the characteristics for going beyond useful relationships, and building good strong relationships.


Building interpersonal and commercial trust has been studied by social scientists extensively. The advent of social media communication hasn’t really changed the list of characteristics of good relationships, but the list has expanded. This suggests that gaining trust in social media environments is even more complex than real life.

Reputation. First and foremost, to gain the trust of others in your social media communities, a social media marketer must first develop a reputation as an expert in the field, so as to become a “trusted advisor.” This is the title of a useful book by Green, Galford, & Maister pubbreath-of-business-issueslished in 2000. Below is a re-creation of a graph on page 7 of their book (because of no response to requests for permission to use it.)

As you can see, the journey starts by demonstrating your expertise in the subject (lower left corner): for example, you know kitchen appliances. To move the relationship deeper, demonstrate expertise in related matters: you understand kitchen design as well. This positions you as a valuable resource in your communities for insights and knowledge on a topic–without strings attached (i.e.; sales contract, etc.) If done well, you become one from whom people will accept advice, because you have built a strong reputation and become a trusted advisor.

This is also a strong argument against businesses out-sourcing social media content marketing. Who is the reputation for expertise in your field after all?

Respect. Treat individuals with respect. These are real people. Respect the time they are devoting to the community and converse with them as equals. Don’t talk down to or treat anyone as novices. Instead, be like a friend or colleague casually sharing ideas together, maybe around the water cooler. Others in the community will recognize your efforts and perhaps those timid about speaking will be more willing to chime in.

Humor. Related to this, make time for humor and entertainment. Don’t always make it about your company and its services or value, or publishing boring and serious content all the time. Use interactive forms of content like videos, inforgraphics, memes, images, sounds, viral clips and other fun content. Give people a reason to visit follow you apart from the products or services you offer. These kinds of activities can have a direct impact on levels of trust.

Don’t sell. Avoid the temptation to advertise to your audience directly. The minute your followers feel as though they are being sold something, they will lose trust that you have their best interests at heart. If you make your goal providing value as an expert to your customers, and not just selling to them, their trust will come naturally as a result.


Appearing authentic is an important element in building trust in relationships. In fact, “Authenticity in advertising is the cornerstone of modern marketing” (Tang & Chiu, 2015). You want to be perceived as a real person talking to real people, what Henderson and Bowley (2010) call “authentic dialogue,” where “authenticity is commonly associated with presenting a genuine, critically reflective and true self.”

This makes you seem unique among all the other options online where consciously speaking to an “audience” is perceived as inauthentic. Generic one-size-fits-all statements and messages don’t work as well as interpersonal ones.


new_officeTransparency is projecting the sense that you don’t have anything to hide, and can work on several levels. Indeed, one of the main impacts of the Internet has been the increased expectation that organizations of all types will be more transparent about their policies and operations.

“One of the best strategies to build trust is through engaging in transparent communication” (DiStaso & Bortree, 2012). In today’s social media world, transparency is an inherent reality, because people will be talking about issues related to your company while online, and whether you like what they are saying or not. In order to maintain trust, your company needs to be a part of online conversations about problems as well as the ones about successes.

Further, don’t censor by deleting negative posts or comments. Face problems and complaints head-on. Sometimes the hardest part of being transparent is admitting when mistakes have been made. Be honest and when you’ve made a mistake, just admit it. That’s a true sign of transparency and transparency builds trust.

Maintaining On-line Presence

Trust is also influenced by the frequency and promptness of online activity: commenting, posting, etc., which is usually studied in terms of “presence.” In this context, Kietzmann, Hermkens, McCarthy, and Silvestre (2011) define on-line presence as “the extent to which users can know if other users are accessible.” This means regular interaction with individuals and in your communities. Also, swift response to comments and questions directly benefits everyone in a community. Scan for these often, even hourly. Not only do quick responses to questions and complaints build trust, it is just solid customer service.

Finally, Brogan and Smith (2009) offer this list of characteristics, which can help build trust in online environments:

  • Online design and visual image: A ‘well dressed’ and designed online presence inspires trust
  • Longevity: Does someone have a long term record of online contribution
  • Volume: Amount of well written online content and contributions
  • Comments/Feedback: Does someone elicit feedback, commentary and dialogue
  • Links: Connections to and from others online and links from social bookmarking sites
  • Domain: Is someone associated with a professional domain
  • Personal details/photographs: Information on an individual
  • Social presence: Online in more than one arena for example, blog, twitter, Facebook and so on (See below.)

To summarize, building trust is a complex process: Establishing a reputation as an expert resource in your communities, respecting those members as real people, entertaining as well as informing, all the while avoiding direct attempts to sell your products or services. Further, project the appearance of  an authentic person (not a robot,) be transparent about policies and problems, and generate steady continuous interactions with your community members. Did I miss anything?

Next up, we will talk about how not all relationships are created equal. Different kinds of relationships (personal v. professional, daily contact v. monthly, etc.) require different kinds of skills and approaches. Stay tuned.


Brogan, C., & Smith, J. (2009). Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust. Hoboken, N.J: John Wiley & Sons.

DiStaso, M. W., & Bortree, D. S. (2012). Multi-method analysis of transparency in social media practices: Survey, interviews and content analysis. Public Relations Review, 38(3), 511-514.

Green, C. H., Galford, R. M., & Maister, D. H. (2000). The Trusted Advisor. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Henderson, A., & Bowley, R. (2010). Authentic dialogue? The role of “friendship” in a social media recruitment campaign. Journal of Communication Management, 14(3), 237-257.

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.

Tang, Y.-C., & Chiu, H.-C. (2015). How to Affect Brand Attitude with Authenticity in Advertising. International Journal of Social, Behavioral, Educational, Economic, Business and Industrial Engineering, 9(5), 1723 – 1726.

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


Published by: Gothard Enterprises LLC, @GothardELLC

Date Published: 09/14/2016

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