balancing act
As with all relationships, social media relationships must be earned PHOTO: John Loo

When Facebook and Twitter arrived on the scene in the mid-2000s, people soon started using them to share opinions, complaints and ideas — sometimes aimed at the companies they did business with. 

Brands have been playing catch up ever since.

Some best practices have emerged in the years since to ensure marketers make the most of these direct lines to potential customers, while at the same time listening and supporting their customers.

The first of this four-part series covered the first steps to social media marketing success: listen and plan. In this, we'll dive into the foundational elements of relationship building and trust.

3. Develop Relationships

A true relationship has to be earned. It's about respect and trust. And a balanced relationship is reciprocal. You do something for somebody else, and they do something for you. You exchange ideas. You use each other as a sounding board. For a relationship to last, it has to be a two-way street.

Followers on Twitter and friends on Facebook are not equivalent to relationships. Just as in the real world, a true relationship on social media has to go deeper than just a surface connection. Having 5,000 followers or 10,000 friends is meaningless if you don't truly connect. 

Not convinced? Go ask one of your Twitter followers for an opinion on that white paper you're writing. If nothing happens, you've got your answer.

One of the keys to nurturing real relationships on social media can be found in the manner of your engagement. People want to be valued. And once they feel you value them, they will most likely feel a connection with you — and some degree of loyalty.

They will also expect an ongoing dialogue to reinforce those feelings, so you'd better deliver if you expect the relationship to grow and strengthen over time.

Successful relationships are also about helping to support others. It's not all about you, your company, or your agenda. Social media is a community, and as a member of that community, you should not only contribute to it in various ways, but you also should recognize the contributions of others. For example, promoting other people's accomplishments by "liking" their videos, retweeting their tweets or sharing their latest blog posts will go a long way toward building connections and real relationships.

And don't let those relationships stop at the keyboard. Get to know your social media connections in the real world whenever possible.

4. Establish Trust

The success of virtually every brand relies largely on the bond of trust generated between customer and company. That same bond can obviously be created between individuals as well. But as is the case when building relationships, trust also has to be earned.

To begin with, your social media messaging must be authentic. Whether you're speaking for your organization or yourself, always be you — plain old honest you. Pretending to be someone you're not is a shortcut to a credibility gap, and that spells trouble in the trust-building business.

Being the real you — and growing the trust factor — needs to come with a good dose of personality as well. However, don't exhibit the steamroller mentality: a pushy, get out of the way, I'm on a mission-type attitude. On social media, it's too easy to distance yourself from people like that just by unfollowing or unfriending them. So instead, strive to be known as a thoughtful, considerate, supportive member of the social media community.

Exhibiting an inquisitive nature and a funny bone can keep you in good standing, too. A great sense of humor is always an effective ice breaker and door opener. 

In addition, strive to be as transparent as is reasonable. The more open and honest you're willing to be — and the more information you're willing to share — the more credible you'll appear. And always do what you say you're going to do. Nothing will impact trust in a positive way more than living up to your commitments.

As a marketer, you must realize that responsiveness also plays a major role in building trust. Especially when you're dealing with a complaint or other negative issue, be prepared to address it head-on, and do so quickly.

Check back next week as we continue this series with a look at the impact leadership and community building has on social media marketing success.