Social media is fast. Relationships still take time

I was talking with a seasoned PR practitioner who recognizes she’s not as up to speed on social media as she could be. She was doing some work for a not-for-profit and asked if I had any advice on how they could engage bloggers and influencers.

I asked her a few questions:

  • What are your goals?
  • Has the organization taken any time to build relationships?
  • Does the group maintain an active presence on social networks? 

Don’t know, no and no
Those were the answers that came back.

She was hoping that because social media operates in real-time, she and the organization could engage people they’d never had any contact with, begin with a request for a favour (to spread the story) and then see immediate results.

Yep, that’s exactly how it works.

What she missed is that social media, like traditional communications, still relies on a few basics like reciprocity and trust.

Real relationships take more than real-time.
This is a case where we need to go back to the future if we’re trying to engage influencers in an exchange relationship - that is, a business relationship where both parties accept and find value in what’s being exchanged.

Here are five ways to get started:

  1. Don’t rely on lists, spend time on your research and get to know the influencer and what they’re actually interested in.
  2. Introduce yourself before you need something.
  3. Offer something useful to help them out. Don’t just bombard them with free stuff.
  4. Learn to understand control mutuality. That is, what’s the balance of power required to make the relationship to work? It doesn’t have to be equal, but the two sides need to agree on what it will be. Think about the typical PR/journalist relationship as an example.
  5. Follow through on what you say you’ll do – always.

Only then, can your ask be considered a reasonable request – and not simply a spammy pitch.

According to psychologist Robert Cialdini, reciprocity is a common trait across all cultures. That means if I help you, you’ll feel inclined to help me in return.

However it starts with giving first (an appropriate sentiment this time of year).

Too many times, PR people focus on the take.

What do you think? Do you have any other relationship-building tips to add?

About Martin Waxman

Martin Waxman is a digital, social media and communications strategist, content marketer, social media trainer and instructor and co-founder of three PR agencies. He blogs at myPALETTE and hosts the Inside PR podcast.

George Saratlic
George Saratlic

Martin, you are spot on here.  Relationships always matter and are a key element of not only great PR and social media work, but really a necessity in our day-to-day lives, be it business or personal.  You cannot expect someone to help tell your story (that's essentially what us PR flacks are looking for ;) if they don't know you or have had no dealings with you or your organization.  Great post. 

martinwaxman moderator

@George Saratlic Thanks George. It seems like such a simple thing to remember - yet, PR pros are guilty of this more than we'd like to admit (myself included). Part of it  is because we react to a problem, rather than thinking ahead strategically - and then figuring out how we want to approach it and who we're going to engage.


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