Many people in the social media world know Ted for his enthusiastic, energetic and undeniably personal connection to people. Ted Rubin is the most followed CMO on Twitter according to Social Media Marketing Magazine; one of the most interesting CMOs on Twitter according to Say Media, #13 on Forbes Top 50 Social Media Power Influencers, and number #2 on the Leadtail list of Top 25 People Most Mentioned by digital marketers.

Return on Relationship, ROR, #RonR, is the basis of his philosophy… It’s All About Relationships! His book, Return on Relationship, was released in January 2013, How To Look People in the Eye Digitally was released January 2105 and The Age of Influence… Selling to the Digitally Connected Customer was released in May 2017.

We are so excited to share this insightful interview with Ted!

1. You’ve mentioned that when in social, one should actually be social! What is the philosophy of  “Return on Relationships” (#RonR) and “look someone in the eye digitally”?

ROR, #RonR: Return on Relationship™… simply put the value that is accrued by a person or brand due to nurturing a relationship. ROI is simple $’s and cents. ROR is the value (both perceived and real) that will accrue over time through connection, loyalty, recommendations and sharing… and is used to define and educate companies, brands, and people about the importance of creating authentic connection, interaction, and engagement.

The last few decades of marketing tactics have made us lazy communicators. Most often we don’t even pay attention to who we are talking to other than via the data we collect (and even that’s a maybe). In order to fix this and really start to benefit from social relationships (both as individuals and as companies), we need to start “looking people in the eye digitally.”

Over the years I’ve been asked by a lot of people how they can be more successful in building relationships on social channels. And the one thing that keeps coming to the surface is the importance of being “present” when you’re talking to someone.

You know how it is when you meet someone at a conference or in a networking situation and they’re constantly looking around the room to see who else is there, or they’re looking at their watch, or anywhere except at you? Those signals mean they aren’t really “present” in the conversation, so there is no true connection.

The same principles apply to online relationships, so I’m a big proponent of doing what I call… Looking People in the Eye Digitally, as well as personally. Introductions and ongoing relationships in social platforms require the same personal attention as the human touch and eye contact in a physical relationship, so here are 12 tips for making that happen:

1. Always address them by name (even if you have to dig a little).

Sometimes it can be hard to figure out a person’s first name by their Twitter, Facebook or Instagram handle. However, the human need to be addressed by their given name is still important. When you’re thanking someone for a re-tweet or a share, make sure you mention them by name. You might have to look at their profile to find it, but do it!

2. Find something in their bio and make mention of it.

The need for recognition goes beyond just names. When someone takes the time to look at your bio, picks up on something there and mentions it to you or asks you about it, you can’t help but respond favorably. Make a habit of looking at other people’s bios when you’re opening up conversation.

3. Show them that you’re listening to what they’re saying (reference conversations, etc.).

Listening is every bit as important digitally as it is personally. Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next and REALLY listen to what the other person is saying. Reference something they said in an online conversation and ask them about it. Read their blog—take a look at their website, and look for ways you can connect based on what you’ve learned.

4. Make it personal and authentic.

Look for possible connections to what you like, places you’ve been–would like to go–kids, etc. When you’re looking at a person’s bio (or Blog or About Page on their website), look for inter-personal connection points where your lives might intersect. “Oh, I see you live in Park City, Utah—I love to take my kids skiing…” Make sure it’s an authentic connection. If you’re not a skier, don’t say you are.

5. Find them on all possible channels and link up–not just one.

If you meet someone on Twitter, look for other platforms they frequent. You might have to dig a little and go to their website or do a search for them on Facebook or LinkedIn, but make the effort to connect with them on different channels. You never know where the next conversation might crop up that will spark an opportunity.

6. Give them an online recommendation (such as LinkedIn).

Giving a recommendation or testimonial spontaneously demonstrates thoughtfulness. People get notifications via email or on the platform that you’ve reached out, and this effort won’t go unnoticed. However, recommendations should be authentic and based on your knowledge of their business or interactions with them—not empty platitudes. And don’t do this with the intention of getting a recommendation in return. Give it as a genuine gift without expectation.

7. Send a note with a helpful link or photo “just because”.

Before the Internet, a common practice in business networking was to clip out a 3rd-party article (not your own stuff), put a note on it and mail it to someone you thought could benefit (Amy, I thought of you when I saw this!). Do the same thing via social messaging, but it should be on an individual basis. Reference an article link, a video or send a photo—use their name and tell them why you sent it!

8. Put them in a list or a circle so their social interactions don’t get lost in the stream.

Most platforms have list options, so use them wisely to keep track of those you want to interact with regularly. As social streams get crowded, it becomes more important to segment your feeds and keep track of people. The old adage “out of sight, out of mind” really is true, both online and off.

9. Ask a question to get their opinion (not a poll).

Asking someone for their individual opinion shows them that you care about what they have to say. Look for those opportunities to deepen conversation.

10. Pick them out in a crowd.

Do you participate in Google Hangouts or Twitter Chats? Look for familiar handles/names and make a point to say hi individually. Here again, personal recognition is a key in keeping those relationship fires burning.

11. Wish them a happy birthday and make it unique.

When you get an opportunity to wish someone a Happy Birthday, as with Facebook’s birthday reminder, make it a point to make it personal rather than just a generic wish. Find a good birthday quote—add a picture—mention something unique about them… and use their name.

12. Take it off-line.

Make it regular practice to offer yourself publicaly for a short telephone one-on-one to find out more about someone or just catch up. Ask how you can network or refer them business. Most importantly, make it about THEM. Asking “How can I help you?” builds great rapport.

2. What does having influence mean in today’s social media world?

What is influence, exactly? And what does having influence mean in today’s world? According to Merriam-Webster, influence is:

The power to change or affect someone or something, or the power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen.

There is influence on a personal level, as well as influence from a business perspective. We all influence someone in one way or another, and I’ve been exploring the concept over the past year and how it dovetails with the digital age we find ourselves in today. The result is a newly published book, The Age of Influence: Selling to the Digitally Connected Consumer, which is now available in digital and print versions via Amazon.

No doubt about it, the digital age has expanded every person’s ability to have an influence on others, and that’s having an effect around the globe. Advances in mobile technology (and technology in general) have connected everyone on the planet with wider and wider audiences. You no longer have to be a big corporation with deep pockets, or a media star or a politician with a megaphone to be an influencer.

Every person who’s connected to the internet and social platforms or has a smart-phone has a bigger sphere of influence than they’re probably even aware of. A stay-at-home parent can start a blog about parenting and grow an audience that’s much wider than just their friends and family. Individuals can have an effect on people they’ve never met, and on a scale never dreamed of just a decade ago. Our “connectedness” gives us that power. It makes each of us an instrument of influence.

3. How can brands scale and influence their content to reach their market? What are their usual mistakes on relationship building?

The key is harnessing the power of social influence in a compelling way that connects authentic story-telling with brand and product interaction. This is a radical departure from the current media and eCommerce environment as consumers seek information when and where they want it vs. proceeding along a predictable purchase path.Mobile is accelerating this behavior leaving many retailers, brands and publishers perplexed about how to capitalize.

It is time for legacy brands and publishers to realize that in order to survive for the long-term they have to learn to embrace the crowd. Build relationships with their audience, empower them and their employees to build their own brands and share content relevant to them… then leverage this to scale content production and to reach consumers on their own terms.

Welcome to the age of influence, where anyone can build an audience, advocate brands, build relationships, effect change and make a difference.

4. What are the struggles businesses are having with wielding influence effectively?

The biggest mistake brands make when trying to engage influencers is not first trying to understand who they are and what they stand for. They think it is all about the money, and simply the number and reach. I write a lot about Looking People in the Eye Digitally… so for me the most important influencer marketing tool is building relationships.

Influencer marketing, when used to its best effect, is about building a network of business relationships that will yield results over time. You’ll get as much out of the program as you put into it. So if your goal is to find a platform, and make this like programmatic advertising, and do whatever you can to automate the process… you will be throwing the majority of your budget down the drain.

A Network Gives You Reach… But A Community Gives You Power! Relationships are like muscle tissue… the more they are engaged, the stronger and more valuable they become. So if you are only focused on the Money… You risk completely overlooking the People.

A Network Gives You Reach… But A Community Gives You Power! – Ted RubinCLICK TO TWEET

5. What do you think will be the digital marketing trends for 2018?

Social is moving to a prove it or lose it stage… so start thinking how Content IS the Ad. The importance of content in your SEO and middle funnel strategy will be critical. Social media platforms are essentially huge AI systems designed to keep users ‘tuned in’ by showing them things they want to see and using data to improve the success of that goal each time a user engages. But AI isn’t really that smart yet. Most AI is big data pattern recognition that gets better at predicting what they will do as more people use the systems. It’s not actually ‘thinking’. As the Trump media machine proved, real thinking beings can manipulate these systems with relative ease using anchor content such as a blog post, or video, bot based syndication (half of Trump’s Twitter followers are fakes) and then the power of real people sharing and training the algorithms to ‘think’. Add in some well-placed adds on automatic networks like Facebook and bam, media that motivates. Brand marketers can easily do this in a less nefarious way and tune the process to eliminate endless digital spam and create awesome content that the AI algorithms connect with people along the path to purchase that might actually care.

All of this is so important because shopping behavior is changing from a world where consumers go to stores to get products (walking around and finding what they need), to one where products come to consumers. Stores aren’t going away tomorrow, but the fundamental role of a retailer is going to change overtime from a physical location to a service that fits the product needs of a consumer whenever and wherever she chooses, including product discovery. What’s more, much of a future consumer’s product needs with be anticipated and automated, moving towards a friction-free experience. The challenge for retailers and brands alike will be remaining relevant in a consumer’s mind. The combination of the decline of the store shelf coupled with the end of push advertising effectiveness will eliminate some brands and retailers while others will thrive like never before.

RETAIL RELEVANCY will become all about SIMPLICITY… Frictionless buying IS the future of Retail. Simplicity is the new EDLP. Make it easy and… she will buy from you again, and again, and again. #RetailRelevancy

Ted Rubin - Return on Relationships


Ted Rubin is a leading Social Marketing Strategist, Keynote Speaker, Acting CMO and MC/HOST of Brand Innovators and their monthly Marketing Summits, and Co-Founder of the Prevailing Path. In March 2009 he started using and evangelizing the term ROR, Return on Relationship, hashtag #RonR. Ted left his position as Chief Social Marketing Officer of Collective Bias on August 31, 2013. He remained a principal shareholder until the November 2016 seven-figure acquisition by Inmar.

In the words of Collective Bias Co-Founder John Andrews… “Ted, you were the vision, heartbeat and soul of Collective Bias, thank you for building a great company. From innovations like social syndication engine cbSocially to the amazing relationships you built with the blogger community, clients and employees, you drove the epic growth. You will be missed!”

Ted is currently writing his latest book, along with business partner and Retail Thought Leader John Andrews titled Retail Relevancy. Connect with Ted at or @TedRubin.

Videos with Ted:

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