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 Originally posted at U.S. NEWS and World Report on August 26, 2014

Social media whiz Ted Rubin says online marketing is taking a turn towards the personal.

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Author Ted Rubin is an industry leader in social marketing strategy and brand evangelism. Forbes Magazine ranked him among the Top 15 Social Media Power Influencers, 2013, with the note, “A broader remit than many on the list, Ted puts social media in the context of the wider evolving business environment.” According to Social Media Marketing Magazine, he is the most followed chief marketing officer on Twitter and Say Media honors him as one of the most interesting CMOs on Twitter. Leadtail included Rubin in its list of Top 25 People Most Mentioned by digital marketers.

After I moved to New York last year, I had a discussion about digital strategy with David Garrison, a Tuck School of Business alumnus and former Edelman Consulting Principal. He introduced me to Rubin, who currently serves as Acting CMO for Brand Innovators. I meet with Rubin regularly in New York, tweet him frequently and interviewed him by email to discuss social marketing.

What is the relationship economy?

Relationships are the new currency … because now everyone is interconnected, everyone has influence over someone, and usually many, and we can scale relationships 24/7 if we use social media platforms properly. Today,  Return on Relationship (ROR, #RonR) is so important … simply put, [it] is the value that is accrued by a person or brand due to nurturing a relationship, whereas [return on investment] is simple dollars and cents. ROR is the value (both perceived and real) that will accrue over time through 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.

However, people have been trying to apply traditional ROI formulas to social channels without success. Social is still changing and maturing, and the platforms that are here today may disappear tomorrow for the next set of tools. However, we’ll still be successful if we keep our eye on the prize of building those relationships no matter what new communication tools and mediums come down the pike.

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How does the relationship economy overlap with traditional sales techniques?

Over the past few decades, the lure of mass media changed the way we ran our businesses. Getting in front of thousands or millions of people made us a bit lazy – especially if we could hand our marketing to an agency and have them “run with it.” But times have changed. The social media revolution turned the “Mad Men marketing mentality” on its head. People got sick of ads, sick of being “sold” at every opportunity, and sick of not getting personal attention and service. The advent of social media put the customer in the brand perception driver’s seat, and is forcing us as brands to pay attention. We can no longer afford to “hand off” our marketing efforts to someone else, or think purely in terms of ROI. We need to get to know our customer, listen, deliver value and put the relationship first, just like the best salespeople do.

Why is authenticity so important?

In today’s market, real trumps perfect because real is what creates trust … and trust is what makes word of mouth recommendations work. Consumers who trust your brand are much more likely to become brand advocates, knowing you will consistently deliver on your product and service promises. In fact, 76 percent of consumers recommended companies they trust to a friend or colleague.The key way to gain consumers’ trust is to build authentic relationships with them.

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Doesn’t the goal of selling make the transactions inauthentic?

In my opinion, no. Everyone has an end game … it may be as simple as being liked, loved or respected, which is “selling” yourself. Sales is not a bad thing, as long as you are delivering something of value and that is needed.

How much of social marketing is about relationship building?

Social marketing, the key word here is “social,” should be about interacting and engaging in order to get the most value. Sure, there is useful data that comes from all of this, and it can be effectively used to market and sell things, and for matchmaking purposes (I am evangelizing using the word matchmaking instead of targeting), but it is the value of relationship building that will deliver the ROI in the long-term.

Brands or companies that use social successfully – building relationships – reap the rewards of customer satisfaction, deeper employee loyalty, more effective knowledge sharing, improved brand reputation, lowered costs and, importantly, increased revenues.

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What are best practices for companies trying to scale?

Empower your employees and they will power your brand. Remember that in today’s social world, every person has an extended circle of personal influence and an opportunity to build their own personal “brand.” By helping your employees build that brand rather than squelching individuality, you could build an army of very powerful advocates. Most people, when given the opportunity, will advocate for their brands, when they feel good about where they work.

How should community managers deal with detractors of the social style?

I think brands should seek out critics and engage them. It is usually very easy to turn a critic around by listening and interacting with him. When you turn critics around, they often become what I call a dynamic advocate … and actively support the brand. Now recognize I am not referring to haters. Haters hate, and I usually suggest ignoring them under most circumstances.

What strategies do you use for growing and maintaining individual influence?

Publish, syndicate, interact and engage as actively as possible. Be authentic, speak your mind respectfully and be responsive.

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Where is the line between personal individuality and corporate brand?

Hard to say these days. I think the more important point is that the line between personal and business has blurred significantly, and those you do business with want to know who you are personally. A smart brand supports its employees in building their personal brands because it expands their reach right along with that of their employees.

Can a great product succeed without marketing, or a bad product with great marketing?

A great product can succeed without being marketed by those selling it because if it is that good, with today’s word of mouth platforms, the word will be spread by advocates. But that needs to be the perfect storm and will rarely happen simply on its own. A bad product can succeed in the short term, if you deem success lots of sales, but in the end, especially today with everyone’s ability to share at their fingertips, it will fall off a cliff and have no longevity.

Originally posted at US NEWS on August 26, 2014

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