Instead of thinking in terms of “Convince and Convert,” start thinking in terms of “Converse and Convert.” Helpful content gives your customers reasons to stay engaged—not just react—and also increases brand advocacy.


mailfloss had the opportunity to chat with Ted Rubin, a leading Social Marketing Strategist, Photofy CMO, Author, Speaker, and Provocateur, about how he uses the concept known as Return on Relationship™ as the driving force behind his marketing strategies (including email marketing).

The Interview

Hello Ted and thanks for speaking with our blog readers today. In 2009 you started evangelizing the term ROR, Return on Relationship™. I love this. You also wear a shirt on your social media profiles that says “Be Good To People”. Your focus on building positive relationships in a digital age is paying off. You have over 500K twitter followers. Okay, let’s kick off the interview by asking the question on everyone’s mind… How did you build up such a huge social following? What are some actionable tips you can give to others who have similar ambitions?

Hard work, persistence, valuing engagement and relationships, and leveraging early entry to a number of platforms, particularly Twitter.

BE Authentic, don’t just ACT it. This might seem obvious… but authenticity is on the verge of becoming just another buzzword in the social/content marketing world.TRUE authenticity (not just using that word often in your tweets and posts) will set your brand (product or personal) apart in today’s highly competitive market. Followers/Advocates are attracted to REAL, and can sniff out fake in a heartbeat.

REAL trumps PERFECT because REAL creates TRUST.

Syndicate, syndicate, syndicate… share your content via all social channels always including Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, which also makes it easy for others to share. And don’t be afraid to do it more than once periodically sharing old posts via your social channels, especially those that were well received.

What tools, technologies, systems, or processes did you need to have in place to keep your audience engaged while continuing to grow?

For me it is not about tools, but about strategy, and execution. My most important social media tools are…

1 – My personality.

2 – My passion.

3 – My obsessiveness with being connected.

You do a lot of work in the world of social media, but how do your relationship-building principles apply to the world of email marketing?

Growing your list is not simply about numbers… it’s about adding value to what you do. In order to ensure that happens, the following are important parts of the process…

1. Permission is a privilege, not a right: Consumers do not owe us their attention, and they certainly do not owe us their permission. We need to EARN their permission, and that’s not done by a gimmick or a flashy set of ads. Permission is earned through quality content and offers, genuine interest in and deep understanding of consumer preferences/needs, and a consistent track record that builds trust. Keep the trust, keep the permission, keep the follower.

2. Relevance is king: We all hear daily that content is king – so let’s take that one level further and point out that it’s not just the volume or brilliance of content that matters to your followers, it is how that content relates to them. If content is not relevant to them, it is nothing more than a waste of your time and a reason for the follower/consumer to take away permission for ongoing interaction with you.

3. It’s all about relationships: People must come first – in your growth strategies, in your marketing plans, and in every interaction that you have. When you place highest priority on people, you take the time to do all those hugely important things that build relationships:

  • You operate from a mindset of SERVICE
  • You think about what you can GIVE TO your followers, rather than take from them.
  • You ask them questions, listen to and clarify their answers, and get to know their pain points and what delights them.
  • You base your innovations on what they actually need and want.

And the result? You get and keep your permission to continue and build a relationship with them. In other words, permission is your ROR, #RonR (Return on Relationship).

Remember that Permission is a two-way street, and the traffic signals are controlled by your followers. Be their Green Light… not their stop sign!

What have been some of your most successful campaigns (or campaigns you’re most proud of) where you’ve used email as the main (or one of the main) channels for building up relationships? Why do you think this campaign was so successful?

At e.l.f. cosmetics, in 2008-2010 my responsibilities included communicating with and building e.l.f.’s client base (membership increased from a few hundred thousand to in excess of 2.4MM during my tenure), leveraging brand equity through strategic marketing programs (with many major brands and publishers), and creating/developing/managing a major thrust into social media initiatives and partnerships, leveraging the outreach of email with the connectivity of social media platforms, and building the most highly respected social media presence in the cosmetics industry at the time.

This was so successful because it merged traditional PR, email’s immediacy, and the ability of social media to create/spread PR and sales opportunities. This was a first for many companies and something which many are yet to understand how to leverage and coordinate.

In your book “Return on Relationship” you talk about the importance of going from “convince and convert” to “converse and convert”. What do you mean by this?

Things ARE changing. Traditional advertising certainly isn’t extinct, but there is simply too much noise out there, and people are sick of it. They’re shutting out the blast advertising that has crept into every aspect of their lives and centering in on the things they truly care about—friends, family, personal interests and needs, and social connections. You need to take a step back and study this shift in order to take advantage of it.

For brands, that doesn’t mean you can simply move your blast advertising campaigns into social channels. You actually have to make real conversation with real people and help them get what they want. That means knowing your prospects well enough to understand what they want. It also means creating content that’s helpful, entertaining, educational, or all of the above—content that helps them make a decision; content they want to share with friends.

Smart brands have noticed that we’re moving to a “connection economy,” and they are producing ongoing content that meets the new search “relevancy” standards. They’ve studied their audiences, listened to their social conversations, and have developed plans to use that content in their social profiles to emotionally connect to their audiences and encourage conversation. When it resonates, it gets shared and receives comments and likes, which makes that brand more visible.

What it all boils down to is that in the new world of content marketing, the Content “IS” the Ad. Sharing, conversation, and emotionally connected content will be the ads of the future. Instead of thinking in terms of “Convince and Convert,” start thinking in terms of “Converse and Convert.” Helpful content gives your customers reasons to stay engaged—not just react—and also increases brand advocacy.

So start thinking like a publisher because the more relevant, helpful content you create, the better you can drive engagement. And as my Return on Relationship (‪#‎RonR‬) formula illustrates…

Content drives Engagement, Engagement drives Advocacy, and Advocacy correlates directly to Increased Sales.

In your experience what are the three most common problems that stop being from seeing the dramatic results they desire?

1 – Looking back too much. Not learning from your mistakes, while trying not to second guess yourself too much.

2 – Worrying about the perfect plan. Try things and get immediate feedback (which you can do easily these days through social media).

*3 – Giving up too soon and letting too much time go by before trying again.

You’re also a big believer in the importance of building thriving and engaged communities. What are some practical tips you can give our audience members who might just be starting out building their own communities and want to see them grow? What are some strategies or techniques you’ve seen used well to help scale the size of these communities?

A Network gives you Reach, BUT a Community gives you Power!

Networks Connect… Communities Care

A small, passionate community of like-minded people can often accomplish far more than a larger, less-connected group working on the same challenge. Building a dedicated community takes effort, but it’s one of the most effective ways to build your brand, your business, your home. The power of relationships scales up when you create opportunities for passionate people to connect.

So don’t get hung up on the size of your network. Instead, whether it’s around a cause, a topic of interest, or developing your next product or service… work on ways to connect that network into, and empower/enable, vibrant communities. Networks are just a series of nodes, communities support each other, look out for each other, and have lifeblood. Don’t underestimate the power of the “collective.”

1. Be Adaptable

Although you’ll approach any community with content, social, and problem-solving methods and tactics, you should not apply cookie-cutter solutions to a unique community. To build a valuable community you need to be able to quickly understand and grasp the unique nature, concerns, desires, and values of each group.

2. Follow Up… Engage, Interact, Be Present

One of the most important elements of being an effective community builder is fostering genuine relationships with your community. Following up means building trust, and this is the foundation of a strong relationship and hopefully, a future brand, personal, or group advocate.

*3. You Really Need to Care About It

Here’s the big difference between a ‘community builder’ and a ‘social media manager’: if you’re going to successfully build communities, you really have to care about what you’re doing, because this means being an active participant in the community as well.

4. Learn How to Listen.

Listening, in general, is an underrated skill. Too often, however, listening is the first thing to go when we’re pressed for time. Keep creating great content and conversation, but be sure to stay involved in the conversation always.

Do you focus more on paid or organic relationship building? When is there a time for one over the other?

I am strictly focused on organic relationship building. I believe for personal branding it is the only way to go, and even at a corporate branding level, use paid media to bring people to the table, but then empowering employees to build these relationships is what will result in long-term value.

In another book of yours, “How to Look People in the Eye Digitally”, you mention that “we’ve let social and mobile technologies hold us back”. What do you mean by this? What can we do to overcome this obstacle?

The last few decades 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.” We don’t need to fit our world to digital, we need to fit digital to our world.

It’s time to stop making excuses, and start bringing in-person social skills to the digital world. All of the positive benefits are out there waiting, and it’s up to us to make the effort to realize them.

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 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 publicly 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.

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