We’re hearing (and doing) more and more about “Relationship Commerce” these days — but what does that really mean? Does having 2,000 Facebook “friends” or “fans” mean you have 2000 relationships? Or 28,000 Twitter “followers” mean 28,000 relationships?  

It depends. Any one of us obviously does not have time to keep up thousands of face-to-face relationships at a time, but with the help of social media, we can certainly build and keep substantially more relationships going.  However, it takes more than simply sending a Facebook friend request or clicking the “follow” button on another Twitter user’s profile.

To build relationships online, you (brand or individual) have to offer something in return, such as valuable information, personal introductions to your already-established connections, or even part of yourself through engagement and interaction.   

It’s no longer enough to just suggest that someone should be interested in your product or service. You need to engage your market — ask questions, propose ideas, or simply communicate through social media in a way that gives your followers a chance and a reason to respond. 

Then when they respond, interact with them to solidify the relationship, or it will just fade out. Directly acknowledge their response, ask follow-up questions, and share their insights with others. Don’t simply be responsive, be incredibly responsive.  Always acknowledge those who reach out or spread your ideas. Follow me on Twitter (@tedrubin) and you will see what I mean.  Bottom line:  the more responsive you are to your audience, the more responsive they will be to you. 

Online relationships will not survive without trust. The key to building trust is simple, but not always easy: Always be good to your word (true to your brand), always be authentic, and always be genuine. Remember, most of your social media interactions are public and very much interconnected – let a positive, trustworthy reputation be the only thing out there to spread!   

One final point in this post – although Facebook and Twitter are fantastic tools for meeting and engaging with your audience, don’t forget that you can use them in combination with other relationship-building tools. Email, phone, and in-person meetings are all essential tools for bringing the virtual world closer to your “real world.” Use whatever combination works best for you, and you will quickly turn your connections into raving fans and outspoken advocates!

As you can see, Relationship Commerce is not just about financial exchange; it’s about interpersonal exchange, aka the “relationship.”

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