Smarter Marketing Blog

Social Media is a Tool for Building Online Relationships, Pure and Simple

online relationships facebook eye

More and more Aidan and I are meeting SME owners, or their marketing managers, requesting help with their brand’s online presence. The goal of a strong online presence is to build relationships that will drive revenue, eventually. The former part of this goal can be achieved using social media.

One of the challenges we find, when responding to a communications brief, is explaining to prospects that social media is mainly a tool for building online relationships and not one for driving revenue.

Unfortunately, as various social media platforms have become a household norm these days, some SMEs do see them as being ideal sales tools. They are not and the danger of this blinkered view is that while concentrating on social media activity, other real methods of lead generation might end up being ignored.

Using a social media channel for the sole purpose of getting people’s attention, and money, will not work. Think about it – would you prefer to be engaged, entertained or informed vs being interrupted by a brand talking about itself and its product features?

I’d like to mention a few other misconceptions that some organisations have. One that springs to mind is that social media provides a quick ROI. It doesn’t I’m afraid. Just like any relationship building exercise – it takes time, effort and possibly even a little money.

Another one is that social media is free. However, I do believe that most organisations are now aware that the main hidden cost of social media is, yep, you’ve guessed it – your time. And if you don’t put in the time and effort, your relationship building light will produce disappointing results.

With new clients, we concentrate initially on determining their target audience. Sometimes this will entail some formal research. It is only when you really know your customers can you be yourself and use social media to engage them.

If you don’t like the idea of networking with strangers, well don’t try and do it online either.

Oh, and by the way – you don’t have to be on every new platform either. Try and find out where the people you are interested in are hanging out and go there. Become an expert in the workings of that platform. Of course, you can use Facebook but just don’t depend on it solely.

Misguided advice will not help you build good online relationships

There is an element of this social media world that really annoys us here in O’C&K Towers. It is that there are many so-called social media gurus out there. Unfortunately, they can provide organisations with misguided advice based on little or no real marketing experience.

As a result, organisations believe that social media will deliver all their marketing needs and don’t realise that they are missing the big picture. Have a look at this list of 10 dodgy bits of advice that we have come across – do any of them ring a bell?

  1. Forget about email – being on social media is the way forward
  2. Social media is replacing SEO
  3. Auto-published updates across all platforms are perfectly fine
  4. Using #general hashtags guarantees better audience reach
  5. Your audience is only using one social media channel
  6. An intern can manage your online presence
  7. Ignore negative comments online
  8. Keep your staff away from the business’s social media
  9. Post updates as often as you can each day
  10. You can’t measure social media activity

For us, the bottom line, when building online relationships, is to be useful. With authentic positioning, you might even become indispensable. So be very clear about what you are providing for your audience, it has little to do with the technology and everything to do with effective communication.

Use a hub & spoke model for building online relationships

A very strong way of building online relationships is to provide people with something that’s relevant. Whatever form this content takes it should be something your business owns. By owning I mean your website or blog and not content on someone else’s platform.

Tools are used to entice people to visit your offering. One of the best descriptions I’ve come across explaining this is likened to a hub and spoke effect. Your site / blog is the hub and social media tools are the spokes.

We’ve mentioned the Razor Social website before, on which we find Ian Cleary to be an excellent source of information on social media tools.

Before jumping into a particular social media tool, however, I would advise that you determine where your customers / prospects are participating online already. Also, have a look at which platforms your competitors are using, or not using.

Maybe prioritise your efforts on one tool first and experiment. Do you have anything unique that you could offer on a particular channel that gives you a perceived advantage e.g. visuals? Have any of your staff / colleagues an existing expertise on a particular platform that you can learn from?

Here is an interesting infographic from the people at Spin Sucks that outlines an 8 step tool-agnostic approach.

7 Tips about being human on social media

Social media can be used to show customers, and prospects, who the people behind a logo are.

  1. – Be personable – you and your colleagues are your brand.
  2. – Listening is as important is talking, find out what your customers are talking about.
  3. – Talk in the first person rather than as a brand.
  4. – Have a unique voice, for instance, if you have a sense of humour – show it.
  5. – Use people’s name when engaging with them, just as you would offline.
  6. – Get your message across any way you can by using video, cartoons, emojis etc.
  7. – To err is human. If you make a mistake, acknowledge it as soon as you can.


Social media is driven by technology but that’s a feature, not a benefit. It is only two-way communication that facilitates the building of online relationships. Once social media platforms are seen in this way, as a tool, conversations with targeted customers can occur. Also, a business can move closer to being truly customer focused and they might even start appearing as a human beings.

“Thank you for reading our blog post today” – Aidan & Jim.

 Would you like us to notify you, by email, when we publish new content? If so, just let us know by clicking here. Of course, we can always meet face-to-face, just leave your details here and we might grab a coffee, cheers. Jim – O’C&K

2 responses to “Social Media is a Tool for Building Online Relationships, Pure and Simple”

  1. Myriam says:


    I totally agree with you. Companies must interact more with their customers. Actually, the purpose of social media is to communicate with them to share the value of the company and to better understand one’s clients. People are looking for more authenticity and want to be listened.

    I just would like to add that these issues are particularly crucial for B2B companies. These firms must understand there clients’ habits with social media to adapt their strategies. They have to share their experience in order to be considered as trustworthy. It is also beneficial for a B2B company to build a partner relationship with them releasing links to clients’ blog for example. I spoke about it with people who work for They know a lot about social media and lead generation strategies. So, if you are interested you can check their website.

    • Jim Kelly says:

      Thanks for your comments Myriam – I think the trap to avoid however is one of talking too much about the ‘value of the company’. Being part of your audience’s conversation in a relevant way will manifest itself in authenticity, I believe. Regards Jim

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *