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Social Media is Relational, Not Transactional

A few years ago, I began to experience an annoying occurrence when visiting local bookstores in Grand Rapids. Professionally dressed individuals, who were total strangers, began approaching me randomly and striking up conversations. I wouldn't have minded the conversation so much, if it hadn't been for what followed.

As it turns out, these people hung around the bookstores for much of the day, scouting. When they identified a good prospect, they'd move in. Some would wander into the same aisle, pulling books off the shelf, looking them over, then putting them back, all the while inching closer to me. Inevitably, they would break the ice by commenting on the book I was holding. I always seemed to be holding the magic book that they had been looking for all day. After a brief discussion on the book, they'd ask questions: What do you do? Are you happy doing that? Are you satisfied with your income? Finally, they'd close with, “I don't normally do this, but I have a high-income opportunity that you're perfect for.”

They were network marketers.


ImageEach encounter was unique - some approached me in the bookstore, others in the coffee shop, some were slick in their approach, and others acted as poorly this guy.

 But each followed the same prescribed format: quickly develop an artificial relationship by showing interest and asking questions, then leverage that relationship to sell a product. The net result was always the same, by the end of the conversation, I was offended and my time had been wasted.

After about a year, most of the network marketers had left the bookstores in Grand Rapids. Their method did not work, they were spending more money than they were making on mochaccinos and lattes, they were likely exhausted from the effort of furiously creating so many fake relationships, and they had been marked for extermination by the bookstore staff.


How often do we see the same methods being employed on social media? Overt and subvert pitches to buy a product or service. Furious but futile attempts at building empty artificial relationships.

In my first of ten rules for developing a profitable social media strategy, I define the paradigm, or lens through which social media platforms should be viewed: social media is relational, not transactional.

 Social media produces the highest return-on-relationship, and the lowest return-on-salesmanship.

It is perfectly acceptable to sell on transactional platforms (your website, Amazon, eBay, etc), because that is where people go to buy; they expect to be sold. However, it damages your brand if you ambush on relational platforms (social media, forums, etc) and there is very little return with those tactics.  Just like the network marketer in the bookstore, you will burn out quickly.

Success is determined by your ability to move people from the relational platform to the transactional platform in an authentic way.

Here are 5 ways to do that:

  1. Create a personality-branded social media account in addition to a corporate-branded social media account. It is difficult to develop an engaging relationship with a business entity. Use a high profile person at the company, typically a founder or President. The profile of the account should be clear that about this persons role with the organization.
  2. Enagage with your network. Authentic relationships are built on dialogue and are mutually beneficial.
  3. Become a thought leader in a specific area and give information and resources away for free. People are much more liekly to do business with an organization that has added-value to their lives with no expectation for return. There is truth to the proverbial saying “give and you will receive.”
  4. Create a personality-branded blog to direct followers. The blog should have plenty of links where users can find out more about the company, including products or services offered.
  5. When new products or services release, it's perfectly acceptable to announce it with a post and a link directing users to a transactional website. These announcements should not account for more than 10% of your posts, however, or you risk users disengaging.
  6. Tell a story.  Too often updates sound like they were developed to scroll across the bottom of CNN.  You will find little engagement if you don't develop your narrative and become a master storyteller.



Join The Conversation

  • socialitesos's picture
    Jun 15 Posted 3 years ago socialitesos

    Love this article, I loathe network martketers for this very reason.  I can usually smell the artificial relationship builder a mile off, but they catch me out now and again.

    This is also the reason that it often takes me a while to get to know people and develop a meaningful relationship because I feel uncomfortable and artificial if I behave this way myself.

    I very much agree that a personal 'figurehead' should complement a branded social media account and this sits with Google's approach to authorship, where it grants authority to people and not businesses.

    That was me that tweeted you by the way...I haven't really got a service to sell you :).  Well maybe I have but I'll wait til I know you better.



  • Randy Milanovic's picture
    Jun 15 Posted 3 years ago Randy Milanovic

    Agreed. Rule #8: Don't just post...Engage! (Slide Show going viral on slideshare!)

  • Jun 15 Posted 3 years ago Josecapelo

    Great article Joshua! I feel that a personal-branded social media account is more successful than a corporate one as interactions are more personal and shareable

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