Creating & Defining Relationships on the Web


web relationshipsMichelle Robbins tweeted a great link over the weekend. It was to an article from The Huffington Post entitled Relationships 2.0 – How Technology Redefines How We Connect. It was a thought-provoking read. However, as a marketer it’s my job to prove that Ph.D wrong.

Every day.

Technology hasn’t changed the core of relationships. It’s changed the way we meet people, the ease in which we can interact and it’s expanded our pool of faces to choose from, yes. But it hasn’t changed the type of relationships people strive for. We still gravitate towards the people “like us”. We still have the same need to be understood, to be heard and to be valued. We still go into relationships looking to form the same bond and feel loved/accepted. Technology has changed none of that.

Dr. Jim Taylor and his Ph.D. in psychology believe that the Web has made it easy to disconnect. That it makes it easier to create false friends. And it does, if that’s what you’re looking for. But false friending online is no different than the false handshakes in real life. No different than the friend who hugs you while you’re sobbing and then shares your sordid secrets to increase their own social rank. The virtual relationships Dr. Taylor is talking about where you don’t truly know one someone are no different than turning on the local news and finding out that your friendly neighbor is a pedophile. You always know only what someone wants you to know. That wasn’t invented by the Internet. That was invented by people being shady and by people prone to being doormats.

As a marketer, it’s really important that you understand how to create real relationships on the Web. That’s the world in which we’re now playing in. Virtual relationships don’t cut it. To be honest, they never did.

Samir Balwani published an interview yesterday that he conducted with a handful of search marketers, myself included. One of the questions asked was how would I teach someone how to use social media and “make the magic happen”? I responded that I’d remind them how to be human. That I’d want to teach them how to break down the walls that marketing adds and just talk to people. To connect with them. To hold real conversations. Because you create connections on the Web the same way you create them in real life, by doing two very basic things:

  • Sharing yourself
  • Allowing others to share themselves

Anyone who’s dabbled in social media knows that technology has NOT limited what you can truly know about someone. It’s done the opposite. It’s broken down barriers so that you CAN get to know people and create legitimate relationships. To create the kind of relationships that make people act and that you can call on later, whether that’s for marketing or simply on a personal level.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I tweet a lot with Jamie Varon. She even guest posted on the blog while I was in Ireland. I know Jamie from the Internet. For all our Twitter gushing and juicy DMs (z0mg if those got out!), I’ve never met her in real life. That said, if I ever had a need to move a body in the middle of the night, Jamie would among the first I’d call to help me move it. She’s not an “Internet friend”; she’s a “call in the middle of night when shit goes down” friend. Because that relationship has been formed through shared experiences and personal stories, even if we did “meet” on the Internet.

And that’s why social media has become such a powerful vehicle for marketers. Because cold businesses have been able to form these genuine connections. They’re not just getting by on “virtual relationships”, “Relationships 2.0” or whatever annoying buzzword you want to put on it. They’ve made business personal. They’ve made people not “fans” of your company, but “friends” of it. That’s a huge difference from where we were.

Dr. Taylor is right in that “connection alone doth not a relationship make”, but connection is where all things start. It’s up to you to take that connection and grow a move-a-body-in-the-night relationship. That’s your goal and it’s why this “social” thing is so exciting for me. It’s about people, getting to know them, and being human again. It’s not about fake friends, it’s about great ones.

Your Comments

  • Phil Buckley

    I <3 when you kick those damn pointy headed academics in the shins with a good dose of common sense and reality.

    Doctor Lisa is in the house!

  • Samir Balwani

    It’s so true that creating friendships online is easy. I’d say that technology has most definitely broken down barriers, most importantly the barrier of distance. I like knowing that I have some close friends all over the world, that I’ve met because of sites like Twitter. We’ve seen relationships and friendships form from Online Gaming, so why is social media any different?

    Thanks so much for taking part in my interview Lisa!

  • Jamie

    #eijowwh #opwtbu #lesbain


    And, there would be some real shit going down if our DMs got out to the public. My god, the things we’ve said… NSFW, really, NSFA! (Not Safe For Anyone.)

    Anywho – the thing, also, about relationships online is that what we used to know about the internet has changed. Especially with Twitter – most people want to bring the conversation offline. And, it’s not like you and I live in the same city and we can hang out, but we haven’t. We’re thousands of miles away, but I consider you one of my closest friends.

    And, seriously, when we do meet? OMG. THE MOST FUN EVER YOU KNOW IT.

    Miss you. And thanks for including me here. =)

  • Lisa Barone

    Phil: #justsayin :)

    Samir: I don’t know that it’s “easy”, but it’s not “easy” making friends offline either. You get what you put in, just like in anything else. I don’t like that idea that technology makes its harder to connect. That’s just not true. And thanks for including me in that interview. It was fun!

    Jamie: Twitter has definitely changed online relationships. I think I’ve met 80 percent of my friends in Troy through Twitter, just chatting first and then taking it offline and getting a beer. And that “getting a beer” offline is actually what marketers should be looking at.

    Oh, and I heart you. And yes, our DMs…omg can you IMAGINE? The END of the WORLD! :)

  • Maggie

    I think you bring up a great point. As with any relationship–online or off– you get what you put into it. If you make the effort to engage with your online community and interact with them directly, you will create significant relationships.

  • Jeremy @ BuzzStream

    It’s interesting to see how some forms of unthoughtful technology hang on in this environment, making it easier to shoot yourself in the foot in the relationship-building process at exactly the time when influencers and consumers expect much more from companies. For example… PR database + mass mailer = spray and pray pitches begets PR blacklists (

    Being human is hard to scale, so the real challenge is finding ways to be efficient, human, personalized across hundreds or thousands of relationships. Social CRM helps; so does social media monitoring (if you use it to aid discovery and relationship maintenance). But at some level, a sentient human has to be behind the switch.

    Another example where this affects SEO is link building outreach. The only approach that’s ever worked for me was highly personalized, context-aware, and relevant. Not having a tool to track it all was maddening, so that’s where BuzzStream came from.

  • Lisa Barone

    Maggie: Absolutely! And that’s what separates the great companies in social from the ones that are just phoning it in. The companies that really talk to people and treat them like humans are rewarded with customers who love dealing with them. Companies that treat customers like robots…are wondering why the Web has ruined their ability to connect with people. :)

    Jeremy: I think “being human is hard to scale” will be the greatest line I read today. So, I thank you for that. :)

    I get what you’re saying, and it is hard to scale for large organizations. You either need someone who’s job it is to be a Chris Brogan for your company or you find ways to “automate” the humanness among as many channels as possible. It’s a very different game for a small business, though, and that’s where most of my interest in online relationships comes from — the SMB perspective. I think social media is one of the greatest advantages a SMB owner has.

  • Cory Huff

    “I think social media is one of the greatest advantages a SMB owner has.” – This is why small consultancies are running circles around big marketing & pr firms. This weekend I met a CEO of a big PR firm and she told me that all of her clients – all of them – are freaking out about social media and she literally cannot get them to get on the social media train. Too bad.

    We connect in ways we choose. You can certainly create an academic study that points the data in whatever direction you choose. It’s all about framing the question. If you did a study that asked people what kind of in depth relationships they have formed online, you’d get different responses. Most relationships IRL are shallow anyway, so a shallow online relationship is no surprise.

  • Todd Mintz

    The wonderful thing about these online relationships is that not only is one able to connect deeply with people one would never otherwise meet but one can also connect with people that one would meet in person but probably not “hit it off” with.

    Lisa, your remarkably uninhibited nature has made you a master of the social medium and others less successful could learn a lot from emulating you.

  • Sunny

    I’m from an entrepreneur from the U.K and have started to follow Outspoken Media as their insights, opinions are really on point. I hate it when academics and so called self appointed experts do these reports, when they have no real hands on experience, where their own neck is on the line. I would recommend listening to people who are living and breathing it and have tangeable results i.e they have taken a business from A to B, to back up their knowledge/expertise. Also, a suggestion to OutSpoken, you guys would do extremely well in the U.K, as we are a bit behind in terms of social media and its relationship with business and you guys in the U.S seemed to be ahead of the curve in this respect, in terms of thinking and application. There are so many businesses here that want to engage etc. but don’t have a clue and are underserved.

  • Michelle Robbins

    Terrific points on real and online relationships being fraught with the same issues of honesty and integrity, and that you get out what you put in. You’re spot on about people being phony in real life as well, and that you only know as much as someone allows you to know about them – in meatspace or online. I think the critical difference is that in person, there are other ways of evaluating someone’s meaning, intentions, honesty – all non-verbal. And these non-verbal cues often give more insight into a person than anything they broadcast online.

    There’s a chapter in Blink – whoohoo! another academic to skewer!! ;-) – all about tiny facial movements and what they reveal – and how even pre-speech infants glean information from them to understand & communicate with people. I don’t think the value of face to face communication can ever be overestimated when dealing with relationships, and I read the article as more of a discussion of “is this getting lost” more than an “online networking disconnects us” statement.

  • Lisa Barone

    Cory: Ha! I love seeing how well small business owners are grabbing onto social media and using it to grow their businesses. And yeah, we’re all a bunch of shallow jackasses in the end anyway. :p

    Todd: Me uninhibited? I have no idea what you’re talking about…

    Sunny: I think academics just look at things from a completely different perspective. They’re like the parents in the room telling us turn our music down. Hearing it proclaimed that the Web has limited relationships and made it harder for people to connect…makes me wonder if we’re on the same Web.

    Michelle: There are definitely some verbal cues IRL that can help determine if someone is worth your time or a douchebag but…how often do we ignore those cues anyway when we want to? How often do we convince ourselves that “Joan” is a good person because we want to believe she is…and then she screws us over? Twice. At the same time, I think a lot of people are a lot more open when talking to someone via a computer screen, which actually helps you get to know them BETTER, not worse, which I felt like the article implied.

    I think I probably look at things like this a bit differently because it’s so much easier for me to communicate with people online than it is IRL due to speech issues. So for me, the Web is AWESOME for creating real relationships that make it easier to transition them offline. But again, I do everything backwards. :)

  • Rob Woods

    Hi Lisa, I absolutely agree with you. I’ve met people on various social sites and formed social or working relationships with them or at least got a real sense of their personalities before either meeting them offline or working with them in a more involved way online (or, as in your case, simply made random smartass comments to someone I’ve never met). In many cases the people I’ve met have been separated from me by vast distances and I never would have had an opportunity to get to know them were it not for the current state of the technology powering social interaction online. Having said that I haven’t become friends with or formed a business relationship with someone I wouldn’t have had I met them through “traditional” means. Online social interaction hasn’t changed the quality of the relationships, just increased the quantity.

  • Anonymous

    There’s a problem with creating online friendships – they don’t come with the real baggage of real life friendships. We learn about others online what they want us to see. Be careful with “online relationships” of a personal nature.

  • Aussiewebmaster

    Funny how many people have met and gotten married through online social networks… guess they don’t count either – was going to drop an affiliate dating link in here but know Lisa too well from online to do that

  • Srinivas Rao

    Interesting post Lisa. It”s funny you brought this up because just today I wrote a blog post called “How to become a connector” based on the concepts in Malcom Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point. I myself have also made many friends through the online world. My ex gf got to know each other by talking online for a month first after meeting at some internet event in real life.

    As far as social media for marketers goes, my biggest piece of advice I give to anybody on the corporate side, especially when I do job interviews at places like agencies is that authenticity is key. Consumers can see right through your marketing efforts, so you need to be real.

  • Nathan Hangen

    You are absolutely right…and being at bwe09 proved that to me. Meeting people I know online was neither awkward nor difficult. It was like we’d known each other for years.