GO DEEP: Strong & Weak Ties – Your Genuine Challenge?

Strong Ties and Weak Ties

Strong Ties and Weak Ties

Once upon a time, there were “Strong Ties” and “Weak Ties” in business.

Strong Ties existed between you and your best customers. You interacted frequently and knew each other well. The bulk of your business was from and through these Strong Ties. It took some work. Maintaining them required a big investment of time and effort, but the benefits of business, the sharing of high-quality information, and the transfer of complex or “hidden” industry knowledge was well worth the effort.

Weak Ties were…well…weak. However, over time there was a declining ROI of time and effort in a network based on mostly Strong Ties. Weak Ties exposed you (and the Ties) to a broader span of knowledge, expertise and opportunity. Exposure to more diverse information and resources has been shown to drive higher rates of radical innovation, and be especially useful when you have a tough problem to crack.

How things stand today?
It’s complicated…
First, there are roughly 2 billion social media users in the world.

Billion…..with a B.

Second, according to McKinsey Global Institute, at least 70% of companies are using some form of social media. Online search and social media sites have increasingly become the primary, if not sole, source of information for individuals and businesses alike.  These have largely displaced traditional sources such as printed company literature, the Yellow Pages and business directories. Organizations no longer have control over what is disseminated about them. As one publication states, “most of what is said about the company will not be said by the company” (AT&T, 2011). In a recent global consumer survey by BrightLocal, 88% of respondents said that they place greater trust in other people’s online recommendations for products and services than in other sources. The significance of this is reflected in the growing popularity of consumer websites based almost entirely on personal reviews, such as TripAdvisor and Yelp, and the dominant role of consumer reviews on leading e-commerce sites such as Amazon, eBay, and Facebook Business pages.

OK, so Weak Ties are becoming more important, Strong Ties are evolving, and you have a business to run. What does this mean that you do?

  • You need to develop new relationship-based associations with your customers and other social media participants (All Ties…), especially to build and maintain brand loyalty and to manage or at least influence what is being said about you online. Instead of just disseminating information about the organization and its products, you need to actively participate in the discussions on social media sites and develop other methods to engage Internet users. Most people deal with information overload when surfing the Web or visiting social media sites, so you need to design and implement content and initiatives that are interesting, entertaining or thought-provoking, to capture and hold their attention.
  • You will also be judged by the way in which you respond to online customer feedback, especially negative comments or complaints. Your reputation is on the line here, since everyone on the Internet can observe the interaction and judge accordingly. You need to develop and maintain not just a brand but an online personality which is likeable and well-respected and with which individuals can develop a real sense of familiarity and emotional connection. It is now often argued that ROI on marketing should now be measured not in traditional sales terms, but in terms of “return on engagement”. What is important is a measurement of engagement or emotional investment in the brand, such as active participation on the company website or favorable references to it in blog posts. These not only translate into longer-term individual loyalty but also help to attract additional followers who may become fans and customers.
  • Key in both the B2B and the B2C social media contexts is the ability to identify and build relationships with “key influencers” in the business network or target market. Jay Baer writes about this topic regularly with keen insight. This observation returns us neatly to the concept of social networks and the concept of weak and strong ties. In order to achieve the desired business objectives, there is a need to plumb the mass of online users and identify those likely to have the greatest impact. Within social networks, for example, there are usually key individuals or “trusted experts” who have established a strong reputation in their field. You need to make positive connections with a few key influencers who will transmit positive information about you. This is likely to be much more effective a strategy, and much less resource-intensive, than direct relationship-building with large numbers of people in the target market. Similarly, when a business partner or expert is needed, it can be invaluable to locate and build a relationship first with a “critical enabler” or “trusted advisor” who can offer not only detailed knowledge of the relevant industry niche and its participants, but who also knows the key decision makers personally and can help arrange an introduction or advise on the best approach to them. The old saying, “It’s not what you know but who you know” applies.
  • Curtis & Lewis (2010) argue that in order to develop effective relationships with key enablers or other stakeholders, the principle of progressive reciprocity should be followed, in which something of value is offered to the other party at the outset, not just after an offer of help is secured. You might benefit from developing and maintaining strong ties with key influencers or critical enablers who are likely to provide ongoing value and benefits in return. At the same time, you should maintain a wider network of weak ties with other stakeholders who hold relevant knowledge, expertise or market influence. One strategy that is likely to be effective across the board is to establish the your company itself, or individuals within it, as trusted experts in a particular subject area, for example by publishing well-researched, informative articles or blog posts on relevant topics.
Business relationships in the early 21st century have become much less binary and much more fuzzy. Your opportunity here is to establish a bit of order out of the seeming chaos online, think differently about relationship-building and your VACC (Visitors/Audience/Customers/Community), and realize the untapped potential for explosive business growth this presents to you.

Go on……we’re waiting to hear from you!

The Truth About the Hidden Lives of Your Audience

This was a very tough week.

Having your own business and balancing family and holidays is a lot of work. Throw in a death in the family and an unforeseen trip to Iowa from Seattle (and all the turmoil that entails…), and trying to get back in the groove seems insurmountable.

Consider this when you are crafting messages, boosting posts, networking, writing blog posts, speaking with customers and colleagues, and going through your usual day. What is the likelihood that any one of these people has “other stuff happening” in their lives? How does this affect how you reach out to them? How do you create, curate, and communicate online (and connect off-line…) in such a way that, while remaining relevant to those who are all right at this time, also takes into account those who are struggling in some way? This core authenticity, how you remain effectively Human (the foundation of Human-to-Human or #H2H marketing) online is both a strength in building relationships with people, and can make you truly different and more easily discernible through the noise that is the Internet.

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Will You Compare the Truth About Audience vs. Community?

My Audience

My Audience

My Community

My Community

How you interact with your customers and prospects can show you (and them…) how you think of them. Without resorting to standard definitions, I visualize the difference this way:

AUDIENCE: I am in front of a group of people who are facing me. I’m speaking and they’re listening (or at least I HOPE they are….). I look into their faces and watch their body language, but it is difficult to get a real assessment of whether I’m connecting with them or not. Having been in audiences before I know how easy it is to “look engaged”. I also notice how many are working their smart phones, tablets and laptops….I hope they’re taking notes, but probably not. At the end of the talk, there are a few questions that I answer, but many more of the audience arise and leave. There is a little bit of chatter between a few of them as they head out the door, but I have no idea what it could be about. Unless I’ve given them some sort of meaningful survey or method of valid feedback to learn what their experience was, I really don’t know.

COMMUNITY: I am moving amongst several groups of people that are part of a larger group of people meeting here. There are discussions going on in each of them, some about the bigger group, some about the smaller groups, some about processes and business, and some about their lives outside of the groups. People move easily between the smaller groups as they become interested in them. I get to move through each of the groups, listen and take part in the discussions. There is a much stronger sense of “belonging” and being invested in what’s going on. Fewer people have their phones out, except to check their calendars in order to set up personal meetings with other members of the community outside of this larger meeting. Some members stay in one small group the whole time, but they seem very engrossed in the conversation while not taking it over. Each member of the community can build a more authentic relationship with another (according to what they are comfortable with…), resulting in trust and, when the time comes, that crucial recommendation, referral, or sale. While the relevance of the overall community experience may be still somewhat hidden from me, I can learn a lot by listening, observing and asking appropriate questions.

Community is harder…is it worth it?
How do you communicate and reach out to your customers and visitors?

What’s the difference to your business?

Do you care enough about your business to figure out how this might work for you and your customers?

Good questions.

What are your answers?

Trust, Relationships and #H2H

Recently a friend of mine made a long-ish post on Facebook. It was an apology and a mea culpa. Although I had missed the earlier post she referred to, she stated that she was caught off-guard by other people’s reaction to it. She said that, in retrospect, she agreed with one friend of hers that had actually reached out to her about it: it was an offensive and prejudicial post. She apologized for the first post, a very real and human thing to do.

What she was hurt by was the fact that a number of her ‘friends’ had ‘un-friended’ her (in Facebook vernacular…) without asking her about the post, commenting on it, or even just responding in some way. She couldn’t understand why people who knew her would react in such a knee-jerk manner without asking her why she felt this way or further questioning the post.

I feel her experience points to a couple of challenges with building relationships online as well as some bad habits we’ve cultivated along the way. Continue reading

Traveling the Road

The wheel was invented in circa 4000 BCE.

Image via Wikipedia

I have had a few careers so far: professional musician, music teacher/band director, software developer, college instructor, technology specialist for developers, consultant, product planner and product manager. Every one of them, along with every other subject I’ve ever studied and things for which I have a passion, are what I bring to what I do. My primary motivator in each of these is helping people (OK, so playing music is helping people enjoy themselves….or so I hope…).

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Print (Not Print)

DORCHESTER, MA - MAY 4:  A man walks by the fr...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

…with apologies to Was (Not Was)

Newspapers are signposts of their constituents in so many ways. Just take look at the difference between the Seattle Times, the Des Moines (Iowa) Register and the Boston Globe (the paper/site I took a look at for this post).  Each has top line focus on local news, but the Register does not have a link to national/global news on its front page. They choose to stay purely local.

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