Real Relationships

Photo cred: Olga
Photo cred: Olga

We all have an agenda.  We’re all here, connecting online, to get something out of it.

In #socialmedia chat this week hosted by Chris Brogan, this topic came up and drove a pretty solid conversation.

Can we claim to develop truthful, real relationships when we’re ultimately looking to get something out of those relationships?

I love to connect with people.  I value the relationships I have built online and consider many to be close friends.  At the same time, I am online with an agenda to build my career, to create valuable professional connections and to create opportunities.

Take this one step further.  You’re supposed to engage before you pitch.  Build a relationship with a blogger before pitching them.  But if the relationship is a means to an end, where you’re ultimately looking to get coverage, how real can that relationship be?

I think you can do both.  Be realistic but be real at the same time.  You’re there to get something out of it the same way those around you are there to get something out of it.  But the existence of an agenda doesn’t mean that you can’t develop real relationships along the way.

Here’s 3 ways to know if a relationship is real…

  1. The relationships doesn’t end after the lead. Engagement will follow through.  As I said in the chat, relationships should be timeless even after the sale, or they’re not relationships, they’re leads.
  2. The engagement is mutual and meaningful. Both parties engage consistently with each other in more than passing bits of conversation.  They must have sincere interest in one another.
  3. It’s not all agenda. Is one party only engaging when they need something?  That’s not a relationship.

In the end, only you know whether or not the relationships you’re building are real, or just part of your agenda.

Are you creating real, meaningful relationships?  Or are you pretending to create relationships in order to generate leads?  Where’s the “line”?

27 thoughts on “Real Relationships

  1. I’m starting to think we throw the word relationship around a lot now too. Technically the relationship is the connection between individuals … that’s it … it’s the connection.

    Now whether it’s a good relationship or a bad one is another story but what you’re getting at is the “good relationships” built on misguided intentions.

    That’s where I think you are right on.

    However, I think ultimately what the internet and this whole social media boom is doing is opening people up a bit more and helping us filter out the dishonest folks. The info spreads so fast it’s in every one’s best interest to be legitimate. Hopefully the ones that still aren’t will be filtered out as the need to become more and more transparent to gain trust becomes more present.

    1. Interesting distinction. I always viewed a relationship as involving some sort of emotion, as more than just a “connection”.

      True, the transparency of the web should help us filter out the ones that have misguided, or poor intentions. Does it always though? Could it be possible for someone to be really good at acting sincere?

      I feel like it’s easier to fake sincerity online as emotions and tone don’t come through in text quite as much. It’s a lot easier for me “act” when I’m writing than when I’m interacting in person.

      1. I think that’s where this whole communications channel needs improvement. Ultimately it’s up to the community to work together to validate the good/real relationships. I also think that relationship longevity is important as well which you already mentioned.

  2. I think the key to creating meaningful relationships is to sustain them after the sale, like you said. For example, if you establish a relationship with a blogger, then pitch to them, your relationship shouldn’t end there- you should continue to engage with them. I feel like if this is done genuinely, you’ll have gained a friend as well as a valuable connection. The key is to respect one another, be truthful about your intentions, and not always expect anything in return- which I think are important in our “IRL” relationships too.

    1. True…these values definitely should carry over to real life.

      Thinking about the concept of continuing a relationship after the pitch, or sale. I like your point about being truthful in your intentions…

      because is it reasonable to expect me to follow through in relationships with EVERY blogger I pitch? Is that possible? Maybe it’s better to be up front in the fact that you’re looking to pitch to them without trying to develop a relationship sometimes?

      This ties into my comment I had on Jay Baers blog post about a week or so ago. If I’m pitching to Mom-bloggers, can you expect me to try to be active on their blogs beforehand? I cannot relate nor am I interested in the topics that are discussed on their blogs, so is it not dishonest to pretend I’m interested? Wouldn’t a well worded pitch that shows the value to them be more honest?

      Thanks for giving me a lot more to think about Sheema.

      1. That’s true. I guess you have to take into account what niche of PR you’re in and what level of engagement you consider is enough for maintaining a relationship.

  3. Good post, David. I like how you always seem to bring up tough issues where there’s no clear-cut answer.

    I agree with you & Sheema, here. You need to be realistic, but real at the same time. I think a key is to go in without expecting anything in return, just like IRL. Sure, it would be great to get a job, a story printed, or a new good friend through tweeting or blogging, but in the end, social media is still about connecting (whether it’s a simple @reply, a blog comment, or something more), conversing, sharing, and (here’s the big one) learning from each other.

    I guess my point here is to temper expectations, connect, and see where these relationships go.

    Keep keepin’ it real, David,


    1. Thanks a lot Tom. I agree that we should temper expectations. I think we developed such a dislike for the concept of “no relationships” in business in the past, that when the change happened, we completely turned that concept on it’s head and focused on ALL relationship in business, when in reality, it’s somewhere in the middle.

  4. What about when you really have nothing to offer from your side of the relationship? If everyone has an agenda, then both sides are feeding off of each other; otherwise, there would be no point in one side maintaining a relationship because they aren’t getting anything out of it.

    Is that something you’re honest and forthcoming about? “I have nothing to give you in return, but you might be interested in writing about this or checking this out and offering your opinion.” (Maybe not that bluntly).

    Bottom line: Does your chances of meeting your own agenda plummet when you have nothing to offer someone else’s agenda?

    1. Good question Kyle. I think that’s where you’re going to get a lot of people talking about building a relationship first. If you have nothing of direct value to offer, then building a relationship is your best bet?

      I’m not sure.

      Ideally, if you’re pitching something to someone, it should be something that they would find to be valuable. If you want a blogger to write about your product, you should be sure that it’s something that their readers would be interested in, in which case you DO have something of value to offer in return.

  5. To Kyle’s question, there’s always something to offer someone’s agenda if you spend enough time and effort getting to know them. Really. Maybe it’s not apparent at the beginning — maybe it doesn’t even exist at that point — but if you’re investing time in building a relationship with someone and maintaining it for the long haul, you’ll eventually be able to offer something they need.

    That’s what relationships/connections/whatever you want to call them are about — even when they’re seemingly not based in agenda, like your relationships with your friends, there’s always something to offer and take away, whether it’s purchasing a product, spreading the word about the business, or even just offering support during tough times.

    Maybe I’m getting off the business track here, but I think it all applies. There will always be something to give back, you just have to pay enough attention to what people are subtly telling you they need.

    1. I think the interesting thing is how business relationships are also becoming personal relationships. Before, you could have what we would call a “professional relationship” where everything is solely business related. It was actually taboo to build any sort of personal relationships within the business setting…and now we’re saying that building some sort of personal relationship is necessary. We’ve completely turned the tables.

      1. It’s kind of interesting that things stayed so separate for so long, but as business deals moved to places like golf courses, restaurants, basketball games, etc., I think people saw that keeping business just business (in certain instances) wasn’t necessarily possible.

        I think there will always be instances where business relationships stay that way, but even those take upkeep, and there will be developments in that relationship where you can offer help, or have help offered back (i.e., job reference, client introduction, etc.).

        You don’t *have* to build a personal relationship to contribute, but, in my opinion, you should. We should care about the people we work with. Can’t always have it that way, but that’d be ideal for fostering the best kinds of business and personal interactions possible. Maybe I’m too much of an idealist?

        Wooo, long comment again. So sorry!

        1. haha no such thing as a too long comment on this blog (=

          I really like what you said and agree. You absolutely should care about the people you work with.

      2. Ok, well I’m glad I’ve helped to take this discussion to a different level, but still have some worries. Working at an agency and having a big account to be pitching for means I could have as many as 30 or 40 bloggers to be “building relationships with.” I’m sorry, but as nice as all of you guys seem to be, I just don’t have time to get all of my targets to think of me as a friend.

        My main goal is to simply get my targets to say, “This guy isn’t too annoying, maybe I’ll give this product or idea a shot.” Is that so bad?

        To your credit, though, I completely get the whole relationship thing if there’s less than five or so consistent bloggers we deal with.

  6. Are you creating real, meaningful relationships? Or are you pretending to create relationships in order to generate leads? Where’s the “line”?

    Great question you got here! Sometimes some people are ‘plastic’ they just get into relationships cos they want something for business. But for me building real relationship towards people is one step closer to success.

  7. I agree with you on that this is how many relationships begin. But this fades away quickly if you hit it off. Your purpose and the way you approach the other person becomes more familiar.
    Great thoughts David.

  8. Okay, this could start out wrong, but bear with me… 😉

    When you take interest in a guy or a girl in a bar or club, it’s usually with one objective – a sexual encounter. It’s the nature of the beats.

    So you get talking. You buy some drinks. You flirt. You give off the body language signs. It either works or it doesn’t. You end up at one of your places, the deed is done, and off you go. Now you need to decide whether that was a one-night stand or you want to do it again.

    Say you have more interest than the one-night stand. So you go on some more dates. You start to have fun; get to know the person better; enjoy their company; actually think of other things you want to do together.

    Basically, you’ve gone from simply looking for someone to f*ck and moved into someone you want to spend time with, and trust, and build a relationship.

    We may (unintentionally) start out looking to see who we can sleep with to further ourselves, but we soon realize who we want to go home with every night at the end of the dance.

    Of course, then a whole new ball game starts and we need to nurture and maintain these relationships. Ahhh, happy days… 😉

  9. So you aren’t into friends with benefits arrangements, huh? 😉

    I think this entire post could also be applied to any relationship in life, offline. Aren’t we all looking for something in any relationship we pursue? Friendship, romance, business connections, etc. It’s the same online really. We sometimes just get lucky enough to find those who we genuinely enjoy having a connection with and if we can help each other out too, that’s just a bonus.

  10. David, I wish i could have been part of the discussion, but i was on vacation. Anyway, I have just a simple ruke that I follow at ALL times.

    Never approach a network of individuals or individual in a network with a greedy one sided agenda.

    ~Food for thought

    1. Keith, your thoughts are always welcome, regardless of how late 😉

      Well put. Definitely some good food for thought. You got me thinking up a whole new post on “greed”.

      Welcome back from your vacation! I’ll do my best to create some more discussions for you to join (=

  11. I just saw Keith Burtis’ tweet and was curious as to what was going on over here 😉

    What ever happened to no strings attached? The beauty of instinct is you always KNOW who’s in it for a lead, to “use” you for whatever, or has intentions for a mutally beneficial “relationship.”

    It’s like classic movies or music. Quality people are always there for you. You may not be able to help them at the time or vice versa, but once you establish a quality relationship, it’s another amazing resource to help you succeed personally and/or professionally.

    Like you, I also love to interact with people. Sometimes it’s because I think they have interesting perspectives, even if they’re not relevant to what I do. It always works out well for me because I never have ulterior motives or hidden agendas. Back to that whole authenticity thing, but let’s not go there, let’s move forward to building quality relationships and in most cases friendships. Cheers!

    1. I see what you’re saying Anna, and you make some great points. You don’t have to answer this but for discussion…

      When you connect with people online, even if your main focus is creating a relationship, do you not also think at least a little bit of how they can benefit your career? Maybe only in some cases?

      If you don’t, is focusing on 100% friendship going to help you reach your business goals?

      I’m a bit Freudian in that I think that we all have a little bit of agenda in our relationships…I think the key as Keith said is to “Never approach a network of individuals or individual in a network with a greedy one sided agenda.”

      Not to beat a dead horse, but it’s “balance”, it’s not black or white.

      At least that’s my theory ^_^

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