Essentially, the situation becomes very awkward because you have flipped the relationship from one form (a social relationship) to another form (a market relationship). Neither type of relationship, by itself, is problematic. We provide and receive dinners based on our social relationships frequently, and we receive dinners based on market relationships each time we eat at a restaurant. However, it’s the flipping between the two that causes that feeling of awkwardness.
Social media, for all its promise, does not change the nature of the way we categorize relationships. It just makes those relationships more visible. One of the most common questions that comes up in discussions of B2B marketing is how social media can be used to drive revenue. It can, and there are many great examples of ways in which social media can be used to drive revenue, but none that I have heard of ignore the ways in which humans categorize relationships.
What I mean by that is that each of our presences on social media needs to fit neatly into a relationship category, or it will seem awkward. If we want to use social media to connect with friends, exchange photos, and share stories, great. If we want to use social media to educate, inform, and guide buyer behavior, that’s equally great. However, it is when we attempt to merge the two that awkwardness can result.
I’m not in any way saying that if you’re in a market relationship, you cannot be fun, engaging, and interested in a person’s family and personal life. You can, and it’s a great way to connect with people; in the same way that a waiter or waitress can be gregarious, social, and interesting. However, the relationship category is clear.
Many of the known successes in social media are clear market relationships. The team at Dell, ComcastCares, Chris Brogan, and the Kado Barbeque Truck are all clearly engaging us in market relationships within social media. They may be engaging, personable, and friendly, but there’s no awkwardness when they try to educate or guide our buying behavior, as we know from the start that it is a market relationship, and an ultimate goal is business.
If a social media strategy, however, relies on this boundary being crossed, it may face more of a challenge than you anticipate. Social media can be a great environment for ideas to spread virally. However, if those ideas would appear to change the relationship type, they will likely not spread. We forward viral videos to our friends that are funny, cute, inspiring, or provocative. These fit within a social relationship. We generally don’t forward videos that appear to be selling anything or promoting a product or company too strongly. This steps over the line into a market relationship.
Thinking about the relationships our initiatives are resting on allows us a new perspective on our social media campaigns. If the campaign relies on a social relationship becoming a market relationship, chances are it will not work. This transition is fraught with awkwardness and established etiquette, as much in the realm of social media as it is at Thanksgiving dinner at your mother-in-law’s.