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Build Relationships, Not Links

Guillaume Bouchard
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person-behind-the-email-addressBuild relationships, not links. If you’re in the business of link acquisition and looking for a new mantra, or a way to be great at your job, there it is.

Building relationships is a new beast to tame. It’s not about trying to influence machines – it’s about trying to influence people. Every human is a kaleidoscope of attitudes, behaviors, and emotions.

Empathy – immersing oneself in the prospect’s world – is an asset for fostering trust, negotiating exchanges, and building lasting relationships.

Here’s how tapping in to the study of human behavior can help us better understand people’s actions and build stronger ties in a post-Penguin/Panda world.

1. Man (and Woman) is a Perpetually Dissatisfied Animal

Time warp back to philosophy class. Karl Marx’s theory of production and consumption says, “When basic needs have been met, this leads to the creation of new needs.”

Every prospect you contact has a need, something they want or they don’t know they can have – yet. The first step for building relationships is identifying why the person that you’re trying to foster a connection with would benefit from a relationship with you.

Robert Cialdini, author of "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion", identifies six key principles of persuasion. The very first principle is reciprocity: “People tend to return a favor”. The idea is that when someone makes an effort to do something for us, our moral fabric tends to make us feel obliged to do something in return.

If your client sells shoes and you approach a fashion blogger with a free pair to review, their conscience (and their shoe addiction) will make them happy to review.

Not only does your offer have to be creative when you approach a prospect, it has to relate to how they can achieve a goal.

This may mean having to re-evaluate your link acquisition strategy with your clients, to identify the collateral you can exchange with prospects, whether free samples and trials, exclusive offers, or expertise.

2. Personality Can Tell us a Lot About What Motivates People

The extinct practice of paying for links is now frowned upon by most SEOs, bloggers, and search engines alike. Since Google's Penguin/Panda updates, outreach solely based on “link building” significantly reduces your response rates and terminates your chances of being considered on an A-list blog.

Now you have to work harder to learn more about who you’re contacting and what you can offer each other in the long-term. There’s a lot more involved than just evaluating the keyword relevancy or pagerank value of a site.

The secret to relationships lies in knowing people’s underlying interests, needs, and values. That’s what helps you determine what motivates them and how you can help each other in the future.

Every one of your prospects is a potential ally. And empathy is the way you will step into their world, and understand what drives their behavior and how you can influence it.

Fortunately (for marketers), you can tell a lot about a person by what they post online. They leave an entire trail of digital footprints for you to follow, from their “About” page, their blog posts, their LinkedIn profile, to what kind of stuff they post on Twitter and Facebook. Your detective work is all laid out for you. It just takes a few extra clicks and a little curiosity.

3. Identify Relevant "Currencies"; Theirs and Yours

MindTools’ Influence Model talks about using “relevant currencies” in order to influence people. The model was actually developed for a work setting, but it’s incredible how these principles can be applied to relationship building. The idea is to establish what the most meaningful “currency” is to the person you are reaching out to.

The five currencies below can be great sources of inspiration when you’re negotiating an exchange:

  • Inspiration-related currencies. People who value these currencies want to find meaning in what they're doing. To appeal to these people, approach them with a cause, something that will lead to a greater good.
  • Task-related currencies. Task-related currencies are often highly valued where supplies and resources may be scarce. Offer them your client’s expertise on a topic that’s relevant to their site that they haven’t covered yet.
  • Position-related currencies. People who value this currency focus on recognition, reputation, and visibility. Create content relevant to their interests that make an active attempt to engage them, either directly through the content or through social channels.
  • Relationship-related currencies. People who value relationships want to belong. These people want to feel connected on a personal level, with you or the organization you’re representing. Show them that they aren’t just a means to an end and involve them in various initiatives.
  • Personal-related currencies. These currencies relate to the other person on a personal level. You should give courtesy and gratitude for the help you receive. It’s as simple as writing "Thank You" follow up emails, sharing a person’s blog post, and making it a habit of acknowledging people for their efforts.

4. The Medium is the Message

From email to Google+, Facebook to face-to-face, each of these communication channels has their own unique characteristics, much like the people who use them.

Marshall McLuhan stated that the medium through which we choose to communicate holds as much value than the message itself. One contact might like IM, another might always be on Twitter – it’s good to know where people want to be reached.

5. Influence is Give and Take

In Francisco Dao’s article Networking is for Losers, he makes a key point that sums up how you should approach building relationships; a road to quality versus a shooting slope to quantity:

"A few strong relationships can open far more doors than a thousand evenings of glad handing and networking."

With that, keep in mind these six steps for building fruitful and lasting relationships. See if getting to know the person behind the email address might be worth the time and the nurturing.

Image source: Brands & Idea


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