The Quality of Your Relationships Matters More Than Your Bottom Line

Gary Vaynerchuk’s book The Thank You Economy argued that the then nascent concept of social media marketing would, in the future, no longer be optional, but rather would become the status quo. In his book, he argued that any brand wishing to remain competitive and relevant would need to adopt social media as a core operating principle. Social would need to be an intrinsic part of company culture and simply employing it as a superficial, part-time marketing strategy would be a waste of resources.

Published in 2011, The Thank You Economyrightfully predicted today’s business landscape. Today, businesses no longer need convincing that social media plays an important role in their bottom line. There is no more argument as to IF social media is necessary. Alternately, the discussion is around optimizing the many nuances of social marketing to get the best results possible.

There are innumerable “how to do social media” blog posts. Many companies and individuals invest significant time and money to research how many posts you should publish per network, per day. Social media gurus argue about the best way to optimize images, and go back forth on what exactly is the perfect amount of words in a headline and blog post.

Furthermore, tracking shares, likes, and comments across the various social platforms has literally become a full-time job. Every metric is scrutinized and failure to show growth, whatever that means, results in termination (job loss, not literal termination–yet). In an industry where companies pay a premium for every second of audience attention, it seems a constant battle to see who can produce the most content in the least amount of time.

This reality is in stark contrast, even dystopian, when compared to the vision Vaynerchuk painted in his book.

The biggest difference? Although Vaynerchuk correctly predicted the present day dependence on social media, his vision differed in that he foresaw companies primarily using it to establish relationships with customers that would be impossible otherwise. Relationships that mattered more than the bottom line. He described it like this

The ROI of a company’s engagement with a customer scales in proportion to the bonds of the relationship. The ROI of your relationship with your mother is going to be much higher than that of the one you have with a good friend. Both, however, are more valuable than the one you have with an acquaintance, which trumps the relationship you have with a stranger. Without social media, you and your customer are relegated to strangers; with it, depending on your efforts, you can potentially upgrade your relationship to that of casual acquaintances, and even, in time, to friends. The power of that relationship can go so far as to convert a casual browser into a committed buyer, or a buyer into an advocate (p55).

Rare Opportunity

Companies today have an opportunity that did not exist just 10-15 years ago. Customers are proactively coming forward with praise, complaints, and suggestions. Instead of relying on traditional surveys and focus groups for feedback, companies can now just open their Twitter and Facebook accounts to learn what their customers want. There is no longer the need to fill out a comment card when with just a few taps on the screen a user can send a tweet and have their opinion heard in real-time. However, it seems as though the prevailing paradigm among many companies is not to leverage these social platforms to provide greater customer satisfaction, but rather to focus on measurables (shares, comments, likes, followers).

The opportunity, then, exists for companies who are willing to undergo a radical shift in company culture and embrace a policy more true to what Vaynerchuk originally described in his book: using social media to foster personal relationships.

At this point, I anticipate many of you saying, Ok, all this talk about relationships, but what does that actually mean?” Let’s look at Taco Bell as an example of a company diligently working to create valuable relationships.

In each of these cases, it would have been easy to let these tweets go by unacknowledged. Taco Bell opted to do the hard thing and personally respond to these customers. Imagine the sensation of sending out a tweet to a company as large as Taco Bell and getting a personalized response. Not only are they creating loyalty from these individual customers, but Taco Bell has almost 2 million followers. How many of those followers will see and appreciate that interaction? How much value is Taco Bell creating with just this simple gesture? There may not be a measurable increase in sales due to these customer interactions, but that’s not the point; Taco Bell is using Twitter to let customers know that they matter, even if it is only in this one small interaction.

Shift in Objective

There is an old saying, “You play how you practice.” Meaning if a team practices with a focus on winning and being the best they can, when it is game-time they are more likely to play at that level. Likewise, two people walk into a gym, one with an end goal of competing in a body builder competition, and the other to run a marathon. At the end of an hour, they will have completed a completely different set of exercises. They will eat different foods and train in different ways. The goal or objective informs the practice.

Now to a more practical example. Two companies both participate in social media marketing. They are both posting compelling content across various social channels. However, one company is concerned with tracking deliverables, while the other company is focused solely on fostering authentic relationships with their audience. While participating in many of the same activities, since the end goals are different, ultimately their actions to reach those goals differ as well.

On one hand, the first company’s focus on metrics will lead to making sure they used the right number of words in the headline and post. They will make sure to optimize on-page SEO to rank as high as possible for strategically targeted keywords. Essentially, they will follow a checklist to make sure each and every post is optimized to achieve the best results.

On the other hand, the second company will be responding to customer tweets. They will quickly address each and every issue to the best of their ability (remember, the customer isn’t always right, and it is impossible to appease each and every complaint), even if they can’t fix the problem. This company will produce content that educates their audience and creates real value. They will share customer created content across their various social networks and seek to really understand who is buying their product or service. In short, they will create relationships first and let the metrics take care of themselves.


In conclusion, social media affords today’s companies the opportunity to get to know their audience in ways that were impossible 10 years ago. Customers are more likely to go to social media with both complaints and compliments and expect to be heard and to have issues resolved. A company focused on crafting positive relationships first, and metrics second, will find a much more loyal audience than the company who is focused solely on building shares and followers.