The problem with buzzwords is that it's easy to throw them around without really knowing what they mean, or without a common understanding about them among the group you're speaking to.
"Relationships" is no exception to that. It's an amorphous word to begin with, but when you start talking about it in terms of social media, it gets even squishier.
So when we at Small Act say nonprofits need to cultivate relationships with their supporters, what exactly are we talking about?
Relationships are about one-on-one interactions
On social media, it's all too easy to simply blast out the content you want to share, and ideally, content your audience will find interesting. But how often do you engage your supporters one-on-one when you're online?
This kind of interaction can be as simple as asking one specific person a question or thanking them for doing something nice for your organization. Even better, you could respond to someone having a bad day by telling them you hope things improve. It doesn't need to be complex. But if you set a goal for yourself of a certain number of one-on-one interactions a week, you'll start to see some change in the number of people talking about your organization. (And if you're looking for some over-the-top examples of one-on-one engagement, check out Zappos' customer service.)
Relationships are about trust
By interacting with people on an individual level, you are starting to build trust, because you're showcasing your organization as one made of people, rather than a faceless, cubicle-filled office.
The next step to this is in being transparent, both to individuals and to the collective masses. Yes, I know, "transparency" is another buzzword, but it's absolutely critical. When a crisis hits, or when you make a mistake, own up to it. Don't just go silent (though some lawyers out there may disagree with me, the savvy ones will understand).
Better yet, be proactive when things aren't going well. Give people a heads-up, and let them know how they can help.
Because people don't want to interact with people they don't trust. You can build as many positive relationships as you want, but the minute you prove yourself untrustworthy, you risk losing them all.
Relationships are about value
Of course your content should be providing value to your stakeholders as a whole, but what about value on an individual basis? Why should somebody get to know your organization?
Here is where it's important to answer questions (promptly) and provide targeted information to individuals whenever possible. Look at @ComcastCares as an example here. They're a valuable resource on Twitter, and people turn to them because they know they're super effective at customer support. They provide a concrete service on an individual basis.
Relationships are about passion
The ultimate goal in doing all this is to build passion among your supporters. After all, we can talk about how great our organization is until we're blue in the face, but the power of social media is to have somebody else say that instead of us.
What you're building when you cultivate individual relationships is an army of supporters who will both help you spread your message and defend you when the chips are down. These kind of supporters are gold - they will help you raise money by extending your message further, provide helpful feedback, and have your back when your organization comes under fire.
You want to get people so excited about your organization that they would do just about anything for you, up to and including donating. So, really, relationships come back to your organization's bottom line.
How are you going to get individuals fired up about your organization today?
Photo credit: Procsilas on Flickr