Chris Brogan on the power of relationships

August 1, 2011

He is in the top five of the Advertising Age Power 150, has nearly 200,000 Twitter followers and has already been added to more than 12,500 Google+ circles.

Chris Brogan is a social media consultant, best-selling author and president of Human Business Works, an online education and community company for businesses and entrepreneurs.

In preparation for his keynote address at the PRSA 2011 International Conference, Oct. 15-18, in Orlando, Fla., Brogan spoke with Tactics about how businesses can use social media to personalize customer relationships and expand their brands.

Why is it important to use the Web to humanize your business?

The Web has much better reach than the physical world.  You can connect with people who might be passionate about what you sell, but they have to know about you first.

We like relationships a lot more than we like being sold to. The best way to accomplish this is to build a relationship first, so that the potential for sale can then also hinge on understanding a buyer’s needs, understanding how you (the company) can make the buyer the hero or heroine in his or her story.

What is the best way to reach today’s on-the-go consumer?

Reaching today’s consumer requires a very spread-out approach. There are 700-plus million people on Facebook. That’s one in 11 people on the planet, but they’re not there to buy.

Just the same, if you’re not active on the various social Web channels, then you’re in jeopardy of missing a “phone call” when they dial the “social phone,” as Marcel Lebrun [CEO of social media monitoring company Radian6] put it once famously. Oh, and make sure that you get started on Google+. It’s going to be big.

How can we prove that our business is trustworthy via mobile channels?

I don’t know that you have to prove trust via a mobile link. Instead, it opens a channel. My friend, Tim Hayden, over at [an Austin, Texas-based digital consultancy] has a great project with Kendall Jackson wines, where he put QR codes on wine bottles.  When someone scans one of these codes with their mobile device, they get a location-specific idea for pairings, some recipe advice, and things that speak to where the buyer scanned the code. It’s those kinds of interactions, offline to online, that excite me.

What are a few steps to help restore trust in the workplace when it has been lost?

That’s a pretty big question. I think honesty is important. Somewhere along the line, companies decided that their employees wouldn’t understand the larger story or its implications. That’s not true. People understand when times are tough. Be open about it, but then show them how to process that information and how best to couch it.

How can social platforms help us build organizational value?

Organizations will get out of social channels what they put into them. It requires the belief that conversations lead to relationships and that relationships go much further than the sale.

Why not build loyalty into a customer relationship before you’ve sold them? Won’t it pay off even more after the sale?
Beyond just sales, social platforms allow product developers to understand the interests of their marketplace. Social platforms allow customer service people to have a faster and more direct interaction (which also saves on call center costs).  There are a lot of benefits, but it all requires a solid implementation.

How can we earn people’s trust and be known as an influencer, while also cutting through the clutter to find other trustworthy sources?

The tool isn’t the issue.  To be a trust agent is to help someone have a better relationship with a company. Frank Eliason did it for Comcast back in the day and is doing it for Citi [as senior vice president of social media]. Morgan Johnston did it for JetBlue [as manager of corporate communications]. I can keep going and going.

There are a lot of people who rose to prominence by using Twitter and other social channels to build trust.

How can we stay abreast of all of the rapid changes in technology and prove that we are influential and reputable?

Knowing about technology won’t prove your influence or your reputation. Instead, you have to show that you can leverage the new tools to improve relationships.  That’s the goal.  The tools are just that.  We don’t talk about hammers when we see a new house.

What do you think is the next platform or device that can help communicators build value?

Google+ is where it’s at. I’m spending a ton of time there learning about what it does now and speculating on what it’s going to do. It’s the big new tool and if you’re not already on there, get on there as soon as you can.

What social tool should every professional be using right now?

Email. But people need to make better use of it. People are horrible at email, and I’m forever flabbergasted by the lack of relationship-building inside email. Cold pitches will never reach me and will never raise an eyebrow.

Meanwhile, people who’ve spent time getting to know me, who read what I write and who know where I put my interests get stories done by me all the time.  That’s what’s necessary in the forward years.


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