I wrote this awhile back and was recently published online at Target Marketing Magazine, but I wanted to share this on my blog as well as it's relevant and perhaps insightful. Thanks to @2FirstNamesPR and @HeatherReporter for making it happen!


Direct marketers and social media adventurists, both in large companies and as individuals, are often trying to find the value in Twitter followersOpens in a new window and Facebook friendsOpens in a new window. There is marketing outreach to extend your brand message, which requires a different type of connection with your audience. But can you replace the value of a real, personal connection digitally? If so, how far can we take a digital relationship before losing the personal connection altogether?

A handshake, business card, wave, high five, fist bump, conversation over coffee—these are all some of the truest forms of personal connection. A form of connecting that can't be duplicated. Social media tries, but it can't replicate the feeling of meeting someone face-to-face for the first time, one-on-one, mano-a-mano. You're curious and unsure of what to expect, and it's just a meeting over potential business. Do you get butterflies in your stomach when you follow someone new on Twitter or accept a friend request from Facebook? If you do, it's probably something you ate.

Most of us can agree that a personal relationship is stronger than a digital relationship. We share snapshots of our lives on Facebook and relevant links and videos on Twitter. That's pretty much the beginning of a friendship based on commonality. But most people feel very little emotion when they lose a follower on Twitter or are down a "like" on Facebook, which suggests that the real connection is missing in social media. Have we diminished the importance of the personal connection? Or have we just dragged our digital relationships in the mud for so long that they don't resonate anymore? Most likely, a little bit of both.

This is the challenge to marketers building digital relationships everywhere: Whether you are the largest brand or simply doing some personal branding, it's time to do a gut check. How well do you know the followers and friends you try to connect with every day? Get to know your social media followers beyond their Twitter profiles and Facebook information pages. Of course, this is much easier for the average person with a couple hundred followers and not as easy for a huge brand with thousands of followers and friends (now, that's a lot of coffee meet-ups!), but there are key steps that both can take toward connecting in a real way:

1. Start by taking a look at your followers as an audience. Are they from certain subsets of life? Maybe there are a number of bloggers or industry professionals? Within those groups, are there any who are key influential followers who you can build a beneficial relationship with outside of the digital world? If so, engage them!

2. Google their names. Read their Blog. Who are they? What do they do? Are they connected to an activity you share? Are they associated with an organization that you feel strongly about? Do they live nearby?

3. If they're local, ask them to meet for coffee. If they're not, ask them join you in a video chat (keep your pants on... or don't).

4. This isn't the moment for a sales pitch! Take the time to really get to know them as people, both personally and professionally. Talk about your mutual projects and interests. See where there's a cross section and potential areas for collaboration. Remember the age-old saying, "Scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours"—there's a reason it's still relevant. Is there anything you can help them with to start to build a real trust in this new relationship?

Are you starting to see what value you can get from a real-life connection? Hopefully, the answer is "yes." So the next time you find yourself a few followers or "likes" down, you'll realize the potential connections you may have lost.