“I won’t do it until I see the ROI.”
“Let’s do a small test and if we don’t see significant success, we’ll eliminate funding.”
I have, you have, and many others have dealt with similar responses when trying to fund a community relationship-building effort. While this kind of “quick success” style of funding may work for other projects, it doesn’t really work for developing the soft skills of relationship-building, says Rachel Happe, founder of The Community Roundtable.
We all have relationships, and in all cases those took time to develop and build trust. Would you trust a person that comes up to you and says, “Be my friend NOW!”?
You simply can’t demand fast results with relationships. In fact, fast results can often result in failure. Because a relationship is supposed to endure over time. What you’re looking to prove early on in a community is that you can affect a behavior change and you can get people to form relationships with each other. As you grow organically, you’ll see slow growth and then, eventually, dramatic “hockey stick”-like growth.
Even though pumping valuable content into a system is great (to get people to comment on it), it won’t necessarily achieve your goal of building relationships.
Happe pointed out that there are a number of cost savings and revenue opportunities that come through relationship building:
Loyalty: Drives repeat patronage, which costs less than getting a new customer or an existing customer to come back.
Forgiveness: Relationships are a risk-mitigation strategy. If you have a strong relationship, and as an organization you mess up (it happens eventually), the other party will forgive that. If the relationship is only transactional, and you mess up, then they won’t have any loyalty or trust with you and therefore no need to forgive you. They will often lash out at you on the social Web. That’s a PR crisis which can result in a multimillion-dollar mess to clean up.
Time: Relationships give you the space of time. You can acknowledge an issue and take the time to solve it and deliver a solution. You can build new expectations of service.
Peer support: Tech support is timely and expensive. What costs nothing is when customers help customers.
Issue reporting: QA is also expensive. Guess what isn’t? When customers who like you let you know when they find a problem.
Advocacy: Customers provide word-of-mouth recommendations to their friends. It is the best form of advertising.
Preference: Customers for whom you build a deeper bond beyond the product create a stronger tie to your brand.
Patience: While others may go to competitors because you don’t deliver a product on time, those with whom you build relationships will often wait.
Authentic insights: You get better insights through friendships rather than transactional relationships. If you ask somebody what they want, but it doesn’t exist today, it’s very hard for them to articulate that. But if you take a more conversational approach and talk to them about their needs and what they’re struggling with, that will give you insight into what doesn’t exist today.