15 Dec 2008

All Relationships Are Not Created Equal

Loren Baker brings some awesome back to Search Engine Journal with his post Building Relationships Is More Important Than Building Links Alone.  In his post, Loren outlines some great tips to help bloggers and site owners form relationships with the people they want links from.  The tips provided by Loren are invaluable, but you can’t leverage any of it unless you know who you’re trying to form the relationship with. How do you know who’s valuable to you? Whom should you be courting?

Part of my job at We Build Pages includes building thriving communities for our clients and exciting people to the point of total brand evangelism. That means going out into the wild to form the exact relationships that Loren is talking about.  I may not be looking for links, but I am still trying to open up conversation with complete strangers in the hopes that they’ll help me out down the road. I’m trying to find out who the faces are that I need to be talking to in order to get advice, to learn more about the community, and to help our clients engage and leverage these folks.

And it can be a tricky task. When I enter the world of, say, horse breeding, I don’t know who the main players are (er, as in the people talking about horses, not the horses themselves). I don’t know who is trusted and who’s not.  That’s when I put on my journalist hat and observe. I talk to people. I ask questions. I show an interest in what they’re talking about. I pretend that the $120,000 Journalism degree my father bought me wasn’t a complete waste of money (Thanks, Dad!).

When I enter these communities on a mission to find the thought leaders and build relationships, I ask myself a series of questions:

  • Where are the important conversations taking place? On what blogs? Which forums? What social media networks?
  • Who’s starting the conversations? Who’s leaving comments? Who’s the most vocal (in a good way)? Who’s furthering the conversations? Who’s answering questions posed by other members? Who’s constantly being cited?
  • Are there forum members or bloggers that aren’t necessarily vocal but who, when they speak, people listen?
  • Who has the highest rate of success on the social media networks? Who’s right below them and will be hungry to help you in order to promote themselves? Who’s out there on Delicious tagging things? Who’s submitting them to StumbleUpon or Reddit? Who’s Twittering links?
  • What resources are available online for this topic? Is there a Wikipedia page? If so, who’s editing that page? Is it talked about LinkedIn? Who’s known for the best answers? Who is the authority?
  • Who’s talking about your competitors? What sources/blogs are traditional media referencing? Who’s talking about your subject offline?

For me, a lot of community building means accepting the fact that you’re dumb. Social media and link building is people. It’s about imitating offline behaviors.  You have to go in humbly, admit to knowing nothing, and hope that someone adopts you and lets you into their world.  And it’s a very successful model. Trust me. Never underestimate the power of owning your dumbness. It’s gotten me far in life.

I like to create industry profiles complete with the answers to the questions above. It helps me keep an eye on the community, to start to draw lines between related people, and to plan my community attack.

The simple truth is that you can’t engage the community unless you know who that community is. The tips below will help you figure out who the important people in that community are. Once you know that, Loren’s advice can you help you leverage that community to help you get what you’re after.


  1. Joe Hall December 15, 2008 at 3:54 PM

    Great article! Its interesting to read this, because most of this seems kind of common sense. But, like my self and others, most take years to put these connections together in a way that works for them.

  2. Jack Leblond December 15, 2008 at 6:01 PM

    I’ve found that in the (relatively)short time that I have been performing SEO, forming relationships has been a vital part of my professional growth. I wouldn’t know half of what I do if I hadn’t jumped in and asked a lot of questions. If you plan to do like Lisa does and learn it all from scratch, you better not be shy.

  3. neyne December 16, 2008 at 2:25 AM

    So you enter a community of horse breeders even though you are not particularly interested in horse breeding yourself, but are only doing it so you can build relationships for the benefit of your client ?

  4. Lisa Barone December 16, 2008 at 7:29 AM

    Joe: Lots of things are common sense. That doesn’t mean people actually remember to do them. 🙂

    Neyne: As a person, I have no interest in horse breeding, no. However, our clients do. Our clients are part of that space. It’s a field that’s important to them. When I take on projects in their name, I’m trying to help them become part of the community so that they can share resources and mutually benefit. And that requires a bit of a learning curve on our part because I’m not an expert in everything that our clients are experts in. I go, admit to knowing nothing, and then learn my way. I think it’s a pretty natural evolution, personally. Does that make sense? (If not, feel free to school me. 😉 )

  5. neyne December 16, 2008 at 7:37 AM

    I think that it would be “more natural” if you identified those communities, evaluated their marketing potential and then guide the client (or one of the employees) to participate in that community. the way you describe, it doesn’t seem too far from the fake avatars you were so opposed to in the past.

    my 2c

  6. Lisa Barone December 16, 2008 at 7:46 AM

    Neyne: I can respect that. We do educate the clients on how to jump in themselves, but we also like to help them get started and make the right connections. Jumping into communities and social media is a bit intimidating for clients at first, so we ease them into the process.

    I think it’s different from fake avatars because we identify ourselves as working for the client and explain why we have an interest in the community. I’d never go in pretending to be some great brand evangelist for horses, when I really don’t care and am only there for a client. To me, that’s where the line is.

    Thanks for giving your two cents! 🙂

  7. Mike | PlanetChiro December 16, 2008 at 11:54 AM

    I think the 2nd paragraph serves well as a ToDo list for anyone seeking better success online. “Part of my job at [insert company name or website here] includes…” and then do the things stated.

    I like it!

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