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.