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The Real Skill Of Building Relationships

Richard Millington
Richard Millington

Founder of FeverBee

Almost every client we work with (and new hire) struggles to build geniune relationships, especially online.

Their approach to any prospective member is too formal, too long, and has an offputting sales edge.

It reads exactly like the type of communication we would ignore in our own inbox. At the World Bank a few months ago, I asked participants to craft outreach messages to members. Then we traded the messages and asked if we would a) open the e-mail and b) respond to it. The self-awareness was brutal.

Most messages are along the lines of:

Subject: Join Widgetcofans Community

Hi {name},

I am Joe Smith. I’m the community manager for WidgetCoFans, a new community for people interested in WidgetsCo’s products and services.

The community will feature interviews with leading experts in the sector, offer analysis and access to our CEO Mr. Important, and host exclusive forums where fans can share their stories and trade their tips and advice. 

We would like to invite you to join the community and get access to our exclusive news, resources, and chat with your fellow WidgetCo fans. 

If you have any questions, please contact me on:

[email protected]

This e-mail isn’t bad. It’s short, which helps. It’s just not good. It rarely gets opened, let alone read.

There are three problems here:

1) You shouldn’t be doing a pitch. Pitch messages rarely work, even when well written. You should have established a relationship before inviting someone to join a community. See the CHIP method.

2) It’s not personal. By personal, I mean highly personal. Not the “I noticed you like {x}, so you should join our community“. More the “Hi Bob, I liked what you said about {x} in Denver. Have you found {x} is {y}?… 

Open with a question, praise, or a statement the other is likely to agree with. You should have done your research on each person you’re going to reach out to.

3) It doesn’t highlight how they would be useful. People are most likely to contribute to a community if they feel they have unique attributes, skills, or expertise that will influence the group. That means you need to know what people think of themselves (or apply labelling theory).

We’ve worked on 100+ successful communities, attended dozens of events, and trained countless community managers.

Without doubt, the ability to build geniune relationships is our biggest challenge right now. People probably aren’t joining your community because they don’t know you or don’t trust you. If you’re the type of person that struggles to approach new people and introduce yourself at the conference, you need to work on this.

It’s a skill that you can work on. You can work on your body language, your tone of speech, even the very lines you use to open and sustain a discussion. Don’t worry if it doesn’t come naturally. Focus on doing it often enough until it does come naturally.

The same is true online. You can practice on approaching people online and using empathy and social science to get them to like and trust you. It takes courage to admit you might not be good at this. It takes even more course to invest the time in getting really good at this. Imagine how valuable you would be as not just a community professional, but as a professional in any field, if you could build a positive relationship with anyone in the room.

On October 29th to 30th, the world’s top 250 community professionals are going to SPRINT in San Francisco. Will you be one of them?

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