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Friday, February 24, 2006


Blogs and relationship building: Myth or fact?

Over time, it has become accepted blogging dogma, that blogs build relationships, between the blog writer and the blog readership. The concept of blog relationship building has been promoted and marketed as one of the most powerful reasons for starting a blog; especially business blogs.

I have been a strong advocate of the relationship building aspects of blogging myself. Perhaps I have been promoting a myth of blogging power. Maybe I have been suggesting the right idea that blogs can change lives. A third possibility could be that blogging might build strong relationships between blogger and reader under the right circumstances; and fail miserably in others.

Leading author and business blogger Susannah Gardner (pictured above) of Buzz Marketing With Blogs has stepped forward and taken the blogs as relationship builders concept to task. Susannah believes that the entire relationship idea is a myth, and one that is being perpetuated without any basis in reality.

Susannah says:

So, really, I wonder about the phrase I’ve used a million times: “Blogs are about building relationships.” Are they really? Don’t most relationships grow, change, deepen? Is there really a chance for that with a blog, or does it just feel like it?

Like me, Susannah has discussed the relationship building aspect of blogging as an accepted truism. The idea is quite probably oversold by we evangelists of the blogging cause. On the other hand, there is indeed some truth in the concept as well. Under the proper circumstances, and used correctly, blogs can build relationships. The connections made are not automatic and must be nurtured and helped to grow over time. A blog alone is not the mythical magic bullet for success.

A blog is simply a tool. As with any tool, if used correctly and in the right circumstances, a blog can be very powerful. Employed poorly and without skill, and used for the wrong reasons, a blog will be very ineffective at achieving its goals. The blog is dependent upon the writing skill, motivation, personality, and type of information provided by the author.

It's probably safe to say that an interesting, informative, well written blog that reflects it's writer's personality, will be more effective than a blog that fails in those key areaas. It's also safe to say that some blog readers will not connect with a blog owner under any circumstances. On the other hand, many blog visitors will want to develop a deeper and more permanent connection with the blogger. Most readers are somewhere in the middle.

There's the rub.

A blog can only do so much on its own. In many ways, it represents a letter of introduction from the writer to the reader. The blog offers to start a conversation. Not everyone is going to respond to that offer; although some readers will do so. On the other hand, it's also up to the blogger to help develop those potential relationships from the blogging end.

Blog comments and e-mail exchanges, internet messenger and telephone conversations between people introduced by way of the blog, and live offline meetings between people are all forms of blog created personal interaction. Some of these newly formed acquaintances will grow and prosper, while others might not last past the handshake phase.

Susannah Gardner is correct about one thing. The idea that blogs build relationships can mislead people into granting the blog a power it doesn't possess. The blog is not some all powerful mythical being, able to create clients, customers, friends, and interpersonal relationships by waving a magic wand. As author of the successful and excellent book Buzz Marketing With Blogs (shown left), her opinion resulted from extensive research into blogging.

All developing relationships of any type, whether business, friendship, or romantic require some effort on the part of everyone involved. Blogs are no different in that regard.

Blogs are simply one of many starting points for relation building. Used properly, and wisely, a blog can definitely start, nurture, and develop relationships between the blogger and the reader. It's not really an all one or all of the other type situation. The blog will be successful in many cases, and create many powerful connections. The blog will fail to strike a chord in other readers entirely.

Permanent relationships just aren't going to happen on their own. The blog is not some magic entity that can create interpersonal connections out of thin air. It's simply another tool; and no tool is perfect.

Not even the blog.

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I would add one more thought to this, which is that your ability to build relationships with your blog also depends highly on how willing you are to build these relationships too. And in this respect, you can compare a blog to something maybe more of your readers are already familiar with, which is attending a physical networking event in the real world. Anyone who's attended something like that knows that you have a number of choices available to you when arriving: you can stand in the corner and not talk to anyone; you can muster up the courage to go talk with strangers, and to build new relationships through sincere conversation; or you can focus on the contacts there you alredy know, of having extended conversations with them to try to build that relationship you already have. The same thing can be directly applied to blogs, I think - that just like a physical networking event, others are going to respond to you mostly by how you choose to present yourself to them in the first place. If you "stand in the corner" of the blogosphere, afraid to write anything of sincerity or value, afraid to respond to the people who contact you, then of course your attempt at building relationships is going to fail, just like it would at a physical event. If you "work the room" of the blogosphere, though - if you respond timely and intelligently to your readers, if you offer yourself as approachable, if you make statements of value and intimacy yourself - then of course you will build powerful relationships, again just like you would at a physical event.

Too many business people, I think, look at blogs as some sort of magical thing unto itself, instead of what it actually is - simply another tool for one to conduct one's business. In this light, then, it's amazing how many incredibly old-fashioned lessons about the business world can be applied to the blogosphere as well.
I completely agree that "a blog can only do so much on its own." Your article nicely summarizes some of the additional efforts needed to foster online relationships.
Hi Jason. Thanks for the analogy to offline networking. You are correct. The blogger has to shoulder part of the load (maybe the vast majority) of building the desired relationships. Sitting back and waiting for people to come to you is ineffective networking offline, and is ineffective online too.
Hi Andrea. You are right, like anything else, a blog can only do so much on its own. It's the people involved, in what has to be a two way or multi-directional conversation. Communication is key to building relationships, and in helping them to grow and blossom.

It is live communication from the writer that builds the relationship with readers.

Blogs in themselves do nothing, which is why splogs will be a short-lived fad.

A blog is a communications tool and like a telephone or an email it works well only when there is real communication coming through it.

It is also desirable for a blog to evolve, as yours has, so that readers get a continually improved experience and find reason to return.

Keep up the good work. Your direction may change, but I find your writing to be continually helpful. Perhaps that's all that is needed.
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