Do’s and Don’ts of Building Relationships on Social Media

When I started Twirp Communications in 2011 it began with a government funded program for new entrepreneurs. This program (SEB for the locals) included a roster of workshops, on a wide variety of topics, from a varied list of successful, local business owners. One of the workshops I was required to take was on “Phone Communications and Sales”.

Being a GenXer, I was all too familiar with the phone. I’d spent HOURS on the phone as a young person. I knew how to actually talk on the phone and have conversations. I knew the etiquette and the phone didn’t scare me. So I went into this workshop feeling like it was going to be a waste of my time…I mean…who doesn’t know how to have a conversation on the phone? Remember, this was in 2011 when social media and texting was really just taking off.

I’ve never been afraid to admit when I’ve been proven wrong and this was definitely one of those examples. I knew how to talk to friends and family on the phone, sure, but I can admit now that I didn’t really know how to use the phone for sales work. The facilitator, Mary Jane Copps, The Phone Lady, blew my mind with stats and case studies and information I needed to start a successful business. I came away from the session feeling like I hadn’t wasted my time.

Fast forward to a few months later when I ran into Mary Jane in the back of a local book store. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went, but I know I told her how much I enjoyed her workshop and how it was still difficult to make those calls. She graciously coached me through a call I needed to make, right there in the back of the book store! I went home and within a couple of weeks I had used her tips to secure a new client! And then another!

Another few months later Mary Jane showed registered for a three day social media bootcamp I was offering.¬†From there we continued to chat via Twitter on a regular basis. I signed up for her blog. She signed up for mine. We shared each other’s posts. We commented on the other’s content. We learned from each other.

Today, Mary Jane is one of my closest business confidantes. We mastermind together. She has hired me to consult on her social media efforts. We work together. We’ve interviewed each other on podcasts and webinars.

Our relationship was built on multiple interactions that built trust over time. I trusted her very early on because she was generous with her knowledge and her advice worked for me. Those first interactions allowed her to trust that she could spend three whole days with me, away from her business, to learn social media. From there, we continued to build trust over hundreds of conversations on Twitter, via our blogs, interviews, and emails.

This is the key to building relationships on social media. One step at a time. One small interaction at a time until you trust each other for a larger interaction, and then maybe you work together in a small way, and then you finally have built a relationship with that person that leads to bigger and better things and they become a friend.

While our relationship began in person, social media played a huge role in helping us build our relationship into what it is today. Here are some of the things we did and some of the things we avoided, to build this business relationship over the years.

Business Relationship Building Don’ts

Don’t try to get married on the first date

Did you read how long it took to build this relationship on social media? It was about five years in before we started a money-involved business relationship. Social media is great for networking, and you can have great, quick results, but sometimes the best relationships are the ones we build slowly. Don’t try to sell people on your service the first time you talk to them on social media (especially if it’s an automated direct message on Twitter asking them to do something minutes after they follow you). Just talk to them!

Don’t spam your friends

Nobody signed up to follow you so you could invade their timeline or private messages with constant sales asks. They want to get to know you. Being connected doesn’t mean you can sell to them, recruit them or get them to promote your stuff all the time.

Don’t get political

Ok…sometimes it’s ok to get political. Nike sure did when they used Kaepernick in their ad. But we’re not all Nike and we can’t all take the hit that choosing a side might bring. If you’re going to go political on your business’s social media at the very least don’t take a confrontational tone. Nobody followed your business to see your tweets denigrating politicians or calling people on the other side names. This might seem like a no-brainer, but there are some Twitter accounts in my city of Halifax that are doing this and I’ve had to unfollow them because of it. They’re not going to be top of mind when I need their plumbing services or promotional products anymore. They’ve lost the chance to build a business relationship on social media, with me at least.

Of course, for some businesses a large part of their mission is political advocacy…think climate change or food security. Advocating for changes in policies, laws, etc is a great way to show your belief system to your followers, and will probably help the right people find you.

Don’t move people without permission

If someone follows you on LinkedIn, while it might be technically legal to add them to your email list, it’s questionable whether or not people are ok with this. And some will be thinking “No, it’s not even questionable, Anita.” You might like the idea of adding a few hundred contacts to your list quickly, but think about what would happen if everyone did this and you suddenly started getting emails from a bunch of coaches, consultants or widget manufacturers you never planned to do business with. The unsubscribing alone could take hours. If someone follows you on one platform and not another, that’s ok. They’re allowed to choose which platform they prefer. That’s why it’s important you choose your platforms wisely and ensure you have the time and resources to maintain each one.

Don’t over-automate

I’m a huge fan of scheduling content, but there’s a big difference between scheduling and automation, in my mind, and I call it Responsible Scheduling. Basically, don’t let algorithms make all the choices for you. Scheduling some content is ok if you’re putting your eyes on it before it goes out, but it’s dangerous to let a program choose what content goes out for you. And if you are taking advantage of a social media scheduling tool you absolutely must be prepared to also engage manually on those networks. Nobody enjoys a Twitter feed that never responds to questions or reciprocates engagement.

Don’t be desperate or weird

how not to build relationships on social media, bad pitch
This was the first message I received from a person I had never met, trying to sell me mascara.

Moving too quickly can come across as desperate and weird (h/t Fiona for the suggestion). People can smell an incoming sales pitch a mile away…so make sure you’ve got two miles before you move in! It really boils down to getting to know the person to see if they’re even a good fit for your product or service before pitching them. If you immediately try to sell a new connection some fake eyelashes, they’re not going to appreciate it (see the very real message I received in Facebook Messenger).

Business Relationship Building Do’s

Do offer value

People don’t generally follow a business account just to see ads about the business. There needs to be some value. Value will mean different things to different people and can be provided in different ways:

  • Special offers
  • Humour
  • Conversation / Engagement
  • Education
  • Information

Do have conversations

Ask questions and answer them. Find someone on Twitter who’s talking about something that interests you and respond to their tweet. If someone comments on your Facebook post, respond to them. It really can be that simple to start a conversation!

Do try to be helpful

Yes, we all love a good viral video once in a while, but if that’s all you ever post people aren’t really getting to know you and your business, are they? If you write a blog about your product or service, be sure to share that on social media. Making videos that show people how to do something? Share ’em. Wrote an article that appeared somewhere else? Show us! I’m a big believer is putting it all out there and being of service to my followers.¬† Answer questions people are asking. Give recommendations. Talk about great businesses you’re experiencing.

Do use each platform as they’re intended

Facebook isn’t Twitter. Twitter isn’t LinkedIn. And so on, and so on. Each platform has its own culture and etiquette, so if you’re using multiple platforms, ensure you understand how they’re different and work with that.

Do use hashtags strategically

If you’re new to Twitter and Instagram, hashtags can be a bit confusing. A little reading on what a hashtag is and how to use it will go a long way. On Twitter 2-3 hashtags is sufficient. On Instagram you can use up to 30. On Facebook you need to think about whether or not it’s even worth using them as they’re not widely adopted.

Using hashtags is a great way for people who might want your product or service to find you, so hashtags are very important to building relationships. Don’t screw this up by hijacking a trending hashtag just to talk about your business. Similarly, avoid jumping onto a hashtag for a good cause just to get more business. (h/t Jennifer for this one)

Treat people online as you would in person

It sounds simple, but so many people say and do things online that they would never consider doing in person. You would never:

  • Shake someone’s hand as you’re being introduced and say “Hey you need my product.”
  • Jump into a conversation about someone’s person dying of cancer and say “I can get you a really great life insurance product.”
  • Go to a toddler playgroup and try to sell the parents…well…anything.

Take the time to get to know people, build the relationship on mutual interest and respect and the sales will follow when the time is right.


2 thoughts on “Do’s and Don’ts of Building Relationships on Social Media”

  1. Hi Antia,
    I have an educational special education company. My staff goes in schools (mostly charter schools) and provides
    all of the pecial education staff and services. This is somewhat like a a coop. I have been in business 20 years. However with COVID-19 I have lost several contracts. I have not used any social media services. I want to gain as much information as possible from you. Thank you


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