Connections Byte: Chewing on Relationship Building in PR vs. Social Media

Connections Byte: Chewing on Relationship Building in PR vs. Social Media

The inaugural byte focused on two of the three pillars of PR: reputation and value. Now let’s gnaw away on the third pillar of relationship building to test its sturdiness, particularly in relation to social media (“engagement and information”).

As a framework, let’s revisit key definitions from the last Bytes from the PR Sphere column:

Relationship building – connections, informal or formal, short- or long-term, developed with various stakeholders through dialogue, actions or transactions.

CPRS definition of PR “…relationships between an organization and its diverse publics, through the use of communication, to achieve mutual understanding, realize organizational goals, and serve the public interest.”

Stakeholder – a person or organization with an interest or concern in our organization or something our organization is involved in.

A “relationship building” Thesaurus search produces synonyms such as:

  • affiliation, association, bond, liaison, link, correlation, tie, union, blending, agreement, coming together, unification, amalgamation, merger, coalition, grouping, partner…

All of these are legitimate word substitutions for solid and formal, organizational PR goals and arrangements.

Notice what is missing? Words such as:

  • friendship, companionship, acquaintance, camaraderie, social contacts, colleagues, banter…

Now here’s your social media and PR pragmatist’s thesis at the front end:

What is this heresy being claimed?

what is a _____?

Where is the engagement, transparency and the democratization of social in this statement? What about empowerment and a sense of fulfillment by those important stakeholders: all employees? Isn’t PR 2.0 supposed to value input from customers and other stakeholders in two-way, symmetrical communication?

The type of “connections” listed in the second grouping may play a role leading up to a significant organizational relationship. But in the majority of scenarios they will not. That is the reality…and I don’t see it changing in the near future.

The critical difference is most of those elements pertain to personal and informal connections—publicized or realized in social media—versus organizational public relations(hips).

Note that customer relationship management (CRM) is a sub-set in this scenario, plus generally its direct report line in organizations is not to public relations (or marketing)—although I’d be most interested in learning about corporate examples proving otherwise.

So let’s keep our eye on the ball regarding the primary reasons for participating in social media, professionally, first, and personally, second, in terms of public relations:

  1. Organizationally “relating” and participating on various platforms, with an integrated communications strategy, to add to the reputation and value of your (employer/client) organization.
  2. Personally (either as advisor or hands-on tactician practitioner) demonstrating a knowledge base and skills set in effectively making use of these channels for the above (#1), with accountability and creativity, in proving why the organization and its PR department are worthy of the online attention of stakeholders.

In both the professional and personal online spheres and platform accounts, this may include making public existing connections and affiliations.

Now let’s examine “aspirational” relationship building in the digital sphere.

Other resources on relationship building

In a recent post by my PR Conversations colleague, Heather Yaxley, relationship advice for PR practitioners, she examined “organization-public relationships” including the focus and the skills needed by the practitioner. Here are a couple of pertinent extracts on critical needs:

“…to be translated into practical competencies to become recognized as a vital intelligence-based skills set to close the gap between the “friendliness” focus of relationship building in practice and an informed understanding of research and knowledge-based strategies.”

“…to know how to build professional, multi-dimensional relationships to help organizations manage conflict situations or seek co-orientation with a wide range of individuals or groups over time.”

Heather kindly references my own guest post on Mary Ellen Miller’s blog, Layers of relationship all fresh so far with online friendlie, Mel. Both of us believe it’s important to distinguish between personal relationships—including whether they are mainly peer-to-peer and/or potentially transitory in nature—developed in social media, to that of organizational public relations ones.

Prevalent types of relationships in social media

Prevalent types of relationships in social media

The majority of relationships I’m witnessing in social media relates more to promotion of personal connections—shout outs to “friends,” old and new. Advertising plans to meet up, sometimes in excruciatingly dull (and meaningless) detail. Public thank you’s for retweets, a past favour done or an introduction made. (Even I’ve been guilty of some of this “showy” excess, but I am consciously trying not to do it, unless there’s some value-add to others—for example, highlighting some knowledge gleaned after meeting a thought leader, etc.)

Some individuals (often consultants in the social media sphere) take tremendous pride in the blog “commenting communities” they’ve created. Kudos to them for attracting so much interest and attention, but it does beg the questions:

  1. Do you look at your blog primarily as a business…or as a place for personal expression? What is its focus? How do you bill it? How often do the posts reflect the blog’s stated purpose?
  2. If it is a business blog, are you attracting the right stakeholders from an organizational perspective and developing potential business relationships…or are you mainly having friendly debates with people who hold similar (or vastly divergent) opinions as you, who may even work in the same areas or sectors?

Enough about what’s not effective

Pointing out what’s not overly effective in online organizational relationship building is easy. Providing possible solutions is not. Here are some things to consider in building or solidifying online organizational connections with relevant stakeholders:

  1. Besides determining internal subject experts for things like blog posts (author, quotes or as an interview subject) or videos, think externally, for either existing or aspirational partners. Are they prepared to offer you information-rich and relevant content for other stakeholders, with full attribution and links, on your site(s)? Will the partner company similarly help to market/promote the guest appearance and make the relationship evident? If your organization is in service or manufacturing, existing or potential supplier-company partners are a perfect example of possible involvement. Particularly if the organization doesn’t have a well-trafficked blog or video channel of its own. It’s a win-win situation for relationship building (plus marketing and profile).
  2. Participate in Twitter chats and demonstrate sector knowledge and/or thought leadership (sometimes individuals monitor for these things). Same thing with LinkedIn, Facebook or Google+ group discussions. Invite members of your leadership team or specific areas (e.g., HR or engineering) to participate in relevant chats; alternatively, quote him or her by name. (It should be self-evident that quotes from leaders should not include proprietary information or unwittingly offer competitive intelligence.)
  3. Monitor these same discussions and look for senior-level or relevant subject experts at other organizations, which you can point the correct person in the PR department or leadership team to consider to approach, offline. Propose an outline of the parametres of a potential new relationship.
  4. If you attend an in-person event with a social media connection (e.g., a tweetup), look to promote similar things as above, to grow relationships. And for heaven’s sake, don’t spend the entire time talking to the people you already know through social media, particularly if they hold the same position as you, with a competitor or similar organization (e.g., an agency or consultant). Simply say hello and have a brief discussion before moving on to new people and possibilities.

(Help add to this list in the comments section with your success stories of making use of social media to build relationships for your organization, beyond the personal.)

Further Reading: 7 Effective PR Strategies That Work in Social Media

Relationship building moving forward

Relationship building moving forward

In a recent Twitter chat, I posed the question of whether someone’s existing online network could or should be part of the employee evaluation process. Following are my favourite responses:

Kat French (guest moderator: Separating the Personal & Professional in Social Media…or Not): Employers need to be clear if leveraging your personal network is an expectation of a new hire.

Dennis Jenders (#sm132 active participant): In the digital world, I think it is assumed that social networks will be used to evaluate you.

Jason Breed (#socialmedia co-founder): What I’ve seen: personal social brands get you hired, but an employee’s social network is not considered as part of the promotion process as yet.

In moving “relationship building” forward in the social media sphere (from personal connections to organizational PR), I think this might prove a tremendous incentive for a bonus or promotion:

Further Reading: Social Media for PR: 5 Creative and Effective Examples

Helping to create and build a formal, long-term relationship with a stakeholder first “met” online.

Wouldn’t it be incredibly relevant and satisfying in merging the PR and social media fields of practice in this way—even if the bulk of the discussions and arrangements ended up being developed offline and quietly amongst relevant decision-makers in positions of influence and authority? Not a bad thing to have on your CV, either.

Author Bio

Judy Gombita is an expert in Public Relations. Judy is a Toronto-based public relations and communication management specialist, with more than 20 years of employment and executive-level volunteer board experience, primarily in the financial and lifelong learning nonprofit sectors. She is the co-editor and Canadian contributor (since 2007) to the international, collaborative blog, PR Conversations.

Hero photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

Actionable advice for your digital / content / influencer / social media marketing.
Join 13,000+ smart professionals who subscribe to my regular updates.
Share with your network!
Community Author
Community Author
Articles: 174


  1. Re: assessing a potential hire’s online social media networks; I think this is a very difficult call to make. If, for example, a business plans to look at these as part of the assessment process then shouldn’t it be made clear? I have also heard situations of employees being “expected” to share company messages on their personal SM accounts even when this isn’t appropriate – and also wasn’t discussed at the time of hiring.

    In essence I think the line between an employees private social media interactions and their performance in the workplace is still a murky subject that will require considerable experimentation and refinements over the coming years to find a fair balance that both employee and employer can agree is fair and reasonable.

  2. Public relations professionals were some of the first people to accept the power of community networking, and consequently they are often the ones major the way in the community space, whether they are talking to with customers from an organization perspective or strategizing on an in-house PR group.

    • Thanks for weighing in, Public relations help. Interesting that you commented on a post written more than six months ago; presumably you found it through search. Which is great, from a long-tail resource perspective.

      I don’t disagree with you, but would ask that you appreciate the (social business) public relations management function deals with a lot more stakeholder relationships than just “customers.” And I was detailing, for the most part, about partnership relationship building, not one-to-one customer.

      I definitely have to do a Customer Byte down the road, particularly from a public relations and social media perspective.


  3. Hi Judy.
    Quite interesting post, as per usual. 
    I would like to add my point of view to the point of using people´s existing networks to evaluate them. I support it because what people publish in their own profiles is honest and unbiased, thus creating and providing a better picture of the person than what can be seen in the workplace. In my view it just makes sense to use it to evaluate collaborators. 
    Also, I can add my own positive feeling to the fat of networking successfully through Twitter chats. You have been a witness of this process for me, and I can say that Twitter chats really do provide a great way to meet and connect with people from different countries and industries, and profit from their experience and knowledge. 
    Again, a great post.
    All the best,


    • Sorry for the delayed response, Daniel! Definitely I think your online persona is very honest, both in Twitter chats and in more private conversations via email, etc. That’s why I was really pleased to seek and publish your opinions in the December “Festive Byte” column. Not to mention the global-local context was great.

      I think in Twitter chats people have to be pretty honest. Not so much that they will get caled out for dishonesty…more likely “ignored.” Which is worse.

      Unfortunately, I witness a lot of hypocrisy and side deals regarding cross-promotion, etc in social media. I really wish I didn’t.

      Thanks for commenting!

  4. Hello mingly. Sorry for the delayed response—a technical snafu I’m given to understand. Congratulations on the launch of your site (which I understand goes live this week), plus your role as community manager. Speaking of which, this is something I’m musing: where PR reps and community managers intersect and diverge in social media.

    I’m pleased to hear that you’ve been given some food for thought regarding your
    strategy (why and what), as well as tactics. It’s good that you are thinking hard
    about who will be stakeholders (and note that there may well be multiple
    stakeholder types). One of the advantages of doing this at the front end is
    that you really can make use of two-way symmetrical communication to get the
    feedback on what is liked, disliked and/or missing.

    If you check out one of my comments in the first column, you’ll see that James
    Grunig recommends you don’t predetermine overly much “who is the who,” as often stakeholders will be self-selecting, rather than individuals or organizations you try to “target.”

    I really like your line: “But for professional concerns, we’re trying to help people to parse who they know and start to cultivate those harder-to-come-by relationships.”

    Helping folks to parse out the online flotsam and jetsam is a great goal.

    And you made me laugh with both your terminology and your honesty: “you’re just pretending to work as you’re pretending to play. (I get caught in this sometimes).”

    Which is harder, pretending to work as pretending to play? That is the question. Of course relationship building can be enjoyable—particularly when it feels “just right.” You know, like Goldilocks on her various quests.

    Thanks for stopping by and good luck with all of you present and future relationship
    building, online and (quietly) offline.

  5. Hi Judy, very interesting insights here. I have discovered that commenting communities, whether Facebook, Twitter or via a blog are largely other content publishers or colleagues. The interesting thing however is that clients and target clients are watching it all silently and taking note of your conduct. In my case this has often led to a foundation for developing a relationship or strengthening existing ties. It’s an interesting twist that my social relationships aid my organizational relationships but not in a one-to-one way.

    • I appreciate you stopping by and commenting, Karen.

      And thank you very much for providing concrete proof of the effectiveness of my bullet point suggestions number two and number three: “…demonstrate sector knowledge and/or thought leadership (sometimes individuals monitor for these things).”

      Have you found one of those channels–Facebook, Twitter or blog commenting communities–to be more effective than the others?

      Plus we, of course, “met” (same with Farida) via the #solopr Twitter chat established by @kellyecrane:disqus, which I declare (per my guest post on’s Digital PR Cafe “Teasing out the potential of Twitter chats, Part I) “remains one of the most vibrant, targeted ‘community-oriented’ chats in
      the Twitterverse. Its accessible and friendly human engagement
      continues to generate relevance and resonance.”

      I’d like to converse with you more (offline and quietly) about your statement: It’s an interesting twist that my social relationships aid my organizational relationships but not in a one-to-one way.

  6. I’m the community manager for a product called, which is launching shortly and it gives me a lot to think about in terms of the public we serve and the features they’re looking for.

    The short answer to what we do is allowing people to enhance their relationships across ALL of their contacts in gmail, facebook, twitter and linkedin. Selecting WHO to build relationships with – that is finding and building those “aspirational” relationships – is a huge challenge that we’re trying to solve. Social media can be an echo chamber of banter that appears to solidify relationships, which can be very satisfying….for you personally. But for professional concerns, we’re trying to help people to parse who they know and start to cultivate those harder-to-come-by relationships.

    The offline analogue is when you find yourself at an event talking only to the people you already know, you’ve lost your passion for the project and should evaluate why you’re actually there. You are neither networking nor socializing – you’re just pretending to work as you’re pretending to play. (I get caught in this sometimes).

    All in all, it means you have to risk rejection….and nobody likes this. :)

  7. Judy, it’s interesting that you mention “commenting communities” and the purpose of a business blog. There are some great blogs out there by people who are well-known in the PR and social media space. And while they no doubt work hard at posting new, engaging content and promoting their blogs, it seems that a great majority of the audience for most PR/social media blogs is…well, other PR and social media people. It’s great that we are all so supportive and appreciative of each other’s hard work by reading and commenting on each other’s blogs, but I can’t help feeling we are all just preaching to the choir. Again, I have no doubt that it all helps build our personal “brands” and important from a big picture perspective but it’s definitely important to pause every once in a while and ask ourselves if we are we really reaching our intended audience through our blogs. 

    • Thanks for weighing in, Farida (cool to see my #solopr Twitter and Google+ mate here on the Windmill Networking Blog).

      I share a lot of you feelings. And, in addition to preaching to the choir, I find it odd how often the most frequent commenters get asked to do a “guest post” on on another’s blogs. And then basically the same crowd roars over to comment (it must get exhausting, all of that travel and comments).

      What it means is that many of these PR and social media blogs have the exact same tone and feel to each other. Same people posting, same people commenting. Just some more popular than others. (Plus lots and lots of “banter” in the comments section, which might be fun for those people who like to tease each other, but it doesn’t really add a lot of value to stakeholders and/or new readers looking for useable content and ideas.)

      And I don’t know about you, but if I see a blog post already has 50 plus comments in its first day of publishing, I’m already leery about how useful it will be for me, as it kind of screams: this comment section is full of “opinions” and side conversations.

      More and more I’m finding I: a) don’t read the comments (or at a minimum, peruse) or b) I’m less likely to visit and read a blog that always attracts the same core audience.

      And the number of comments are not necessarily indicative of how a blog post is valued. As an example, one of the all-time most tweeted, shared in industry publications and Google +1’d posts on PR Conversations is our first “three-authors” joint post, Using Twitter for PR events. Yet it only received ONE external comment (plus two more from Heather Yaxley and me).

      So who are the most frequent readers and commenters on your blog, Farida? Have you ever used existing business partners to guest post? Can you trace any actual business gained as a result of blogging?

      If not…maybe work towards doing so. Right now, it might actually serve as a great “differentiator” from all of those kind-of-the-same-people-and-content commenting community blogs.

      • To answer your question, my blog started off more as a personal space to reflect on latest communications trends and social media. It’s not really a business blog but at the same time, it is related to what I do. I have had a few clients who had seen my blog and thought I was very “out” there and were impressed with it. So I suppose I can directly trace gains as a result of blogging. Like you, I would be less likely to comment on a blog that already has 50 comments — which is why I sometimes prefer to connect with bloggers who are not superstars but still have interesting things to say and are not pushy about promoting their own content. I only comment if I have something interesting or substantial to say. If not, I just read (and perhaps share) and move on. I also like to read and connect with a variety of bloggers, not just the PR and social media types (I’m “friends” with quite a few food bloggers on Twitter – they are fun to follow.) I understand the relationship-building aspects of “commenting communities” but sometimes the whole ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine’ attitude can take the fun and authenticity out of engaging! Personally, I’d rather just engage because I love to and want to engage. 

        • Farida, the fact that existing clients are reading your blog is excellent! I mean, they aren’t obligated to do so and they must be past the point of simply doing an online search to “kick the tires” of your reputation (i.e., thought processes, connections and writing capabilities). So you are serving up relevant and/or interesting content.

          I’m still trying to figure out what comprises a typical blogger “superstar,” above and beyond what seems to be the too-often ego-and-acolytes type (almost like a digital dog’s breakfast plate special…).

          One of the reasons I welcomed the invitation to write this PR column for Neal’s blog is that he is virtually without ego and really does believe in the “pay it forward” concept regarding social media. He focuses on business applications and building relationships and never resorts to tearing down individuals or organizations simply for blogging fodder or more comments. He is in this as much to learn as to teach and this is not simply self-serving, empty platitudes (like I read too often in blog commenting communities). I hope you have the opportunity to meet him at some point in future.

          As per Philip Sheldrake’s The Business of Influence book, one short-term manifestation of influence is engagement. A long-term manifestation is authenticity. From what I know of you, you demonstrate both of those traits. That kind of genuine curious mind and interest and enthusiasm can’t be faked.

  8. Interesting, social networking playing an increasing role in the hiring process.  If pixel socializing also becomes part of the promotion and compensation equation in business employment, that changes the playing field in a significant way (positive or negative, uncertain).  Something to watch, for sure.  I don’t have enough data to agree with your thesis that the majority of relationships in PR result offline/quietly.  Are you saying this is the case for corporate, agency and solo PR pros?  Do you define these relationships both internally (employment) and externally (the public, news media, etc.)?  I suppose it might be helpful if people weigh in with some testimonials.  Thanks for the post.

    • I think that type of data would be hard to find, Joel. I’m basing it on my own experience about how relationship building works, from the front end until it’s formalized. Neither party is “trumpeting” about how things are progressing, particularly at the beginning of a relationship.

      This is an example I can share with you: relationship building regarding recruiting individuals to write posts on PR Conversations (my international, collaborative group blog). Take, for example, the recent blog post by Josh Greenberg, “Assessing Ottawa Public Health’s ongoing response to the endoscopies infection scare”

      It’s actually a pretty big deal for an academic to guest post about a topic on another blog. Particularly when he also wants to submit it (down the road) to an academic journal (i.e., peer reviewed). But Josh and I have been getting to know one another over the past couple of years, mainly offline (email or in person). Josh knows and respects what we’re doing on PRC. He’s commented a few times. So, if he was going to put the first “risk communication assessment” online (somewhere other than his own blog), PR Conversations was the place he felt safe to do it, including listening to my editorial suggestions. I can tell you that in terms of its “short run,” Josh’s guest post has proven to be a record-breaker regarding traffic. And our Techster, Markus Pirchner, is able to provide him stats as to what geographical areas the reads are coming from (not surprisingly, the majority are from Canada…but also multiple countries).

      The plot gets better, because I’ve had a great relationship with the Canadian Journalism Foundation for the last few years. Besides attending the great presentations and the networking sessions that follow, I occasionally send the editor and EA items of interest (from different parts of the world) that CJF might find worthwhile. A couple of weeks ago what I sent was Josh’s guest post…and CJF liked it enough that we were asked permission to republish the entire article. Of course we agreed. And the piece was the top item (including subject line) in last week’s enewsletter.

      So, you can see in this particular case how relationships that manifested themselves “online” were actually the result of offline (and quiet) relationship building. In both cases this was a matter of TRUST re: credibility and authority of publication.

      Oh. And how exciting it was to approve a comment from a Canadian journalist today, who visited PRC to “set the record straight” on something in Josh’s post re: his newspaper. I’m sure the journalist saw the post via the CJF enewsletter or website, but he travelled over to PRC to leave the comment.


      Original post:

      CJF version:

      Twitter accounts:

      Thanks, as always, Joel, for your tremendous support of this column. Should I ever have need to hire a publicist, you are tops on my list. :-)

Comments are closed.

Table Of Contents