Online relationships are still boosted by the human factor

At the Vocus conference in Washington this week, keynote speaker David Plouffe, manager for Barack Obama's presidential campaign, emphasized the importance of personal relationships to the success of communications.

At the Vocus conference in Washington this week, keynote speaker David Plouffe, manager for Barack Obama's presidential campaign, emphasized the importance of personal relationships to the success of communications.

He noted that it's impossible – and unwise – to avoid digital avenues, something the Obama team excelled at, to be sure. In fact, he said part of the team's success was its attempt to be everywhere: online, offline, an hour of local media at every campaign stop, and even sports radio – places where swing voters might be lurking. In other words, seeking out those hidden audiences that will make a difference to success.

It was the technology that “enabled us to move our message in a much more effective and powerful way,” Plouffe said. Yet, it was the campaign's ability to motivate “surrogates” – volunteers – that talked to their friends and neighbors about Obama's message that allowed it to truly succeed because no one can be everywhere at once, he noted.

“A human being talking to a human being in person is the most effective communications,” he said to the ballroom full of communicators, who were no doubt Tweeting and e-mailing throughout the conference.

I found this statement striking in a digital age, especially coming from the campaign manager of a candidate who has since been dubbed the “first tech president.” But these lessons clearly apply across social media, where new types of personal relationships are being forged.

Brands and companies are focused on engaging with their group of influencers, those who will move the needle in their favor. Also at the conference was Brian Solis, principal of FutureWorks, who noted the need to not lose track of the “magic middle” – your influencers who might not be on Twitter or top-tier media, but who are talking about your brand on Yahoo groups, for example.

Establish a relationship with them, listen to them, respond to them, and let them be your surrogates. Foster a real human-to-human relationship with them, and then let them sing your praises.

Brand ambassadors are nothing new, but there's a greater potential for amassing them online, for scaling up, so they can do a virtual door-to-door of your undecided voters. Personally, I've noticed that I respond a little quicker and take a closer look when someone I chat with on Twitter – probably someone I've never even met – sends me something to review. And it's because they've formed that initial personal relationship with me – we might have both Tweeted about a favorite New York bar, discussed our pets, or complained about the rainy weather on any given day. I think about them as people. Though it's an online bond, it's still about bringing a personality to it.

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