The relationship-building business

The relationship-building business

PR professionals have an array of tools—both old and new—at their disposal
Marc C. Whitt is associate vice president for public relations and chief communications officer at Eastern Kentucky University

Facebook just turned 10. I remember how thrilled I was when 25 people had requested to be my friend by the end of my first day on Facebook. Since that time, I have become heavily engaged in social networking, and have established and maintained relationships through platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr and, of course, Facebook. They are incredible tools for communication.

I will be the first to admit that communicating via text, email and social media is a great help in pushing information far beyond what we could in those not-so-long-ago days before the web. However, we can ill afford to allow those methods to become the only way we connect with people. Instead, they should be included in the collection of tools we use to build interactive relationships.

Multiple approaches

For those of us in the public relations and marketing professions, we must constantly remind ourselves we are in the relationship-building business. As humans, our DNA makeup craves face-to-face interaction.

Today’s young adults are the most “connected” generation in the history of our planet, and yet they have been tagged the “lonely generation.” Why? The reason is simple: We crave interaction like our bodies crave water and food.

Relationships nourish us and make us complete, but they suffer without face-to-face interaction. When that’s not possible, however, we turn to the next best thing that encourages productive communication and gains effective, measurable results.

How then can we stay true to our role as relationship builders while driving on this digital communication expressway? Here are a few tips for blending the online and face-to-face worlds. Use these strategies in your interactions with administrators, faculty and students, as well as the media and broader community.

Lunch or coffee meeting. Some would argue that having a meeting over a meal or coffee is nothing more than a waste of time and money. I disagree. Such encounters are great for establishing, building or renewing meaningful business relationships for any organization, including colleges and universities. Nothing can break down barriers better than a shared meal or a cup of hot joe.

Handwritten note. What’s old is new. A well-written note placed in the mail is a wonderful way to convey warmth and personalization. A handwritten note can have more impact than shooting off a quick email expressing your appreciation for exceptional service or a job well done.

Videoconferencing. This technology really is “the next best thing to being there.” Videoconferencing offers great communication opportunities that were previously unavailable.

Skype, Google+ Hangouts and other platforms can bring you face-to-face with constituents anywhere. All you need is a computer, a webcam and a place to talk. Seeing and hearing one another promotes mutual understanding and credibility.

Once this relationship has been established, you can use other tools in your communication mix to continue the relationship.

Social networking. I don’t mean “one-way and you’re done” communication. That’s typically how social media works. Social networking, however, is all about engaging and nourishing the relationship.

To incorporate social networking into your institutions’ PR and marketing operations, it should be viewed as a strategic communication process.

For example, I am a huge fan of LinkedIn. Rather than “collecting people” as some do when requesting a connection, I see it as a platform that can build relationships effectively. If someone follows me on Twitter, I will automatically seek to establish a connection with them via LinkedIn.

If I’ve met someone while attending a workshop or conference, or have exchanged a few emails or phone calls with a new contact, I will immediately request a LinkedIn connection before they forget who I am.

From there, I try to strategically conceive of PR and marketing opportunities that might engage my new connection into the life of my institution. Once I have established a connection with someone on LinkedIn, I typically will contact them via Skype or invite them to the campus for a one-on-one meeting so that our business relationship can mature.

Marc C. Whitt is associate vice president for public relations and chief communications officer at Eastern Kentucky University, as well as a member of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Advisory Council on Communications and Public Affairs.


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