Defining and Responding to Digital Relationships

Defining and Responding to Digital Relationships

16th September 2014

Understanding company relationships with stakeholders and building those relationships is part of the modern digital marketer’s job description. We talk about personas, using social media for conversations, but have you thought about the types of relationships you have with your stakeholders?

This is all from an article in the Harvard Business Review called Unlock the Mysteries of Your Customer Relationships (sorry, only a preview) and it inspired me to ask all of you: what are your customer relationships and do you interact with your customers in the right way? Did you even think to approach different people according to what they need from you? I hadn’t and I started my career in marketing with a focus in customer relationship management.

To be clear, we are kind of talking about personas, but taking it a step further. It’s about understanding what your stakeholders need from their relationship with your business. There are the customers that are upset and want you to make a situation better. There are the fans that just want to hear from you now and then. You also have the active investors and the passive investors who need information, but a different kind than your customers.

There are so many different people that can interact with your business online, it would be a great exercise to list those people, compare that list to your personas, and then check to ensure that you have the right assets. By assets, I mean the content to support their needs and the processes and teams in place to interact with them online. We are going to go through a few digital examples, how you might identify these types of relationships and some ideas to deal with them.

Customer Digital Relationship



This is your commonplace customer that just wants to give you money and get a product or service. This will account for most of your relationships.

Identification: They buy regularly (however that is defined for you), but opt out of emails or don’t open them. They won’t respond to survey requests or interact on social media. If they have problems, you’ll never hear from them, they will just stop buying. You have minimal information on them.

Relationship Optimization: They are the most volatile group, a regular joe can move into any other type of relationship type with the right or wrong action. They need a streamlined purchasing process and to not be bothered. These are the people that will care about good website information and reviews of your product or service. They will not call, chat, or ask questions, if the information is not readily available, they won’t purchase.

Your best tools to maintain or grow the relationship is your website, the total experience, and product quality. If something goes wrong, they won’t even send you a passive aggressive tweet. Check analytics regularly for any drops in your purchase funnel or abnormally high exit rates for issues.


This is the customer that has learned the squeaky wheel concept. They will tell you everything you could possibly do wrong either in hopes of getting something free, or just to talk and feel right. There are a number of types of mad bros including those that think they can do a better job than you, but will never become a competitor.

Identification: These people are easiest to identify through their communications with the company, it can be offline, but we are focusing online. These people submit multiple support tickets, negatively comment on social media, and write blog posts. The way to identify a real mad bro is to track all unhappy customers across all platforms over time. If someone shows up on Facebook, Twitter, and in the call center, they might be a mad bro.

Relationship Optimization: Making this relationship type work for your company is two fold: listening and communicating internal changes based on feedback. The type of person that is just looking for free product or money back is not going to be a worthy investment, but those that have valid feedback need these two things. You should ensure they have a place to voice their concerns, preferably straight to the company and the team to deal with public feedback. Follow that up with transparency about what has been changed due to that user feedback. Blog posts, social updates, and direct communications work well to let the customer know they are valued and you are listening.


Anyone that knows me knows that I am an uber fan of ModCloth and Jawbone. Uber fans are what we all work to attain. These are the people that make a marketer’s life so much easier.

Identification: The uber fan is the set of people that will so anything you ask them to do. They tweet, comment, and interact in any way they can. They write about you, tell friends about you, and consider you one of their “favorite” brands.

Relationship Optimization: If you can identify these people, they are the best relationships to develop. Utilize their love for your brand, products, or services to get insight to other people like them. Make them a part of a special panel of customers and get their input on new emails, website designs, or content idea. Reward their love with contests and giveaways. Give them product or discounts to give to others. Have a person on the team they connect with so that they feel the love back that they give you. Tell them how to help you and watch them go!

Other customer types can include the HELPFUL (will fill out every survey, tweet you advice randomly, but not overly communicative) and the NEEDY (calls in every week to your call center, tweets at you on a regular basis, just wants interaction). What other types do you have at your organization?

Partner and Investor Digital Relationships

Everyone thinks of customers as the “relationships” that need developing, but there are many other kinds. There are business partners, investors, board members, and journalists. We talk about journalists (I include bloggers in that group) all the time, so skipping them, but there are resources and steps you can take as a marketer to grow the relationships of business partners and investors.



Some potential investors and active business partners are very silent and calculating. They might be deciding how they feel about potentially working with your company or just watching everything you are doing. These silent types are on your website, researching stock prices (if any), and evaluating your company through any means they can find.

Identification: These silent business partners and investors can be found lurking around your website, following your company on sites like LinkedIn and Glassdoor, and being referred back to your site from financial sites. If you see an increase in traffic from places like this, it might be time to invest in content and resources for them.

Relationship Optimization: As mentioned above, they either want information on your company to make investment or business decisions, or to keep up with one they have already made. This relationship has the potential to turn into a great relationship (see Marriage Material below), turn bad (cheap date) or fizzle out without the right information.

These people want to see financial information, hear from your employees, and other information to understand the strength of your business. If you’re actively looking for business partners or affiliates, be aware of the information you have on your site that might appear to this group. The information you provide could increase your business valuation or earn you a new business partner. This is an important set of people to pay attention to.


Business partners that put very little work into their dealings with you can be frustrating and can even cause problems if left unchecked, but these partners are still a big part of your business online. They touch a market you might not be able to reach. Getting them the right information and resources can mean sanity and better results for your campaigns online.

Identification: Copy Cat partners have a tendency to follow you online and copy what you are doing, but just slightly different within allowable bounds. They will use your website layouts, copy, and bid on the same terms.

Relationship Optimization: Rather than get upset, realize that they became partners for a reason. Change contracts to ensure that they can only use content you provide them and not the content on your site. Do the same for any online campaigns, ads, and the like. Give them the tools they need to be successful and give them the encouragement to venture out on their own, but understand that some people just won’t do that.


Like the Uber Fan, once you have identified the long term partners and investors, ensure that you are investing in these relationships. Long-term, well-balanced business relationships can benefit each side more that just financially.

Identification: Good, long-term partners are going to show themselves online by referring traffic, mentioning your business in stories and interviews, and incorporating you into their campaigns and dealings online. You’ll see their imprints in feedback, referral traffic lists, interactions online and links.

Relationship Optimization: Once you have long-term partners, it’s all about reciprocation and taking the time to utilize each other’s strengths. For business partners, there are opportunities to cross-promote online and offline. For investors, if they are very involved, your brand can help increase their own brand identity in the market. You can ask for the same from them as well. It’s all about doing favors and returning the favors for the people that are asking for that deeper relationship. Once you find these people and businesses, don’t let them go. Coordinate, brainstorm, and work together for the betterment of everyone involved.

Employee Digital Relationships

Do remember that you also have employee relationships as well. The new employee, the underutilized employee, and the advocate employee. Many marketing teams overlook the needs and resources they have in other employees. These stakeholders have the best ideas, insider thoughts into how to make the company better for customers and future employees.


Take time to interview your HR department and ask about their goals. What kinds of relationships do they know about and how do those people interact with the website and your campaigns? The website and the brand strength of a company is usually something people take into account when job hunting. Your company wants to find and retain the best talent, how can you help with that? What do those assets look like? How can you help HR and how can they help you?


Written By
Kate Morris is the Director of Client Strategies with Outspoken Media. She is a well seasoned online marketer with a passion for teaching others. For the last 10+ years she has covered the paid, natural, and social sides of search.
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