One of my greatest mentors always said that 90% complete is 100% worthless. Unless you carry something through to the end, you’ll never see true results.

This is true, and perhaps now more than ever in this new social economy. So you or your brand connected with someone. Now what? Someone visited your website and offered up an email address. Or maybe they signed up to get a white paper. Maybe they even put down some cash and subscribed to your services. So what are you going to do next?

Engagement with your audience should never stop—not at any level. You always need to be thinking, “How am I going to connect with that person now, at this point in our relationship? How can I take things to the next level?”

It’s not so difficult to make connections anymore—the challenge is developing the relationship. Just ask my good friend @TedRubin (author of a new book coming out called Return on Relationship #RonR).

Engagement is Two Ways

Listen, I’m a great fan of marketing automation and what it can do for you. Ad retargeting. Developing a sales funnel. We install marketing automation and believe that it can turn a cold lead into a lukewarm lead. But it doesn’t mean that you’ll develop a true connection and relationship with that person. You have to work at it—invest in the relationship—in order for someone to become a raving fan and brand evangelist of your product or service.

In this age of social marketing, this means you have to put an actual human behind the brand who can listen, engage and connect. True social agents that don’t just teach, but take active, authentic interest in sharing, curating, engaging, and then, sharing, curating and engaging some more. Sure, foreplay is fun. But the sweet part of any relationship is making it beyond first base.

Here are five effective ways to get to the next base and connect your social world with your marketing world:

1) Create an “interest plan.” This is much different than an engagement plan—it involves thinking through how your brand wants to connect with your audience and designing ways to take an active interest in someone else’s world. This can be online or offline. It’s the first step in building the connection. You might need to take your traditional marketing hat off and try a new one on for size. Old-school marketing says that we identify our audience, create a message for them, fire the message at them, invest in a media plan and hope that we capture their attention and penetrate the market. Social media marketers build community and connect with their audience, not talk at them. They put resources into developing an interest plan and identify ways to collaborate with customers. Instead of thinking “us” and “them,” an interest plan thinks “we.”

2) Define rapport. You have to know what it is in order to know if you’re developing it with your audience. If you have rapport, it means you’ve created an “interest connection” with someone that allows you to have a truly interactive conversation. And remember, even though a tweet is only 140 characters, people can sense the energy and authenticity behind every message you send. Consumers are smarter than ever. I fully believe that speaking from your heart (and allowing your social agents to speak from theirs) will foster compelling connections.

3) Don’t be a re-tweeter. Need I say more? Of course I love re-tweets. I love doing this for others and feel grateful when I receive them. So don’t stop. But don’t stop there. Try offering feedback every once in a while. Tweet your thoughts. Be original. I was talking with a new friend, Claudya Martinez (@unknownmami), at a San Francisco blogger dinner put on by @CollectiveBias and she said something I’ll never forget—“Everyone wants to be heard.” So be one of the listeners. That’s what you want from others, right? Here’s a great place to apply the Golden Rule. Do unto others, and so forth.

4) Get off your wall. If you spend too much time thinking about how you’re going to one-up the next guy in your posts on Facebook, Twitter or even your blog—or how you are going to accumulate more likes, mentions, re-tweets and followers—you are missing the point. The only way you’ll connect with people is to get off your wall and out of your own Twitter stream, and go pay attention to the next guy. Karen Wickre (@kvox), the Director of Editorial for Twitter, told me there are 1 billion tweets a day. That’s a lot of messaging going on. Don’t get so stuck on what you’re saying that you miss out on opportunities to learn from the millions of other messages in the social sphere.

5) Authentic is as authentic does. In short, be you. This just might be my most important point, so if you take anything away today, remember this— I don’t care if you are a brand or how big your company is, you still need to show the human behind the tweet. Show the person behind the Facebook post. Be real. People can smell  fake a social media a mile away, plus today’s consumer is not interested in being bombarded with messages. They get that, 24/7. What they don’t always get is brands who want to connect with them, person to person. Who are interested in what makes them tick or what they need. Be authentically interested, and you’ll reap the rewards.

Key Takeaway: Don’t ever stop engaging with your audience. Relationships either move forward and improve, or they die. When you are planning your social media strategy, you should always be asking, “How can I take things to the next level?” In this new economy, an authentic connection with your customers is THE key to successful marketing.