Lately, not a day goes by that my inbox doesn't contain a request to “like” someone’s Facebook fan page. More often than not, I don’t know the person or have had limited interaction with them. Have we become so mired in the “like” quicksand that we’ve lost the notion that there needs to be a relationship first? Try walking into a public square and approach a stranger with these words: “Please Like Me” and see what happens. Is it any different online? Not really. Annoyance, like unsolicited junk mail, is the usual response.

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The click of a mouse has very little to do with loyalty to a product or service offering. You can buy “likes” by the tens of thousands and impress your friends with the “numbers,” but the stark reality is that no amount of “like” begging is going to cause thirsty customers to draw water from your well. So what’s the other option? Instead of asking for a “like” try developing relationships with key “connectors” who you can co-promote your brand with theirs. Offering a quality product or service might seem easy, but there’s often the issue of clearing those market barriers to entry when you aren’t the first mover.

As an example, there are numerous good photographers out there, but instead of asking for “likes” for your photography fan page, spend the time giving free photo shoots to draw customers to your service. Establishing relationships is the oldest and most surefire way of building loyalty to your brand. Begging for “likes” is the digital version of panhandling and it’s not scalable or sustainable.

In short, the advent of social media broadens one’s customer horizon but it doesn’t negate the time-tested value of establishing loyalty through investing in others first before expecting them to invest in you.