social media how toWould you like to combine forces with another company in a collaborative promotion?

Want to know why this is wise and how to do it? Keep reading…

Going Beyond the Customer

Many marketers have a relentless focus on a single dimension of social interaction: the brand-consumer relationship.

Thinking that the “social” in social media marketing is all about your relationship with consumers is constraining.

Rethinking the role of other relationships can dramatically improve the effectiveness of those very marketing efforts designed to engage your target customers.

While social channels facilitate new ways of tapping into “partners” and as the line between personal and professional relationships has blurred, it is important to view business relations in a new—and yes, more social—light.

The concept of “partner marketing” is not new. Traditional examples could be the independent mechanic being paid to put a Shell logo on her garage or the local hardware store receiving advertising dollars from Kohler for a yellow pages ad mentioning that they are an “authorized Kohler distributor.”


In this ad Southern Gulf Electric uses the Kohler brand to bolster its credibility.

When marketing shifted online, the value in partner marketing came largely from links on a partner website. Social media has created new opportunities for partner marketing and at the same time lowered barriers to forging partnerships, small and large, formal and informal.

Social Partnering Strategies

Whether you’re a Fortune 500 company or a small business, you can partner to increase the return on your social media marketing investment. Here are some ways in which you may be able involve partners in your social media programs:

  • Co-brand with a partner to raise the profile of your campaign. You can provide additional exposure for the partner brand while they lend their brand equity to your marketing. If you have a promotional tab on your Facebook page, for example, consider incorporating partners into the design and messaging.
  • Get partners to donate prizes for a contest or giveaway. This is often one of the first suggestions I make to our clients who are running promotions with prizes. Partners can provide access to prizes you might not otherwise be able to offer, both material and experiential. And often, companies have the ability to provide “in-kind” sponsorship (i.e., offering goods or services) when cash budgets are limited, so get creative.

This contest, developed by a client using the Strutta platform, is a good example of how to bring partners into your campaign.

In the Mezzetta example above, multiple partners contributed prizes and in return received prominent exposure on the online contest. This reduced the cost to Mezzetta while providing a “halo effect” for all those associated with the campaign.

It transformed the promotion from simply “create a Mezzetta pizza” to “create a Mezzetta pizza, watch the film ZooKeeper and win a trip to Italy courtesy of Delta.”

This gives the appearance of being a much larger, integrated marketing program in the eyes of the consumer.

While bringing partners into your campaign is valuable in its own right, don’t stop there…

Tap into partners’ social channels to amplify your message. Even if you don’t have a comprehensive partner marketing plan in place, ask partners to retweet (it helps if you give them an @ mention) or to cross-post on Facebook to give your communications an extra boost.

If you have an even deeper relationship, perhaps you can get mentioned in a blog post or included in an email newsletter. But don’t rely on serendipity when it comes to partners helping to spread the word. While you may be concerned about keeping communication genuine, there is nothing wrong with asking someone to share on your behalf.


While the above is a high-profile example, this type of co-marketing on social channels can greatly benefit small businesses that can combine forces to increase their reach.

So What Makes a Partner a Partner?

You might be wondering what differentiates a partner from merely a casual connection. Or where you should draw the distinction between a friend and a business contact. The answer: Don’t bother.


Nurture your connections to create partnerships. Image source: iStockPhoto.

Social channels have begun to render these types of distinctions a thing of the past. You can have relationships with thousands of people through Twitter with whom you may never exchange more than 140 characters. You can connect with someone through LinkedIn and make an important introduction without ever speaking face-to-face. When properly nurtured, any of these connections can become “partners.”

I’ve used the term “partner” in this article to encompass everything from a fully integrated co-marketing relationship to a more casual request to share a tweet or a post. One of the great things about social channels like Twitter and Facebook is that they make low-investment partnerships much easier.

While some companies are rightfully protective of what they publish, it’s still a lot easier to get mentioned in a tweet than it is to orchestrate a co-branded advertising campaign.

I can anticipate the comments already, so let me acknowledge that not all relationships are created equal. Just because it has become easier to connect online does not necessarily mean that our digital relationships are equivalent to those built up over years of personal interaction. And I certainly don’t want to imply that there should be any undue expectation put on a relationship that is based on nothing more than the act of following someone on a social network.

At the same time, I know firsthand that social media has enabled me to make connections with people I most likely never would have met in the traditional offline world. Or it certainly would have taken a lot more to make that connection. However, making a connection is only the first step. Building a relationship, no matter what the medium, still requires genuine effort. Here again, social media has facilitated a regular opportunity to interact, even if not on a deep level, and thus to build rapport.

Whether online or off, relationships and the ability to make the most of them rely on the principle of social capital. It has just become much easier to build social capital online (i.e., “Likes” or followers) and to use those resources to facilitate partnerships. Yet when it comes to approaching a potential partner or asking a favor, common etiquette and principles of reciprocity still apply.

In summary:

  • Use social channels to create connections you might not otherwise be able to make.
  • Use those same tools to develop relationships with an equal level of thoughtfulness you would put into a face-to-face interaction.
  • Don’t assume that those in your social network will automatically support your marketing efforts.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for support, assuming you have a genuine relationship. Ask nicely and perhaps offer something in return.
  • Wherever possible, look for opportunities to involve partners more deeply in your social media campaigns.

What do you think? What’s your business doing to improve the effectiveness of your marketing efforts? Leave your questions and comments in the box below.

All photos from iStockPhoto.
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  • Great stuff, Ben! Partnering with others is an excellent way to grow each other’s business efforts. Whether it be through a joint-webinar or a huge Christmas contest, partnering up with others in your industry (or even with those outside of your industry, as long as it’s relevant in someway) can increase exposure dramatically.

    As stated in the article, it’s been proven time and time again how powerful partnerships can be. They can create a whole new experience for your fans/customers and take you to new levels.  
    We can all help each other, as long as we’re willing. 🙂 Thanks for the article!

  • This is a great idea to work with others in a collaborative effort to the benefit of all parties involved. I agree with you in that social media has made it easier to connect with people we might not normally have met offline. It is actually funny when we have been speaking with someone online for a while and realize we don’t even know where they live. That happened to me recently when I found out at 2am that the man I was speaking with on Skype was literally around the corner 🙂

  • Ben, thanks for the post!  I agree that social partnerships are a great way to amplify marketing!  I produce a podcast with @provirtual on which we share our online tools and resources, how-tos and tips & tricks for small businesses.  We both agree that it’s the fastest way to create content that we can also repurpose on our own blogs.  Because we are accountable to each other, we consistently post new episodes. And, it provides another platform on which we can advertise our upcoming products and services.  As the old adage goes, “Two heads are better than one,” and it’s so true!

  • Ben, your article gave me food for thought. When you sit
    back and think about it nothing has really changed in marketing during the last
    60 year or so. We are just using different communication channels.

    Today’s communication is considerably faster. People talk
    openly with people they’ve never met and often have no idea of what they even
    look like. Forums, mastermind groups, Skype groups the list goes on.

    Whilst the fundamentals of marketing hasn’t really changed much,
    the beauty of being able to connect, share and help each other is what I find
    really exciting today.

    We all know the importance of letting people getting to know
    us, like us and then trust us is critical. It was the first thing I was taught
    when I went out on the road to sell over 40 years ago.

    It’s just a lot faster to do it today.

    I like the point you make, “Whether online or off, relationships and
    the ability to make the most of them rely on the principle of social capital. It has just become much easier to build social capital online.” And I would add a lot faster too.

  • I agree with the observation about speed of communication changing the way in which we build relationships. Thanks for your comments Martin.

  • You’re welcome! Appreciate your comments.

  • As businesses becomes more social this type of partnerships will continue to grow and become more and more common. I’m a partner in a web development firm serving mainly credit unions. We have developed a tool enabling them to manage their community efforts in a fully integrated fashion and providing a platform for local SBEs to participate. A great example of this is Summit Federal Credit Union at

  • Ashley

    As the Community Manager at my company, I’ve begun the process of working with another small business that will hopefully become partner-status with us. It’s our goal to create more partnerships in 2012. Great tips!

  • propagandahouse

    Very comprehensive post Ben, nice one. You’ve touched on an area that is heavily under-utilized by small businesses, many of which already have relationships with other similar small businesses, they just haven’t thought to co-promote yet. Hopefully they see this article!


  • David Deke

    Great Info, Ben! When I was in the “corporate world”, working for one of the major cable companies, I was in charge of creating “Retail Tie-ins” Promotions, for Pay-Per-View events, like boxing, wrestling, UFC. We hooked with major pizza franchises and sporting stores, for special offers. We used the event promo :30 spot, with sponsored logos on the tag. Fast way to brand your business.

  • I absolutely agree with Julie. From the incident you have shared , it also becomes a necessity to get connected offline. If we take interest in other’s lives , i.e. the society around us , we get connected, thats also social media marketing , not at all underestimating the importance of online social marketing

  • “Whilst the fundamentals of marketing hasn’t really changed much,
    the beauty of being able to connect, share and help each other is what I find
    really exciting today.”

    This is really worth attention, martin

  • Yes, technology makes the world a much smaller place and easier to communicate in many ways but we need to be careful not to become over-reliant and forget about the importance of connecting in the traditional sense. Thanks for your comments.

  • Soumitra

    I have truly realized 1 thing :- By all means, we should get connected to people.

    It is always seems exciting to help others. And Internet, Social Sites , Forums mean a LOT of questions, and just pick what problem you can solve. Even offline also.

    Thats the beauty. If you keep a single aim to assist people & shift your focus from “Marketing” , the results will follow !

  • Very interesting article. Social media is the quickest and most cost effective way to to spread the word. Partnering is simply magnifying the effect of social media marketing thus helping in making the campaign, event or product big news. 

  • Susan

    Good article! I’ve been creating marketing partnerships for 15 years, and the main thing I’ve learned is to put yourself in your partner’s shoes – – figure out how the partnership will benefit them. They don’t care how great the partnership is for you. They want to know how it is going to help their business. 

  • The main benefit of your social partner is company<code>s promotion__abENT__#46; If you have good business relationships then you may easily amplify your marketing through it by advertising your company at social partner</code>s website. In this age of online marketing, people are more attracted towards such a kind of marketing and it is accepted as a nice way or trend to advertise your business.

  • It is very interesting.It gives clear idea about how to amplify our marketing with the help of social partnerships.

  • Social partnership is actually the name of marketing through creating business relationships with other businesses. If you are running an online business then the other websites that are related to your business and interested in doing work with you then they can really help you out in marketing your business and you will do for them. It is also a form of partnership when you promote your business partner through your business.

  • Thanks everyone for the feedback and comments. Sounds like a lot of people ready to partner up in 2012!

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  • Excellent article. Now I’m rethinking my strategy for one of my clients. We’ve done some partnering before, but this gives me a whole new outlook on partnership, how to structure them and who to partner with.  

  • patelanjali

    Just because it has become easier to connect online does not necessarily
    mean that our digital relationships are equivalent to those built up
    over years of personal interaction.

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  • Great article! Thanks, Ben!

  • We’re entertaining the idea of a Facebook campaign partnership and this article was extremely useful. Partnering with others leverages reach and also lets you tap into their networks. Thanks for the insight, Ben!

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