How to Build Digital Relationships

What I learned from interviewing my 50 favorite Instagrammers and what you need to think about when you are building your digital relationships.

In  “How to (Not) Get More Instagram Followers” you read about my experiment with automation tools like Instagress. That article was focused on generating followers or potential leads, as a marketer would say. This time we are going to step back and look at the entire process of building digital relationships on Instagram. I think the key to being successful here is building REAL long-term relationships! And social media is actually a really good platform for that. In fact, social media is all about relationships, like Justin Wise tweeted a few days ago: “Social media is a relational platform, NOT an advertising platform.”

To give my theory more substance and a more practical aspect I reached out to over 50 of my favorite Instagrammers like chrisburkard, ladyvenom, jordanherschel, griffinlamb, coryacrawford, morganphillips, joestpierre, markclinton, dfreske, aaronjunehee, davidnakamurah, or felixsnd with 30k to 350k followers and asked them for their history, strategy, and some general advice. And what came back was simply amazing. All the answers perfectly keyed into the theory that relationships are more important than you would think. One of my favorite quotes comes from joestpierre and he says, “If you are only concerned about gaining followers then you are missing out on a vital part of it.” So let’s have a closer look at interpersonal relationships in general and the theories behind to structure that amazing feedback.

Especially interesting are all the factors, which have an impact on the choice of relational partners. A great paper that describes those factors was written by Donn Byrne and is called “An Overview (and Underview) of Research and Theory within the Attraction Paradigm”. He describes the following eight factors that have an impact on people stepping into an interpersonal (digital) relationship.

1. Appearance

Appearance is especially important in the early stages of a relationship. For Instagram that means you should be aware of what your audience does and what they want to see. So, find out what style is trending right now. One thing that is special to Instagram is the fact that people scroll through their feeds quite fast. So there is not much time to perceive details, why it may be a good idea to use less-detailed motives like silhouettes, landscapes or macros. At least think about the degree of detail you want to use and stick with that. And of course, last but not least, make your photos pretty and spend some time post-editing them with Lightroom, VSCO or whatever tool you prefer.

2. Similarity

The similarity has a big impact on our selection of potential relationship partners. The more similar two people are the more chance the relationship has of being successful. For Instagram, this means that we tend to follow people who have a similar style and take pictures of similar motives like us. That also means you should stay consistent with your style and content. Otherwise, you may lose those people who have been similar to you so far. Keep your promises. If you are doing travel photography, don’t post a macro even if it’s a good one. And don’t forget to tag your photos so people can find you if they are looking for someone who does similar photos (but don’t overdo it).

3. Reciprocal-Attraction

Reciprocal-Attraction is very related to similarity. It’s the tendency to like people who like us. What that means for your Instagram account is pretty clear I guess – be active and follow others, like their pictures and make relevant comments as much as possible. Target following others in the same boat as you and also, follow whom they follow. Create that web of networks.

4. Complementarity

Digital relationships need some diversity to keep them interesting. This does not mean you should totally mess with the consistency but break with it from time and try to give your content some serendipity. If people look at your profile they probably get bored very easily, if they only see selfies. But of course, as there are exceptions to any rule, you can also find counterexamples to this one. However, complementarity can be achieved by traveling to a lot of different places for example or by trying out all different types of photography – just try to give your photos a different angle from time to time.

5. Competence

I’m sure you already noted before that it’s very easy to like people who are skilled and able in whatever field. At the same time most people don’t care for those that are “perfect”, instead preferring some “human” qualities. For your Instagram account this means that mistakes are OK as long as you strive for continuous learning, exploring and sharing. Try to get better every day. Learn everything about composition techniques if you don’t already know.

6. Disclosure

Disclosure builds liking because it indicates trust and respect; reciprocity is important too – without it, the self-disclosure feels wasted. This can be reflected in several ways in your Instagram account. That could mean that you sometimes should post a personal photo from something at your home, if you are usually doing travel photography. But in any case it means you shall not be overly promotional – show your personality.

7. Proximity

Proximity obviously has a tremendous impact on the probability of becoming friend with a person. In the digital space proximity seems not to be as important anymore. But community is not only about online interactions. You really should consider, meeting people in real life and do some shooting together with them. This could be during a Worldwide Instameet or you meet up with photographers whose work you admire as that can really push you and inspire you to grow at a quicker pace.

8. Rewards

This factor describes the tendency, if unconscious, to seek out people who can give us rewards that are greater than or equal to the costs of dealing with them. For your digital world, this means providing good content and giving relevant and actionable feedback. For brands, this could also mean real rewards like coupons for example.

Building Good Digital Relationships Takes Time

So let me say it one more time: “Becoming a successful Instagrammer heavily depends on the real and sustainable relationships you are building”. And yes, that means you need to take a lot of time and put a tremendous amount of effort into your Instagram activities. If you are saying now “But I don’t have that much time” or “How should I manage so many digital relationships” remind yourself, that successful Instagrammers can do it too. Maybe you just need some tools like a daily reminder, a strategy or lifehack to free some time.

If you are representing a brand, however, be aware that everything I wrote so far relates to an interpersonal relationship. Meaning that the first thing, before you start doing anything else, is to create a social media strategy in which your brand has a personality. Otherwise, the rules of relationship building may not apply.

Looking for somebody to build your digital relationships? Let’s have a coffee together and chat. Just send us an email. Coffe is on us.

Don’t be shy…