the new golf So you've heard all about social media, blogging and inbound marketing . You understand it and you buy into it, but you don't think it's right for your business.

Your business is built on relationships and reputation. The web can do a lot, but it's not going to change the importance of relationships.

You're right.

The web doesn't change the importance of relationships in business, it just makes business relationships easier to develop and manage. All those things you've been doing offline to build your relationships and reputation now have online equivalents that are cheaper and more scalable.

Skeptical? Here are five examples of traditional relationship-building tools and their more-scalable online equivalents:

Traditional Tool: Company Calendar
Online Equivalent: Twitter
Insurance companies, dentist office and accountants love to print calendars for their customers. They're nice gifts and they're a way of keeping the firm's name in front of customers all year. Of course, the firm ends up paying thousands of dollars for the printing and the mailing, and most people end up throwing out the calendars.

In the online world, there's a better way to keep your name in front of people. It's called Twitter: By creating an active Twitter account that provides useful information about your industry, you show-up regularly to your followers, provide useful information, and spend no money.

Traditional Tool: Golf Outings With Prospects
Online Equivalent: Facebook
In the traditional world, golf is a popular way to get to know and build trust with prospects. After all, if you see someone struggle through 18 holes, you see different sides of that person, which helps you understand the kind of business partner they'll be. Facebook is a far cheaper and less time-consuming way of getting to know a potential business partners. Just like on the golf course, you get a sense of what's important to them and how they spend their time outside of the office.

Traditional Tool: Chamber of Commerce Membership
Online Equivalent: Same, but you get more out of it.
Online tools don't replace real-world participation in organizations like your local chamber of commerce, but they do allow you to get more out of them. Instead of going to a chamber event and spending time with the two or three people you know well, you can go to the chamber event and have meaningful interactions with the dozens of people you've connected with and built loose relationships with over Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook . These relationships give your business more visibility in the community.

Traditional: Word-of-Mouth Hiring Recommendations
Online Equivalent:
Same, except the word-of-mouth happens on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
In the traditional world, you might put ads in the newspaper when you want to hire somebody, but you know that your best recommendations will come from friends-of-friends. That's also true online  -- only that online there's more scale. In the offline world you might tell five of your friends about a job. In the online world, a tweet about a job opening might be seen by 50 people who know you, and know what kind of person would fit your job opening.

Traditional Tool: Monthly Newsletter
Online Equivalent: Blog
Many small businesses send out monthly newsletters to keep their customers and potential customers up-to-date. The printed newsletter helps maintain relationships, but it's a hassle to pull together, and costs hundreds of dollars. You can do the same sort of relationship maintenance with a blog. A blog is cheaper, and it's not as hard to produce. Plus, with a blog, your articles get indexed by Google and show up in search engines, thus building new relationships.

Traditional Tool: Client Birthday Cards
Online Equivalent: Same, except with tools like Facebook they're far easier to manage.
Birthday cards are a great way to nurture relationships -- only you need to be very organized to pull them off. Not only do you need to know when you friends' birthdays are, but you have to remember the birthdays and actually write notes. Facebook solves this problem. If you simply subscribe to Facebook's bithday email, you'll get alerts of all the birthdays of the people you're connected to a few days before they happen. That means you can use the time you would have spent keeping track of birthdays to send more and more thoughtful notes. In other words, you can have more personal interactions with a larger group of people.

There are lots more examples. What do you think should be added to this list. How do you manage online relationships in businesses traditionally built on offline relationships.

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Originally published Jun 15, 2009 7:59:00 AM, updated March 21 2013

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