Brands are addicted having relationships with people. They build Customer Relationship Management systems, 360 models of customer relationships, measure the number of followers and “likes”.

What kind of relationship are we talking about?

When I was 13 in summer camp, I started a “relationship” with a girl. After a few days of staring at each other, blushing and looking away, she found the courage to ask me if she could be my girlfriend. I said yes. Both of us had no clue what that meant or what the relationship of boyfriend/girlfriend entails. So, we continued to stare at each other, blush and look away. I think I held her hand once for a minute. A few days later, camp ended. We never saw each other again.

We’re dealing with the same kind of confusion when talking about relationships between people and brands. Since people don’t care that much having relationships with brands, the onus is on companies to define the desired relationships with customers before engaging with them. Is your brand a partner, an advisor, a consultant, butler, temporary guest, friend, acquaintance, enemy, drinking buddy, bro, BFF?

The rise of the Social Web has allowed to form larger number of weak social ties. And they allow us to connect with people just on the basis of shared views, preferences, ideas or “likes”. That doesn’t mean I want to hear from them daily, weekly or even monthly. Instead, I want to interact with them when they need help and I can provide them with value. Or vice versa. I would argue, that’s where most brands should start when engaging in the Social Web. Help people get things done. Be a butler. A servant. An advisor. A consultant.

And, maybe, just maybe, one day both will walk off into the fog, saying: “This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”