I know, I know — it’s a bit presumptuous of me to think I can write the “10 Golden Rules of Social Media.” Then again, I’ve been online since 1987, consulting clients on the Internet since 1992, on the web since 1994, immersed in working on and speaking about the web since the mid-1990s, so I do feel like I’ve paid some dues and learned some lessons along the way.
So here are my 10 Golden Rules of Social Media to embrace, debate, pass around and refine. Have at it.
1. Respect the Spirit of the ‘Net. Since 1995, I’ve been writing about and talking about what I call the “Spirit of the ‘Net.” The Internet was not meant for marketing and selling but for communication and connection to people and information. Understanding this, even today, can flip your marketing and selling strategy on its head, but you’ll have far more success respecting the spirit of the ‘Net, rather than throwing money at hard-sell tactics.
2. Listen. In the ’90s, the Golden Rule of posting to a Usenet Newsgroup or other online community was to listen first before speaking. Listening thoughtfully gives you a better sense of not only what people are saying but also how they are feeling. In virtual spaces where there are no visual cues, good listening skills become a powerful asset. Listening also helps you map out your current social media footprint and measure your marketing campaigns over time. The key to successful social media marketing is listening.
3. Add Value. Enter any online conversation with the aim of adding value. Before posting a message as a new participant in a forum, ask yourself: How is this providing value to the conversation? To the community? In some circles, talking about your product or service can be considered valuable, but in most, it is unwelcome and intrusive.
4. Respond. From the early days of setting up the first web presences for clients such as Origins and Dr. Atkins, my company outlined the importance of timely responses to any feedback or queries generated from those sites. The burden of response can be great, but it can be lessened by using the right tools and crowdsourcing answers. A quick response is more important than ever, and thanks to search tools, alert apps and other services, it is possible to achieve. Don’t be a dam in a conversation flow.
5. Do Good Things. Back in the ’90s, a mentor and dear friend — Jerry Colonna — talked about “doing well by doing good,” sparking in me the confidence to build a successful business with an underlying mission to help others. Doing good things can really help you to succeed in social media, too. Just do a Google search for Social Media for Social Good to see the power of this movement. This goes beyond adding value online. It means fundamentally changing your business model from a single bottom line — profit — to a triple bottom line — people, planet, profit — and then perpetuating this social responsibility to all you do in business, including online marketing and selling. I’m working with a financial client right now who truly believes in doing good. My client’s messages and conversations around social good are getting much more traction than the regular financial messages.
6. Share the Wealth. When I used to talk about the Internet around the world, one key tenet I repeated almost every time was to share the wealth. “If you’ve got it, share it, spread it around,” I’d say, but I wasn’t only talking about money. I was talking about time, information and knowledge. In social media, sharing is the fuel of the conversation engine.
7. Give Kudos. Social media works when you are generous. There is nothing wrong with self-promotion, but things really take off when you give others praise or a moment in the spotlight. The rise of retweeting — real retweeting, not spammy retweeting — shows how far giving credit to others can go in social spaces.
8. Don’t Spam. And speaking of spam, there is also an ugly surge of spamming in social media, today’s equivalent of unscrupulous email marketers who inundated our email boxes with garbage and left a bad taste in our mouths for email marketing. On Twitter, I’m finding it a daily chore to delete people I’m following who send out spam messages, but I just don’t have the time, interest or bandwidth to tolerate the “Get Lots of Followers on Autopilot” spam.
9. Be Real. Authenticity is the secret ingredient behind any good and valuable social media marketing campaign. If you know your audience, locate them online, listen, add value, respond, refrain from spamming and just be yourself, you’ll have far better and more long-lasting positive results than if you try to be someone — or something — you’re not.
10. Collaborate. Before you dive into social media for marketing and selling, take a look at who is out there and who is doing it well. How can you work with them, instead of trying to muscle your way into the space with all of your dollars? Those will often be dollars wasted because people can feel that push and recoil from the hard sell, blog about your misstep, sign petitions to boycott your company, you name it. If you put your money in places where it can do good while generating goodwill for your brand, you’ll be much more likely to get a positive result from social media.
Social media tools are only that — tools. The real energy, spirit and power of social media is people. We are social media.
What are your Golden Rules of Social Media? What am I missing?