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10 Golden Rules of Social Media

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People's mandala - 12 handsI 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?

77 Responses to “10 Golden Rules of Social Media”

  1. Jaime Barclay

    As a psychologist that is incredibly intrigued by social media I have to admit that I am constantly justifying the concept to my peers. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and I have already RT’d a million times. Your thoughts are essentially the standard framework for appropriate/effective interpersonal communication. People forget that the web is still a communicative method and that the same rules for effectiveness apply. As I gear up for my fall teaching, I look forward to incorporating the web into my interpersonal effectiveness curriculum–I would love to see some research re: how social media is impacting face to face communication…any thoughts?

  2. Aliza,
    I like this list because it gives a framework to this new place we interact and do part of our relationships. Some of these ideas seem like common sense, but hey we need reminders. I would emphasize authenticity and collaboration. When two people are honest and share, community happens.
    I’m interested in reading more about ‘The Spirit of the Net.’

  3. Thank you for sharing. All very relevant information for using Social media for communication or for marketing, and, as Manish Pahuja stated, a lot of these rules may be applied to life as well.

    However, I must agree with the Aliza and David and a little of my own thoughts. The internet is for everything. It is limitless and it is all inclusive, but, used correctly, it is the ultimate tool for selling and marketing because of an ability that is becoming a lot more popular – Search Engine Optimisation – SEO, or as I like to call it: Organic Marketing.

    The wonder of someone in Vancouver selling a very niche product or service to someone in Africa is the amazing reality of the internet today, and online sales of goods and services and online marketing revenue does not account for all online business. Consider how many goods and services are sold via online tools, but paid for offline (Real Estate, Cars, Boats) and how many people are paid for SEO, SEM, Website Development, Website Management.

    As a self confessed Utopist and a staunch believer in humans, I am all for the underlying beauty of your rules. However, Mark, you may have missed it, but the fact is that the INTERNET is open for business and has been for a while.

  4. Great post!

    As many have said, these points should be applied to the offline world as well, but especially on the internet it seems like many people have a tunnel vision to their own agenda. I guess the “used car salesman” mentality permeates all mediums, but its proliferation on the internet really clouds a lot of the worthwhile dialogue that can be created.


  5. Excellent! Well said, in every way. I’d add something else, but honestly, you’ve said it all, and way better than I could have done. And, as others here have also commented, your points would work for all aspects of life, and wouldn’t the world be a lot nicer if we all followed your ten internet commandments as well as that other ten?

  6. Spot on! You made solid points and backed them up with cogent explanations. It boils down to having common sense, common courtesy and honoring the “Spirit” which is the same for face to face interactions.The internet has changed. Now,there is so much noise about “branding” ourselves, we ought to be more concerned about best behaviors. You provided the Golden Ones.
    Disclaimer: My newest book is Face to Face: How To Reclaim the Personal Touch in a Digital World which supports having both online and Offline connections.

  7. Thanks for the great post.

    Seriously great post. I’ll be doing my part in “sharing the wealth”

    And I love how the comments lead you to thinking about applying these rules not only to online interactions, but real life situations as well.


  8. Thank you for this great post, and as one commenter above said, if we all did this, the world would be a much nicer place.

    I am going to print it out and put it on my wall for all to see.

  9. Great post – so good in fact that the content stands on its own. I found the constant namedropping and references to your resume distracting and unnecessary. I’d agree with your conclusions regardless of your experience.

  10. Aliza- I love this list, especially the part about listening before engaging in conversations. I feel that as our methods of connection have become truncated, (Twitter, FB statuses) so often we get the impression of someone walking into a party and blurting disjointed sentences. Thanks for putting this together, and I’m going to try to remember them in my own interactions.

  11. Great Post! It is really too bad that most people don’t follow these. I hope this post reaches a lot of people. Although there are still a lot of unscrupulous spammers out there, I have noticed that a lot of my followers are pretty considerate, and if they aren’t, I block them :)

  12. Kinda ironic to be trying to read “the Internet was not meant for marketing and selling ..” while ads flash! Great post though.

    @davidschons – LOL, that is funny. Well, if you notice, I don’t say that ads on one’s web site are against any Golden Rules. I’m talking much more about push tactics. Someone can always surf away from a site or unsub from an email list (well, almost always) but when a marketer “invades” a non-commercial space, that would violate a Golden Rule.

  13. “The Internet was not meant for marketing and selling.” Uhh, maybe not when Tim Berners-Lee started it a few decades ago. It sure as hell is now – e-commerce is what drives a goodly portion of it.

    The mix of naivete and disingenuousness inherent in that statement is startling.

    @mark – I was writing ABOUT the time when Tim started the Web. Yes, things have changed, but fundamentally, the Web was built on a non-commercial foundation and premise.

  14. “The Internet was not meant for marketing and selling.” Uhh, maybe not when Tim Berners-Lee started it a few decades ago. It sure as hell is now – e-commerce is what drives a goodly portion of it.

    The mix of naivete and disingenuousness inherent in that statement is startling.

  15. Nice work, Aliza.

    Is it too much of a stretch to say that this is really about being a decent person and becoming part of a community in a constructive way?

    Thanks for putting this together.

  16. Whether it’s presumptuous of you or not, I think you really hit the nail with all these points. I’ve been on the web since ’96 and near immediately got involved with communities and interacting with web people. Unfortunately, I used a variety of pseudonyms and nicknames along the way and lost contact with a lot of the great people I met over the years.

    Looking back I wish I used my real name sooner and kept alive my presence and sites I created along the way. Still all the time devoted along the way and mistakes made really enforced the rules you set above. Especially your first rule about the spirit of the net. I call it the web culture but we’re talking about the same thing. Many people fail to grasp that the web is its own society as well as being integrated into many of the cultures around the world.

  17. Why just online, if everybody follows these rules, the world will be a nicer place to live!

    On another page, maybe following these rules online will lead to a better world as online you get penalized easily, and that experience may teach the world the values of etiquettes.

    Manish Pahuja

  18. Thank you! These are all great social media golden rules!I really like #2 as you stated it is hard to really listen online so it is important to pause and read again if you need to before responding! And “doing well by doing good” is a perfect golden rule for us all to adopt!

  19. Great post – thanks for the words of wisdom.

    I agree and tell others to view social media like a dinner party. Mingle with the guests until a conversation fits – contribute when valuable, relate as a fellow human who genuinely cares and don’t assume a business card is wanted or needed in the conversation.

  20. adivinestudio

    Love it! Great list, especially the first point.

    I believe that many of forgotten the spirit in which the ‘Net was founded. And the younger generation needs to be schooled in this spirit so as not to let it fall by the wayside.

  21. Very insightful teachings there, I really enjoyed it!

    I would especially want to be the person who spread good and happy news, instead of bad ones. This is maybe one of my personal branding strategies, spread positive news and it gives out good vibes to my readers. And, always try to be the first to announce it.

    As for bad/negative ones, let others hog the 1st position, but add calming and positive reframe (comments) to the challenging news.