10 Golden Rules of Social Media


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?



You are so totally on the mark. Wish I could “copy and Paste” this verbatim into 140 characters. I can’t but I will retweet this.

Thanks for this post – well done.

Jay Philips

Great tips. People should also keep in mind that what is said on the net stays on the net and spreads like wildfires.


Great rules! Actually these are all based on common sence and apply to life in general no matter what corner of the world you look into. Or what times in history you look into. Some people think it is naive to believe in the good, but all of us do have a responsibility to not only save the planet by environmental sustainability but to save the human dignity by ethical sustainability. This is a good list of behaviors. I have a dream that this kind of “spreading the good stuff” could be done beyond social media and cross the borders of languages in realtime. This is comment no 108 on your article. Think about if we could discuss this good energy stuff as it is shown in the picture with all the hands you published…how many more minds wouldnt be joining in on this message. Then this could easily be comment no 1.008. And one comment coming from 50 regions in the world that doesnt speak or read English. You might feel it as spam when I encourage you to check up the twitter or web on glocialmedia.com but I am not in the business of selling you guys anything…I am buiyng attention in order to make social media become glocial media as soon as possible by tickeling senses here and there. It is moving on but I want to live that day when it is in operation.


Thanks. Excellent rules. Rule 5 relates very closely to the triple bottom line sustainability management model which deals with Economic, Social and Environmental Sustainability. This rule goes beyond Social Media but to very fabric of any business.

Too often company was too focused on short term which typically means PROFIT which is pretty sad in my opinion.


Agree about twitter. I find that 90% of all the stuff people put on twitter is just…Make money here..or Buy this there…Personally I think that you can market your products by actually reading what people say and then reply with value.


Really valuable content here! I believe in over delivering and helping your readers to gain valuable knowledge. As said above the net is all about information.
Happy Gardening, Marty AGH

Lorraine Ball

Great list. It is the same information I have seen elsewhere, but it is always good to see it again, and see the reasons why..

Martyn Swain

… The quality of this post can be gauged by the overwhelmingly positive response it’s received.

Well done Aliza – great stuff – and a valuable guide to even a novice like me!

Maria Marsala

Excellent article. I RT’d it

I’m asked — by business owners — how much personal stuff to put on social networking sites. Here is my response

Here’s one more group of tips:
How do I determine how much personal to put into twitter or other social networking groups? I ask myself these questions:
1) Would I be wiling to put this information into my bio?
2) If this information were in the NY Times would it add to my brand or me as a well rounded professional who has a life after work?
3) Is this helping to reach my ideal clients?

When does sharing about one’s personal life on Twitter and Facebook cross the line and become too much information?

Joanna Duval

I’ve just taken a two year holiday out from the internet marketing world, so Twitter is a relatively new thing for me, but I’ve noticed that a lot of the people who are tweeting are just talking a complete load of garbage. I’m still trying to get my head around it.

Already, from Twitter I have had many Spam attempts on my blog.
I’m not interested in people advertising AT me.
Yes, I send one email thanking my new Twitter followers for following me, and add a link to something useful, but I certainly don’t agree with using Twitter to just advertise at people, besides that kind of advertising doesn’t work anyway. Who wants anything from an advertiser-bot???

Aliza Sherman

John Ray said: “Everyday, I have to encourage clients with all my strength that it is better to have 1,000 people actually listening and interacting, than 10,000 people who can’t even remember what their brand is or why they started following/friending in the first place.”

Well said! I even tell clients 100 active, engaged listeners who respond to your calls to action – WAY more valuable than thousands of followers who ignore your tweets.


I almost do many things that are mentioned here but I’m still not that good at social media. Maybe it just takes more practice than we would like to think.


Stephan,this is so valuable that I’m going to share it with all of my clients. Thank you for your generosity!!

Hope Reed

I might add…know your strategy. Knowing why you are involved in social media and what you are trying to accomplish might help someone to do all of these great things you have on your list.

Jon Ray

I couldn’t agree with this post more! It is always refreshing to see people who know how to build relationships online in a meaningful way. Everyday, I have to encourage clients with all my strength that it is better to have 1,000 people actually listening and interacting, than 10,000 people who can’t even remember what their brand is or why they started following/friending in the first place.

Great post!

Sherrie Simmonds

Aliza, terrific! Thanks for summarizing all your years of hands-on experience into something we can all use.


Very thoughtful original and comprehensive list. Practical and applicable.

The triple bottom line concept – People, Planet and Profit – is fundamental to every business and has been underlined in positive way.

Other cool things are about earning good will, playing well and sharing praise. Definitely nice.

Important one is about listening and adding value to the social group. Instead of just throwing texts/business measures at it.

Like it so much.


Aliza, I am also currently working with a client who operates on a triple bottom line and is striving for sustainability. they are http://www.e3bank.com as of a few years ago i never thought we’d be seeing companies in this industry going green great to see :)


I’m from Belgium and I advise companies everyday on how to use social media for recruitment. And companies realy need these kind of rules, cause they think it’s just a new way of easy spamming. Nice post :)

Yin Chang

I wish everyone would follow the etiquette. There are way too many people hawking themselves, their company online. Not very helpful content.


Rule #34 – Have fun and help others do likewise. The word “social” implies a certain amount of enjoyability. Social drinks are important to business. A social round of golf is the beginning of many good ideas. Social Security and Socialism are about the only two negative ways to use the word social.

Aliza Sherman

Jaime Barclay says: “I would love to see some research re: how social media is impacting face to face communication…any thoughts?”

Oooh, another post idea! I have lots of thoughts on that one.


Mike Buttons says: “I’d add a #11 Create –too many folks are just pushing stuff around –it’s OK to a point but i think to be truly successful you have to create something original, be it a blog, videos etc — what ya think?”

Totally agree. Creation is such a driving force in the power of social media – we all have the tools to create. We just need to do it with care.


Matthew Hardy says: “#11 Make more rules. We need more rules. No one should be counted on to find their own way. We need rules for rule-making. Rules rule.”

You crack me up, Matthew. But I’m sure you realize the point of these “rules” is just to put into writing all the unspoken, unwritten but clearly important constructs we all (should) strive for. Since the beginning of Internet communications and community building (post-military), we’ve all set up our own rules or guidelines for our actions in cyberspace. Even deciding to always break rules is in and of itself a rule.

Aliza Sherman

Devi says: “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.”

You called me on my dirty little secret… insecurity. Agreed that I probably didn’t need all those disclaimers.

Catherine Cantieri, Sorted

Really like this post, and I agree with others that these rules can apply to offline life as well — in fact, the world would be a much better place if everyone kept them in mind no matter where they were!

I think Gary makes a good point about how the opening of international commerce that the internet facilitates is part of the spirit of the Net. I know I’ve gotten a huge amount of value from the Net, and only some of it has come from free stuff.

Matthew Hardy

#11 Make more rules. We need more rules. No one should be counted on to find their own way. We need rules for rule-making. Rules rule.

Mike Buttons of Hope

Excellent especially be real and add value – I’d add a #11 Create –too many folks are just pushing stuff around –it’s OK to a point but i think to be truly successful you have to create something original, be it a blog, videos etc — what ya think?

Jim Price

Great article for networking! Your 10 rules transcend social media and should be 10 rules for networking. In that spirit I would alter #8 a bit to read- Do Not Sell. Do not see networking events as your chance to sell you rproduect to attendees.

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