We live in a twenty-four-hour, seven-days-a-week, 365-days-of-the-year culture. With instant access to anything from a hamburger at 4 am to banking facilities from a PDA on the morning commute to work, is it any surprise that some social media marketers forget the basic rules of social etiquette? If you’re guilty of being overtaken by enthusiasm and forgetting the manners that your mom drilled into you when you were in kindergarten, your participation in social media could actually be costing you customers.
Before you hit the send button to mass-mail friend requests via your new Facebook group, MySpace page, or Twitter profile, consider the following rules of social media etiquette …
1. Be Patient
You wouldn’t dominate the conversation at a party, so why try and do the same thing with your social media campaign? Online conversations and friendships are just as — if not more — fragile than the networks we build in the physical world. The written word dominates on blogs and networking spheres, making it a minefield of misinterpretation. While a spoken conversation takes on a new dimension as we use our tone and relationship with our speaking partner to inflict meaning, such intricacies are lost online if you’re unfamiliar with the linguistic style of your sparring partners. This leaves you open to offending or annoying those you are trying to win over with your social media strategy.
Before participating in a conversation, contributing a comment to a blog, or adding a new thread to a forum, good social media marketers will take the time to understand the tone of the conversation. Getting to know the mood of each group means you’re not leaving yourself open to committing potentially embarrassing (and costly) faux pas. Even though you may be impatient to make your voice heard, monitoring sentiment over the course of a couple of weeks is a much more valuable use of time. Only after scoping out the nuances of each thread and developing a real understanding of the mood of each setting, is it time to participate.
You probably wouldn’t spend all night at a dinner party talking about yourself and your own achievements, so why do the same in a virtual social gathering? The best social marketers contribute to the conversation. It’s vital that you put your commercial agenda to one side and add real value to the discussion rather than trying to push a marketing or sales message. It is still possible to subtly highlight your product benefits or introduce a limited-time offer by focusing on what you can do for the consumer rather than what they can do for you. Find forum threads that complement your professional expertise or subscribe to blogs that you have a professional affinity for. By answering questions and offering up the benefit of your experience or professional research, you’ll quickly develop an affinity with your fellow social media participants. Savvy blog postings and considered responses to community questions will help establish you as an expert in your field and reputable source of information – an excellent sales tool when the time comes to close the deal.
3. Be On Message
If you choose to create a Twitter account or join LinkedIn in a professional capacity, you become a virtual company representative. The same rules apply in cyberspace as they do at client dinners, conferences, or physical meetings. Being aware of your company’s values, culture, and brand will ensure that your social activity has a positive impact on your online presence and engages customers, rather than confusing them.
Although social media outlets such as MySpace and Facebook often have a social onus rather than a professional one, remember your corporate obligations and resist the impulse to invite all of your friends to join. In addition, don’t post messages you wouldn’t be happy for your colleagues or business partners to read, such as plans for the weekend or how awful last Friday’s meeting was. While a more informal outreach for client acquisition than face-to-face sales presentation, don’t allow yourself to be seduced by the medium. While Twittering or blogging in a professional capacity, you have a brand to represent and protect.
4. Be Alert To Problems
Companies like Dell and Coca-Cola have long since espoused the virtues of social networking, not just because it opens up lines of conversation with potential clients and satisfied customers, but because it’s a great opportunity to find out what you’re doing wrong. While few of us actively seek out criticism, social media is a great opportunity to do exactly that. The informality of a blog or tweet may take the sting out of the complaint, but a post by a disgruntled client or former client should always be taken seriously.
While actively participating in social networking, remember to be vigilant for what others are saying about your brand. As you develop a closer relationship with your virtual network, invite feedback but don’t take criticism personally. It’s a chance to right wrongs that may be costing you business. If you empower your social networker to respond to complaints and negative feedback, you’re making a huge gesture of goodwill that may just win over new business and change brand sentiment.
5. Be Transparent
You probably wouldn’t give out a false name to someone you’ve just met or make a call pretending to be someone else. So why commit the same sin when you are socially active online? If you’re going to create a corporate blog or Twitter feed, be clear about your allegiance to the company you’re representing.
If you stick to a company name, upload a logo. Better yet, give your social marketing a face – be it a customer service representative or your most knowledgeable research whiz. Including a photo and biography, as well as some personal interests, will help create a connection with your readers and fellow bloggers, without deceiving them as to your professional relationship with the company in question. Honesty wins trust, so be transparent and include links to your own website profile or contact information if appropriate.