Social Media Rules Of The Road

Over the years helping small business owners build an online presence and effectively leverage social media, I have put together a list of rules that you should consider when building a business online – especially when using social media such as Pinterest, Facebook, and Foursquare.

Rules Of The Road


Rule 1: Never make business decisions based on emotions

There is a rule of thumb that have proven true most of the time “If it feels good to post, it is bad for business”. I have an article that goes into detail about how posts on social media can affect your business and career. Basically, as a business owner, understand that everything you do and say online will be judged even if it is on your personal page and away from your business page.

NOTE: Never Take It Personally – Even when the attacker intends it to be personal

This is very important as your reaction to criticism will be watched and your customers will make a buy decision based on how you treat others. Often the other party posting the criticism is only there to “play”so once you take it personal and engage them on an emotional levee, you have lost.

The best course of action is to be the adult in the conversation. Be courteous and avoid the traps of being sucked down to their level. If you have the ability such as on your WordPress blog, you can always remove their post if they are offensive or not in keeping with your business’s ethics. If they are going to start cursing then you have every right to kill the posts and ban the person. I speak from personal experience that you may even find that your customers were watching the exchange waiting for you to do the right thing and ban them.

Rule 2: Never disparage another product to lift up your own

Once again, you are judged by your actions so chose your words wisely. You may find an aggressive competitor’s product completely sucks in comparison to yours, avoid the trap. Speaking ill of others can and will impact your sales. For widget based products such as health and wellness discussing good and bad ingredients without mentioning a competitor is the better course of action.

If someone asks your opinion of a competing product, offer to discuss it off line. More often than not they are usually “married” to the competing product either as a distributor or just looking to justify their purchasing decision. Avoid emotion, be courteous, and move the conversation to email or, better yet, to a phone.

Rule 3: Your business is not a soapbox*

This one gets an asterisk as there are instances when getting on your soapbox is a good thing for your business. Typically I advise my clients to avoid politics and religion. However, if your business caters to a specific group or religion then alienating those outside of that group may be okay since they won’t be buying your stuff anyway.

A good rule of thumb is to ask, “Will it alienate customers?” Make sure what you post is right for your business. In other words, if you do get on your soapbox, do so as a business decision.

Rule 4: Your personal profiles are a representation of your business

Never assume you can have a personal page “just for family and close friends”. Your post can and will find its way to your customers. All one of your friends has to do is like or share your post and instantly it is out of your control. Also, search engines can and will grab your info from all sources which mean those looking for you online may see your posts and will make a business decision based on your online actions.

Is it fair? No. Does this limit or censor you? Yes. However, it is the reality of life. You are running a business and everything you do online both as the business and as yourself is a direct reflection of your business.

Rule 5: Avoid making the same post in multiple places

Each social media application has its place and the content should be adjusted to suit the format. What is appropriate for FB may not be for Twitter and vice versa. Besides, posting the exact same content on multiple places can make you look more like a robot and less like a real person and people will begin to ignore your posts.

I think the only exception to this rule may be posting links to your blog posts. Even then, the “call to action” should be tailored to the audience.

Rule 6: Information marketing is key

There is one time-proven method for cost effective marketing on social media and that is information marketing. Understand that, as a rule, advertisements are often ignored. I am expecting a backlash once the “sponsored” posts start to dominate our news feeds on Facebook. The last thing you want is to be lumped in with the “bad guys” when that happens.

Your goal online is to gain trust & respect. This will then drive your customers to your website and to buy your products or service. This means that the majority of your activities should be to provide information that is useful and helps your customer base.

Personally, I like the 80/20 rule. 80% of your activities online should be informative and helpful. You are looking to not only be friendly when engaging in conversations but also post tips, tricks, and hints helping to establish yourself as a knowledge leader. The remaining 20% is for promotions.

I have found some brick-and-mortar businesses such as dry cleaners and restaurants are able to drive more people to their fan page by offering exclusive specials only on their social media pages. For example, Foursquare lets you make coupons for your business for free. One final note, if you put up an ad in your store urging your customers to like you on Facebook, Foursquare, or Twitter make sure you add a QR code and put the full URL on the ad. These days nearly everyone has a smart phone and the QR code allows them to quickly go to your fan page and give it a like while they wait in line.

Rule 7: Control your brand

If you don’t control your brand, someone else will do it for you. If you have a brick-and-mortar business and are not on Foursquare, understand that someone else may put you on Foursquare and you may not like what they have to say. Trying to reclaim your venue online can be a hassle.

Even if you are not spending time on that particular social media site, it is good to set up a business page and check it every so often. I recommend at a minimum having a business page for Facebook, Pinterest, Foursquare, Yelp, and Twitter. There are many, many more and the recommendation will change as other sites (such as Tumblr) become more popular.

One important note: Social media can be a black hole that will suck your time and productivity from you faster than you will realize. Make sure you keep a focus on your revenue generating activities as a priority. Everything else should come second and when you do focus on social media, make sure you only spend your time on sites where your customers hang out.

Rule 8: You post it, you don’t own it

Anything you post on social media is owned by the site. This is a good article from ITWorld about how Facebook has equal rights to anything you post.

This means that if you have content you want to maintain ownership; you should seriously consider a blog that you own. This means you should also avoid the free blogging services. There are so many good options and these days you can get a blog for just a few dollars a month.

Post all you want on your blog and then post the links to your social media sites with a simple call to action and drive the conversation to your blog. Besides, the goal is to drive those on social media to your website or your phone so it makes sense to put the lion’s share of your content on a website that you own.

Rule 9: Engagement is the name of the game

Given how Facebook, in their quest for more cash, has modified who can see the posts from your fan page unless you are willing to pay, this is more important than ever. Basically, the more likes, shares, and comments the better chance you have of others seeing your posts. Try to ask questions in your posts and encourage comments. When you do get comments, reply on your posts helping to move the conversation forward. Once again, be friendly, helpful, and engaging.

Rule 10: Use automated tools with discretion

I want to start by saying that the only absolute in life is that there are no absolutes. Automated tools have their place and can be a necessary addition if used correctly. I Use Automated Tools Sparinglyrecommend that any actual engagements with your customers online be done manually.

You do want to avoid tools that advertise themselves as they tend to make you look like a robot and not a real person. A good example is how I mange my Twitter account. I have found Twitter to be a good method for sharing inspirational messages and interesting trivia. My followers enjoy the tweets and often share them with others. However, I do not have the time to make multiple posts a day so I use a tool that makes the posts on my behalf and then I personally engage with those that interact with me on Twitter.

So there you have it. 10 good rules for social media that, if followed, should help increase the effectiveness of your online efforts. Feel free to add any of your own rules in the comment section below and I encourage you to share this with your friends.

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