what are the rules of social media?

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Its so easy to get caught up in “shoulds” especially with social media. I firmly believe that social is what you make it – the only rules of social media are conversation and participation.

UPDATE: One can extrapolate that there are rules of polite conversation and participation,  social media accountability is one way of putting it. As Anne McCrossan commented, its about “‘blatant integrity’. The social web is a great opportunity for us to up our game about social behaviour.  [link here]

So it bothers me when people try to tell others what to do – without any understanding of how social media works at either a social media marketing level or a personal relationship level.  A friend who runs a very successful business was contacted via email recently as he’d been held up as a “How not to use twitter” case study at a marketing event.

The person who emailed said this:

I’m sitting in an Internet Marketing seminar in Sydney at the moment, and you and your business have just been presented as an example of what NOT to do online.

I’ll keep this short and do hope you get the point:

If you have people decide to follow you on Twitter from your [business] website, they are probably looking forward to receiving tips [on your business services].  Chances are pretty good they are not interested in hearing about football or “pregnant chicks at Ikea” or “hiding the sausage”.

Thought you would want to know you have just been held up to ridicule in front of some 300 people at this event.  (The event is being repeated tomorrow in Sydney and twice this week in Melbourne.)  Guess the good news is there’s 300 people who have heard of you and your business who probably didn’t know of you til now.  Bad news is, it wasn’t a good news story.

Here’s a suggestion:  Get a separate Twitter account for your business.

While the person who emails this may or may not have had good intentions, there are a bunch of reasons why they are just completely wrong and inappropriate in judging at all. I’ll start with their Twitter profile:

so called guru on Twitter

  1. The person who wrote the email lists themselves as “guru”. They’ve tweeted a total of 30 times. Their Mr Tweet statistics really show up how little they use the channel they are a so called expert on. Their Twitter stream is full of the same plug for their website – over and over. There is no conversation at all. No surprises that the “guru” has so few followers.
  2. There have been countless blog posts on the way Twitter is cutting down the barriers to creating conversation and injecting personality into faceless corporates. Yet this self-proclaimed “guru” is telling my friend not to have any personality at all, and not to be a conversationalist, be human, and crack jokes.
  3. The marketing presentation that held up my friend’s Twitter stream for ridicule also took the tweets completely out of context. They only showed one side of the conversation – they did not show what the @replies were replies to. And they did not clarify that @replies are only seen by those who also follow those who are being conversed with, that the tweets would never be seen by everyone.
  4. Its great how these professional speaker circuit type seem to forget, when it suits their argument, that twitter is an opt in social medium. So the people who follow my friend, are his clients and peers, and if they don’t like what they are presented with, its a very simple thing to unfollow him.
  5. In my friends business, he deals with and talks to people on a very personal level –  for up to two hours at a time. If his clients don’t like him, same deal as Twitter – they don’t go back. In fact, Twitter allows for people to see who he is and the type of personality that he has and has done a lot to build his business since its inception. So his twitter account represents him and his business – faithfully. My friend, also believes in honesty in communication, rather than some corporate, bland sanitised push marketing message.
  6. My friend has picked up a lot of business by being himself on Twitter. He’s had blog posts written about his inimitable style and great busines. He’s picked up a lot of followers who love his fun attitude to life, his jokes and he’s become a real Twitter personality. That same personality has translated to genuine brand authenticity, both online and offline, and he’s built significant relationships using social media by being real. I could write a detailed post on how he’s used social media effectively to build a social brand and social business. In fact – using the same examples given by the emailer, I could write the exact opposite case study about how my friend  –  “How to use Twitter effectively to build a social brand”
  7. And to finish, I’d like to compare and contrast the “gurus” 30 tweets to my friends 10,000 plus tweets and my friends Mr Tweet statistics

I like to say there are no failures in social media – only failure to participate. And for all those so called “gurus” who say Twitter is not for marketing or not for being yourself or not for being honest, or not for being human – they are clearly wrong. Because there are millions of people on Twitter who are using it the way they want and making Twitter what they want it and need it to be.

  • I’m always disturbed when I see people talking about “rules”, too. I think it’s fine to set your own limits about the way you use these channels, and for some people the separation of business and personal streams might be appropriate. Inflicting those same limits on other people, however, is pointless.

    Amazingly, I see it coming most often from self-proclaimed experts who seem to spend most of their lives traipsing from conference to conference, dishing out their bogus advice like the 21st-century equivalent of snake-oil salesmen. It doesn’t take a day of PowerPoint presentations to work out that the key to social media is engagement, and you learn that, quickly and organically, by using it.

    The good news is that while their business isn’t sustainable – the land rush for expertise will be exposed as the emperor’s new clothes (as you demonstrated in this post) – your friend’s business, helped along by just being himself in the social media space and growing a real network, will be going from strength to strength.

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  • there’s not only one way to work with the social media but the way you worked with, your followers (maybe customers) will know what your direction (vision) and they will read truths about out. That’s important to be clear and clean for each person who read our information. It’s over now! The companies who hide somes of their information won’t be able to have the trust from their customer… Your #6 is really important. Good article!

  • One relatively minor glitch in what is overall a good piece. In point 3 you say “@replies are only seen by those who also follow those who are being conversed with, that the [quoted] tweets would never be seen by everyone.” This isn't necessarily true.

    Many people, myself included, choose to see all @replies from the people we follow, including those to people who we don't follow ourselves. Indeed, there was a public outcry when Twitter tried to turn off this ability.

    Yes, this means we see “half a conversation” directed at someone else. But it's this very serendipity of seeing (“overhearing”?) random snippets of conversation that is, in my opinion, of of Twitter's great joys — one of the best ways to discover new and interesting people, or to see another side of the person you're following and flesh them out as a real human being.

    I wouldn't go so far as to say “the only rules of social media are conversation and participation”. All the usual “rules” of social interaction, propriety, respect, defamation and everything else related to “publication” of your statements in a public forum still apply too — though I realise that wasn't your point..

  • Nice post Tiphereth and agree that hard and fast rules for a very complex environment with many varying instances is somewhat ambitious.

    One bit of advice my colleague in the UK, James Warren, gives in relation to social media is 'be nice'. Had the presenter been nice enough to avoid listing the name of the individual and instead used it as a blank example of their opinion, perhaps the 'guru' wouldn't have felt it their duty to miss appropriately lecture your friend.

  • I cringe every time I hear “rules” being discussed around social media. Great article explaining why it's not always black and white.

  • eye and i

    Fantatstic article not only you sticking up for your mate – which is honorable and commendable – but using the truth to do so with class and applomb! Great read and some very good points. particuylarly like the assessment of the so cold guru's stats versus your mates lol… the proof is in the pudding!

  • Lippy

    “Here’s a suggestion” back to Mr Guru:
    1. “How NOT to use Twitter” … Perhaps you should start with“how TO use twitter” first… That is why I paid a grand to attend this convention.

    2. statements like “they are probably looking forward to receiving tips” and “chances are…” –Assumes you understand what consumers want (of a business that is not even your own). I think one of the coolest things about social media… is the ability to ‘ask’ consumers what they want, through conversation – even banter.

    3. You don’t know me. I am a football fanatic, who firmly believes in procreation and woman’s rights to shop at enormous retail furniture outlets (Scandinavian or otherwise) who fuckin relishes a good tweet about the random hiding of sausages (i really am a staunch believer in procreation). – I guess it depends on the business… but i actually believe that conversation helps me better understand who I am dealing with.

    In saying this, I do have a question for you Tip… in social media where the barriers to entry are low and everyone is an expert… When starting out, who should you look up to learn the conventions (if for no other reason than to avoid becoming like the guru)? When researching advice, tips and even events to attend, how do you distinguish the greats from the jokes?? I’m not quite sure that the number of Twitter followers is necessarily an exact science in this regard…

  • thanks for your comment Kevin, and a good question. You are right in saying that Twitter followers is not an exact science as many people “game” Twitter through auto-follow bots and other such tricks. The best thing to do is just participate. Get onto Twitter, follow, listen, participate. The best learnings are the ones that are most relevant to you and what you want to achieve. Find people in the same industry or with the same interests. Find people you just want to converse with. Mr Tweet is an excellent recommendation engine I use all the time to find followers based on who I follow and converse with already. Also for blogs, there are several aggregator sites such as http://www.socialmediatoday.com and http://social-media.alltop.com/ which highlight articles from top bloggers globally. Also Mashable and TechCrunch are excellent sources for breaking news with analysis of what it means to the industry. Participate on Twitter, read even a few of these articles and you're social media expert bullshit filter will be up to full strength in no time. You'll be able to spot the snake oil sales people at 20 paces.

  • Thanks eye and i, its best to let the facts speak for themselves. The proof is in the pudding, indeed.

  • Thanks for your comment. So often the ones banging on about rules are either control freaks or really haven't been around long enough. I also have the same cringe factor around the “rules” word which is why I finally snapped on this one.

  • Thanks Matthew – agreed, a bit of common courtesy would have helped by the “guru” informing my friend and giving him a right of reply prior to the seminar. My guess is that they were using it as a marketing technique to scare businesses into giving them lots of money to tell them how its really done. Only they didn't really expect a comeback – which they got.

  • Thanks Stigherrian, I updated my post to reflect the rules of social interaction,to include accountability. I agree with you about the @replies, which is why I make an effort to follow as many people as possible so I can see the serendipitous conversations. I think you get the point that the seminar excluded the conversation around my friends tweets when holding them up for ridicule. We figure they were salespeople trying to drum up business by scaremongering people who are scared of using social media.

  • Thanks Pascal. Yes customer feedback and market research are more ways that people can use Twitter to find out how its working for them. You don't need to be a business to do either – it can even work on a personal level.

  • Thanks Paul. The more these so-called gurus try to bolt social media down and box it up into rules, the more I want it to stay free and organic. They will be outstripped by those who are genuine and participate for a longer term view of a social brand.

  • Excellent post and well done for sticking up for your friend with such style. There are certainly some very unconvincing 'gurus' on Twitter and other social media sites.

  • KRohanSassySEO

    Hi Tip – great post (as per usual) and an awesome overview of how social media works. It's how-to article/case study for digital networking and a good warning to others not to be bullied into doing something that is not comfortable.

    And really, no one is perfect. We are still learning and experimenting –that's how it works. You try something and then tweak. I'm tired of people blasting others for not doing it EXACTLY how they would. We are all on different paths looking for different outcomes.

    Your articles are always well-thought and well-presented. That's why you are respected – and why I respect you so much.

    kristin rohan

  • I'm still trying to find the sausage. Where is it, @stevieenglish ?

  • How can they say that Twitter is not for marketing. I think they are really completely wrong. There are really lots of successful story about this.. Popular social media like Twitter and YouTube is really on of the best tool for internet marketing and there is no doubt on that.. In using social media, I think there is no rule on that. I think you are the one to set your limit or rule for yourself.

  • Even if there aren't really any rules formally set, we're still bound to a universal online rule, and that's Etiquette.