Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The 7 New Rules of Social Media Marketing (probably not what you'd think)

When I talk to people about getting involved with social media - such as Twitter, blogging, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and the like - they often say they don't know how to behave in these environments. This is a genuine and valid concern. After all, your mum might have told you which cutlery goes with which course, but you probably didn't have anybody telling you the etiquette of communicating in the on-line world.

Based on my 23 years of using the Internet, I'll give you the seven most important rules for you to follow.

1. Give honest and sincere praise.

If you see something you like on-line, tell the person who created it - preferably publicly. For example:
  • If you enjoyed reading a blog post, add a comment.
  • If you like a podcast, post a review in iTunes.
  • If you enjoyed reading a book, write a review in
  • If you like a YouTube video, add a comment.
  • For all of the above, tweet about it as well.
  • Look at your LinkedIn connections, and write a recommendation for somebody in your network.
Make sure the praise is specific, and, if possible, add value to the conversation. For example, if you're adding a comment to a blog, it's OK to just write "Great blog post!"; but it's much, much better if you can also add your perspective to it.

Don't make this a sneaky marketing tactic. For example, don't look for sneaky ways to insert your Web site address in there, unless it's relevant. People see through this easily, it taints the praise, and it damages your reputation.

2. Don't criticise in public.

I recently saw a well-respected blogger rant about an e-mail he received. However, it was an internal e-mail from an organisation to its members. Rather than spending five minutes checking into the background and context of the e-mail, this guy ranted about it on his blog. It was totally out of context, and totally inappropriate. Unfortunately, because he had taken such a strong stance, when people started pointing out his error, he was too far gone to back down completely, and dug in his heels further. Although he did back down a bit, I'm sure he was glad when the torrent of comments faded away!

This is the flip side of the praise coin, of course. Assume everything you write on-line is recorded, backed up, indexed in Google, and can be used in evidence against you. Even if you meant it to be private, once it leaves your computer, you've got no control of it!

So just be on the safe side, and bite your tongue.

3. Respect other people's opinions and backgrounds.

When Australian cricketing legend Don Bradman passed away in 2001, I remember one news report that said more Indians than Australians mourned his loss. It was just one more reminder that we live in a global village.

As an Australian, I'm in a tiny, tiny minority of Internet users (less than 1%). North Americans are in a minority (15%). So are Europeans (25%), and even Asians (42%).

The motto of the Internet is "Think global, act global". Allow for differences in culture, time zones, language, Internet access, speed of access and timeliness of information.

Gone are the days when we "Westerners" would be expected to "tolerate" other cultures. In the on-line world, if anything, it's the other way around.

4. Become genuinely interested in the people in your network.

On a smaller scale, create real connections with the people in your on-line network: Your Twitter followers, your Facebook fans, your LinkedIn connections, your e-mail newsletter subscribers and your blog readers.

Of course, I'm not asking you to connect with everybody in your network. But at the very least, when somebody makes an effort to communicate with you, give them the courtesy of a reply.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking it's about quantity - the number of Twitter followers you have, for example. It's not. It's a cliche, but it really is about quality instead.

Don't think "connect"; think "re-connect".

5. Talk in terms of the other person's interests.

If you follow the previous rule and genuinely take an interest in other people, you'll find myriad ways to help them on-line.

It might be as simple as forwarding an article to them, or directing them to a YouTube video, re-tweeting something relevant, or forwarding this blog post  !

A decade or so ago, I heard business consultants recommend the idea of faxing magazine articles to clients, as a way of keeping in touch. Now you don't even have to send a fax! You can forward an e-mail, DM a tweet, send a Web link directly from your browser, take a photo on your phone and e-mail it, etc. You get the point!

By the way, I'm not saying you shouldn't send a fax (or a postcard, handwritten thank-you card, or book). I'm just saying there are easier ways as well.

6. Be a good listener.

I used to regularly tell people how important it was to survey your market before launching a new product or service, because your market will tell you exactly what problems they want solved.

I still believe in the importance of understanding your market. But I don't think surveys alone are good enough any more. Your market will expect you to know what they want. How? Because you've been listening on-line. You've been participating in discussions, reading and commenting on blog posts, joining relevant Facebook groups, monitoring LinkedIn questions, and so on.

Surveys are still useful, but they're no longer the most important piece of the puzzle. Be an active listener before you send out that survey.

7. Show them how to get what they want.

It's nice to praise, respect, connect, re-connect and listen. And even if you do nothing else but this, you'll build a strong, positive reputation on-line.

But if you really want to put the icing on the cake, help them get what they want.

This doesn't mean you have to give away your intellectual property! There are many other things you could do that don't de-value the material you charge for. For example:
  • Introduce two people in your network to each other.
  • Scan your Sent Mail folder for responses you've sent to somebody who's asked a question, and consider publishing them on your blog (on the premise that if one person found the advice useful, others might also value it).
  • If you see somebody's tweet asking for help, re-tweet it to your network as well.

How can you use these rules in your on-line world?

I've given you some specific examples here, but they are only examples. Some of them won't apply to you, and conversely you'll find other ways to achieve the same effects. The important thing, of course, is to understand the principles.

Did you like these rules?

If you did, I've got a confession to make ...

I called these the new rules of social media communication. Ummm ... That's not strictly true. I swiped all seven of these rules from Dale Carnegie's classic 1936 book "How To Win Friends and Influence People".

That's right - the basic rules of social media haven't changed in 75 years!

It's not about Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, HootSuite, Blogger, TweetDeck, iPad, WordPress or Foursquare. It's first about people connecting with people, and treating each other with courtesy and respect.