Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Unwritten Rules of Social Media

There are Rules in Social Media.

This comes as a surprise for a lot of intelligent, creative people. They are sure that, mavericks as they are, the Rules don't apply to them. They'll stride right in there and show the pundits and self-styled Gurus what's what. They'll Walk the Walk and show everyone how it's done.

There are Rules in Social Media?

Of course there are Rules in Social Media! For the same reason that walking into a room and screaming at the top of your lungs that your arches in your feet have collapsed, there are simply some things that are not done - whether you use Social Media personally or professionally.

Some of these Rules are written. For instance, in order to create a presence on most networking platforms, you have to register and create a profile. When you first go to logon to that system, you will get a notice saying that you need to do Step 1, Step 2 and Step 3. There will be an agreement you will make about the use of that platform - what is, and is not, acceptable. These are obvious, written rules.

There are also Unwritten Rules. These are, perhaps, more awkward to understand, as they are not specifically stated.

The most important Unwritten Rule in Social Media is - the Point of Being on a Social Media Platform is to Expand Your Network on that Platform.

You may think this is self-evident - why go to a party if all you plan on doing is standing in a corner and not talking to someone? But that's exactly the point. Many people do go to parties and do just that. Why? Because they have some other reason for attending. They may be there out of Obligation (your boss requires you to have a presence on Social Media); Peer Pressure (Your restaurant should totally be on Yelp!) You might even have a presence for Fans to follow you.

Recently, I read an incredible article. It was a head-nodder. Yes, I kept saying, yes, exactly. I saw that the writer was on Twitter and thought how nice it would be to follow them - until I saw that they follow one person. I told the folks who had RTed the article to me and they also were confused by this person's use of Twitter. One person? Why be on a platform whose first and most important Unwritten Rule is to connect with other people?

The author commented that they use Twitter "differently." Ah, I said, a maverick. This is a person who does not need to follow the Rules, because they only apply to other people - thus rendering Twitter into a one-way form of conversation. That person speaks, we listen. That's the second most important Unwritten Rule of Social Media - Be social. It's a conversation, not a monologue. The author followed our comments up with a pretty stiff-armed attempt at intimidation, which convinced us all that the person was an excellent writer...but kind of a jerk as a person.

Which brings us to this third Unwritten Rule - If you act like a jerk on Social Media, expect to be called out about it. Jerkishness is alot like the old adage about a duck. If you seem like a jerk, talk like a jerk, etc... On Social Media, because of the "social" nature, when a person notes that your response was awfully jerk-like, you can expect that other people will take note. Of course you have the right to be a jerk online - no one can stop you from making a fool of yourself in public - but freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequence.

As a company, you might be tempted to tell a customer to frigging wait, the damn thing was shipped already!, but you won't, because it would affect your reputation. So will following 10 people when there are 10,000 following you. It shows that you are more interested in being heard than in listening. It shows that you are, in other words, a jerk.

Walking the Walk and Playing By the Rules are not mutually exclusive in Social Media. The best use the Rules, both written and unwritten, to develop excellent relationships with their customers, peers, vendors and potential audience.
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