It's easy to find people to tell you what you need to do to make social media work for your business.

They have anecdotal tales of viral campaigns with heavy emphasis on the impressions and branding benefits. There's no end to the stories of successful branding campaigns using community platforms. Though there are benefits to branding, it isn't immediately convertible to cash.

The last few years, I've been heavily involved in testing the effectiveness and efficiency of social media as a marketing and service channel.

Sometimes I pushed the limits, which brought outcries of "This isn't how you're supposed to do it" from the self-appointed best-practices police. Other times, I didn't push hard enough and watched opportunities pass by. Throughout it all, I measured and documented the results.

The first test was to follow the rules (or guidelines, as some prefer to say) of social media engagement. I posted, tweeted, and chatted. It brought me a few new followers, but they were primarily competitors, not potential clients.

That is a consistent issue for everyone participating, because we are learning from one another. When I review community members for new clients, I find the same pattern: more competitors than customers or prospects.

After determining that the rules may work for the people who make them but weren't working for me, I ventured outside the loosely drawn lines.

I followed only one rule: Test and document everything. Every test provided a lesson in what works (or doesn't) in the social media world. Here are the top five.

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image of Debra Ellis
Debra Ellis is a speaker, consultant, and author of the integrated marketing guide Social Media 4 Direct Marketers. She is the founder of Wilson & Ellis Consulting ( and can be reached via