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Five Rules on How Not to Use Social Media

by Randall Gates  |  
October 22, 2012
  |  26,392 views

Social media is a very powerful thing, but like any powerful thing it can wreak havoc if misused or misdirected. First of all, always remember that social media is built around being social.

Being personable, honest, and entertaining is the best way to get users to interact with and about a business. You want users to trust and be entertained by your company, product, slogan, or marketing campaign, so then they turn around and do the rest of the buzz work for you.

The five rules that follow are fundamental to building users' trust, interesting them in your business, and getting them to talk among themselves about it.

Rule No. 1: Don't be dishonest

Most of us have been taken in by a false post a time or two. Discovering our credulity, we felt embarrassed and disappointed, and in response developed an acute awareness of duplicity: We are on the lookout for it, and we hate it when we see it. Overtly dishonest posts, comments, and reviews that are thinly disguised promotions... we don't like them and our customers don't either, so just don't go there.


The flipside of this distaste for fakery is that Internet users appreciate straightforwardness and honesty. So rather than respond to a negative review with fake positive reviews, publicly respond to the reviewer. Offer her discounts or a way to fix the problem, and you might win over a vocal customer who can potentially do far better work for you than any PR department or reputation manager.

Rule No. 2: Don't be annoying

Remember the chain emails of the early 2000s? Sure, those things went viral quickly, but nobody appreciated them. In the same way that you don't lob useless information or advertisements at your customers' inboxes, don't spam their Twitters with less-than-brilliant blog posts or promotions. If you focus on making your promotional content engaging, Internet users will do most of the promoting for you.


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Randall Gates specializes in quality management systems and software. He frequently writes on those topics and currently blogs for CEBOS, a provider of electronic document management systems.

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  • by Graeme Mon Oct 22, 2012 via web

    Surely advising us not to be annoying or dishonest is a bit patronising to your readers?

  • by Nick Stamoulis Mon Oct 22, 2012 via web

    "But it works best in concert with other efforts."

    Agreed! Social media is not a magic bullet that solves all your problems over night. It's needs to be part of a larger strategy.

  • by Ann Druce Mon Oct 22, 2012 via web

    As with traditional marketing, any campaign is much stronger when it comprises several elements. And social media is, as you point out, only one element. But I suspect that small businesses will continue to look to social media for an answer to their marketing needs, simply because it is low cost and allows for a DIY approach. (And it is quite easy to fool yourself that it is free if you don't factor in the cost of the time you spend.)

  • by Shyam Ramamurthy Mon Oct 22, 2012 via web

    This is a nice summary of tips for increasing a company's quality social media presence. Many organizations and people treat social media as just a quick marketing boost and as such don't put enough time into its strategy. Therefore, the resulting message is either too subtle or too "annoying" as you put it. To help coordinate your social media strategy, successful content curation can be a great help. If you want to learn more about how to become a content curation rock star, download our eBook: http://www.curata.com/resources/ebooks/5-simple-steps-to-becoming-a-content...

  • by Archele Thu Oct 25, 2012 via mobile

    Great points! Thanks for sharing. I think it's that "push-push-sale" mentality that still resonates with a lot of seasoned marketers that leads them to misuse or seek out unrealistic results from social media. I wrote a post entitled "Are people just scrolling over your social media content?" that covers some of the same grounds you have here, and I expand a little more on certain points. Feel free to check it out: http://redgals.wordpress.com/2012/08/16/are-people-just-scrolling-over-your...

    Thanks again for sharing!

  • by Stephen Mon Oct 29, 2012 via web

    "Social media is merely one tool for a business." Business owners should repeat this as often as necessary. There is often a "Field of Dreams"
    approach to business social media in that if you build it, the followers, likes, dollars and lifetime customers will follow. If leveraged
    properly, this can certainly help accomplish that, but it must be worked in to an overall strategy.

    Great article Randy! Thanks for it. Here are four common mistakes many small business owners make when it comes to their company's social media:
    http://hutzelmedia.biz/business-social-media-mistakes/

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