10 social media etiquette tips for businesses

Embracing social media requires fresh thinking from companies wishing to promote their brand successfully. But when using these channels improperly, things can go horribly wrong very quickly.

Conversation and interaction is at the very core of social media, so just pushing sales and marketing messages onto users doesn’t work. It’s a two-way dialogue and businesses must be prepared to commit to the conversation.

Social networks are successful because they bind people together through (often anonymous) interaction, stimulating a sense of personal belonging within a community, where speech, debate and opinion are free.

Facebook has more than 500 million active users, and users collectively spend more than 700 billion minutes per month on the site. The average Facebook user is connected to 80 community or ‘fan’ pages, groups and events, and more than 30 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photo albums, etc.) are shared by active users each month, according to their stats.

Reinforcing this drive to engage socially online, Twitter has over 145 million users and grows rapidly every day, and Twitter reports that 46% of active users make mobile a regular part of their Twitter experience.

The figures are enough to make marketing teams salivate, but there is a major challenge: Social media is personal by nature and anything seen as blatant advertising sticks out like a sore thumb and is likely to either be ignored or ridiculed.

Customers are becoming aware of the power they wield over brands and organisations. Consumers now have the power to make their voices heard; they spout their opinions with gusto and play a big part in making or breaking a brand’s reputation through word of mouth recommendations.

Businesses need to be interesting and interactive in their engagement with people, and give their targeted users a reason to bother getting involved.

With that in mind, here are some tips on social media marketing to stick by:

1. Create a realistic communications strategy – and stick to it
Develop an engagement framework that will allow you and other employees to control the conversations you plan to have with customers, and where and how you plan to do it. Be clear and specific with your strategy, make sure it’s appropriate and keep coming back to it.

2. Develop a style and personality
Tone, content and language should all be tailored according to who the recipient is e.g. customer, prospect, fan or critic – using a universal approach will alienate people. That said, however, make sure the brand value and personality shows through in everything and is consistent. Communications must be humanised, personalised and targeted.

3. Be honest
Be honest about your identity and why you are talking to customers. No one wants to hear a sales pitch through social media, and you will be deemed untrustworthy and to be avoided if you try to be sneaky, or undermine the audience’s intelligence.

4. Set limits for toleration and moderation
Establish firm rules on what you will and won’t tolerate in discussion channels. You can be approachable and engage in conversation without tolerating abusive comments. Make sure you understand the T’s & C’s of the channels you use, and align your strategy with their terms of service.

5. Be careful about approaching influential bloggers
Unsolicited contact with bloggers or other individuals heavily active in the social media space can very easily be perceived as spam – a view that they can and will spread quickly throughout their online network. Make sure the communication is relevant and properly targeted, and that your tone is right, or you could end up ‘blacklisted’.

6. Don’t use social media for corporate communications
Sending out company updates on business development and financial status will alienate and annoy social media users. This kind of information belongs on the company website.

7. Vary strategy per channel
Twitter is not the same as Facebook, which is not the same as LinkedIn or YouTube. Each social media channel works in a slightly different way and users all have their preferences, therefore the tone and content used for one will not necessarily work for another. Make sure you understand the nature of the channels you choose.

8. Don’t aim too high
There are some brilliant examples out there of successful social media campaigns, driven by highly creative teams who have managed to produce something that goes truly viral. These mega-viral hits are few and far between, so be moderate in your expectations.

9. Don’t shove marketing down people’s throats
Keep things short, relevant and to the point, and be creative. Don’t just self promote; social media channels are about sharing knowledge and conversation. Engaging users on a customer service level, or in a topical debate, will do much more for your brand than a sales pitch — it’s all about personality. Crassly promoting yourself will not build up the reputation you want, and anyone searching for your brand could end up stumbling upon a torrent of abuse.

10. Don’t ignore feedback – positive or negative
Set up a channel for difficult questions to be answered or forwarded to the right person. Remember online users demand transparency and there is nowhere to hide. The viral nature of these channels means that bad (or good) news spreads very quickly and can also last for a long time. Don’t try to cover up negativity, attempts to do this will be spotted by users and will only add to the problem. Strike up conversations with your audience by asking questions, but make sure you follow up and respond.

In conclusion, using social media as a marketing tool is a time-consuming investment and businesses should be ruthless in assessing the reward and return on profits. Just because it’s trendy does not mean it’s right for everyone, nor is it an excuse to get away with poor business principles.

Make sure you have the resources to keep updating your channels consistently, moderate the comments and provide feedback. A Facebook Page or Twitter feed without current updates will not be taken seriously. Remember that online commentators can be vicious and obnoxious, so it will serve you well to differentiate between the nutters and those who are genuinely interested in your brand.

Businesses must raise their game and take control of audience discussions on how their brand is perceived and talked about. If they don’t, the conversations will continue without their input and they will be powerless to try and change opinion or resolve customer service issues quickly and with credibility.

Catherine Murray


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