I didn't set out to be a social media rule-breaker. I've always been more of a teacher's pet type, honestly. But the more I get to know what some in the social media industry are pushing as doctrine, the more rebellious I get.
Social media guidelines are nice, but there's no reason to accept them as gospel. Your brand isn't average, so the average social media plan isn't going to cut it. What works for a local brand may not work for an international one. What works for B2C may not work for B2B. You get the idea.
So with that in mind, here are 10 social media rules worth breaking – and what to do instead.
1. The best time to post is ...
Plenty of studies will give you a "best time to post" figure. The best time to tweet is 5 pm because you'll get the most retweets. No, it's noon so you can get a higher click-through rate. And depending on which studies you read, you should either be posting on Facebook every 3 hours or every other day.
Instead of running around trying to plan your posts for industry averages, you're better off determining the right timing for you. Experiment with Facebook posts of similar content at varying times on (try for the same day of the week if you want to be slightly more scientific about it) and then compare your traffic back to site, virality rate and engagement rate. Do similar exercises for frequency. Heck, on Twitter you can even post the same thing twice at different times and see which time sees a higher click-through rate. But now I'm skipping ahead to No. 7.
2. Be on every social network
Really? That sounds like a recipe for cross-posting disaster to me. While I'm all for using a service like KnowEm
to lock down your brand name on services that matter to you, that doesn't mean you have to be spending time on all these networks. Instead, get to know your customers and where they're hanging out and talking. If they're all on LinkedIn, why are you spending all your time on Pinterest? Good social media monitoring tools will let you find relevant conversations wherever they're happening so you're not chasing your tail on the wrong networks.
3. Respond to every comment and mention
I'm all for engagement and lively conversation, sometimes it's important for a brand to know when to keep its virtual mouth shut. In cases where you're getting abused or berated online, stay out of the fray for your own well-being as well as your brand's. But the happier flip side of that coin is when you've built such a strong community that members are able to answer each other's questions and drive the conversation on their own. If you're lucky enough to be in that situation, you may find stepping back sometimes makes your community even stronger.
4. Follow everyone who follows you
Some people say this Twitter quid pro quo is just part of being polite online. I say there's plenty of ways to use Twitter and while I respect anyone's right to tweet Foursquare checkins all day long, that doesn't mean I have to sign up to read them all. Social media for business is just that – for business. Follow accounts that provide you useful information and don't apologize for it. Or if you really feel you must reciprocate, at least make liberal use of Twitter lists (don't forget private lists, too!)
5. Ask for the action
You hear this all the time: If you want people to like the post, ask them. If you want them to share, suggest it. While I'm not opposed to this in moderation – say, asking Facebook fans to share a really important announcement – be careful with how often you're doing it. Then make sure you balance it out with fun stuff and conversation with no ulterior motive. The same way you'd get fed up with a friend who's always asking for help without giving you much in return, fans will get fed up with a brand taking lots and giving little. Don't be that brand.
6. "Be yourself"
If you're representing a brand, nobody wants to see you being TOTALLY yourself on social media. The best version of yourself, maybe – charming and with all the boring parts edited out. The truth is, fans and followers want to see personality shine through, but not necessarily full-bore "authenticity" or "transparency." Just like a little mystery is a good thing even in long-term relationships, so is it a good thing with brands. We're not interested in the warts and all version of you – just show us the presentable side, please.
7. Don't repeat content
Do you read every tweet in your timeline every single day, or are you occasionally, you know, off doing work or (gasp!) actually having a life? Most of your followers aren't spending every second on Twitter, either, which is why I'm a strong believer in breaking the no-repeat-content rule. Lots of us have audiences in wildly different time zones and on very different schedules, so "second chance tweets" are not only OK – they can be crucial. It doesn't hurt to vary your messaging in delivering the same link, though.
8. It's all about fans and followers
Yes, we all like to see our fans and followers metrics grow, but that can't be the only key performance indicator that guides you. Tie social media metrics to real business goals across the span of your company – whether that's customer support, brand awareness, product development or sales. Only then can you get at that holy grail of ROI that'll make you a hero to the C-suite.
9. Focus on influencers
There's nothing wrong with finding some key folks in your industry to lavish a little extra attention on. But if you're living and dying by Klout scores, you're not doing your brand any favors. Slow and steady wins the race here – cultivate real relationships through building up existing fans or locating smart industry experts you can learn from and eventually work more closely with through something mutually beneficial like trading guest blog posts. And don't forget the little people – you never know when you'll come across an influencer in disguise.
10. Create a strategy and stick to it
Oh, if only it were that easy. But the truth is, social media is an ever-changing world. One announcement from Facebook can throw your whole strategy into an uproar and require a whole new thought process (Facebook timelines, anyone?). And the emergence of a new upstart social network (hello there, Pinterest) can lead you to re-evaluate your resources at any given moment. Start with a strategy, yes, but be flexible enough that you can adapt to whatever the industry throws at you.
What social media rules have you broken? Let me know in the comments!
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