Social Media Strategy

When to Follow the Social Media Rules

Rules help us make sense of the world. Go out and be productive during the day when the sun is up and rest your body when it’s dark out. Rules keep us safe. Stay on the right side of the road and you greatly diminish your chances of being road kill. Rules provide an easily shared system for achieving a standardized idea of success. Color inside the lines and you make what’s conventionally believed to be a ‘good picture.’ But the result will be just that — ‘good.’ Blind adherence to ‘the rules’ can stifle innovation and keep you stuck at good when you could be great.

The same holds true for social media rules. As a rapidly evolving channel, individuals, businesses, and brands are looking for ‘the social media rules’ that they can quickly grab onto and implement to create a standardized success. In short, to be good. The problem is ‘good’ isn’t good enough and hardly breakthrough. It doesn’t cut through the clutter.

We’ve all heard these social media rules — follow everyone that follows you, tweet this much, don’t tweet this, tweet that, you should only update your Facebook page X amount of times, and the like. (All I can think of is the line from Mr. Mom in the school drop-off, “You’re doing it wrong.”) Maybe we’ve followed these rules. Maybe we’ve even prescribed them. That’s OK. I’ve done both. Rules start conversations that can lead to an overall engagement strategy but they are the means not the end. Rules also give people getting up to speed an easy handle to grab on to.

Recently the incomparable Tom Peters tweeted: “Showing my age + being a smart ass: New school: ‘SHOULD follow.’ Old school: ‘EARN followers.’ Sorry, my vote goes to ‘old school.'” It seems Peters ran into the ubiquitous Twitter rule dictating that we follow everyone that follows us. Is this good advice for some? Maybe. Is it the universal answer for all? No. It all depends on what your objective is. If it’s to be a thought leader in your area of expertise then you should have to earn followers as Tom notes by creating your own compelling content to build your own market gravity. If you’re hoping to generate broad brand awareness or provide customer support via Twitter then following all followers 1:1 may indeed be the right plan.

Ultimately, social media rules should be embraced as general framework but there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for social media engagement. You need to use these frameworks as a means of discovery so that you can align your social strategy with your brand’s online and offline objectives.

Rules are the beginning, not the end. In all new tasks you need to know some foundational rules. In painting we need to know the basic rules for stretching a canvass before we can lift a brush. But the next set of rules depends on what you’re trying to do — what your objective is. Though both painters, Norman Rockwell’s rules were probably very different from Jackson Pollock’s. Both utilized a series of general rules for their craft but from there branched out and blazed their own innovative trails.

Which social media rules do you find helpful? Which rules do you ignore? How have your rules evolved with your brand online?

Photo via Flickr user cliff1066™.