7 Social Media Rules of Thumb

The Famous french sculpture La Pouce by César Baldaccini

The Famous french sculpture La Pouce by César Baldaccini

Despite countless blog posts and multiple books on how to use social media, people new to the medium still have questions. So here’s my seven social media rules of thumb relying heavily on the classic Journalistic Heuristic of who, what, where, when, why and how.

1. Who should use social media? It seems like this is often the first question asked when considering a new technology.  My rule of thumb is simple: “Do you have friends, family, colleagues or customers? If so, then you should be doing social media. It’s about communicating, creating conversations, learning new things and strengthening ties and relationships.

2. Why social media? Forrester Research says 4 out of 5 online users use social media. Maybe it’s a fad, maybe not but if everyone is either doing it or talking about it maybe you should learn a little bit more about it. Whether you are an enthusiastic early adopter or technology crank who thinks GUIs are over-rated – you will learn the most by doing it yourself. My rule of thumb is: “Don’t be the last one into the water.”You don’t have to be first but you should start getting your feet wet, even if you have no interest in junping all the way in.

3. Where should I share? Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, My Space, Xanga, Your own Blog, Amazon Profiles and reviews, the list could continue for pages. There is no shortage of places to do it.  My rule of thumb is still simple: “Just pick a place and get started.” Ideally pick a place where you have colleagues or friends. The more connections you create, the more likely you are to continue doing it.  Look for thought leaders or topics of interest. For readers of a certain age these technologies resembles the old Usenet discussion boards but with much slicker interfaces capable of sharing links, photos, comments, etc. I’m a member of most of these communities – some like Xanga are more narrowly focused – I follow several people who post great recipes complete with photos and notes. LinkedIn is of course professionally focused and so my connections there reflect that, while Facebook is almost exclusively for family and close friends. You’ll have to figure out which places you’ll hang out and why – no one else can do this for you.  

4. What should I share? When does a Tweet become TMI? When does a facebook status update become uncomfortable for everyone reading it?  My rule of thumb on this is: “Would you tell your new boss this on your first day of work? “If the answer is no, then maybe you shouldn’t tweet about it. The beauty of this rule of thumb is that everyone has a different comfort level with what they’d tell their new boss. I once interviewed an employee with full-on facial piercings and tattoos – he’s a great guy and I promoted him to the new position – but the point is he was very comfortable sharing who he was right up front. I’ve worked with other people who never once shared a single piece of personal information. If the new boss rule doesn’t apply to you because you aren’t working, then substitute mom for boss, and holiday dinner table for first day of work.

5. When should I share? Should I tweet once a day? 20 Times a day? 10 Tweets in 10 minutes? Should I blog every single day or just once a week? Who knows what’s right for you. Some people tweet a lot and others only tweet when they want to share something important. You have find your comfort level. My rule of thumb is: “Ask yourself when do my tweets or blog posts go from interesting to annoying? The beauty of this rule is it depends on who you are, what you tweet and much you love the sound of your own voice. Heavy tweeters like @guykawasaki seemingly average about 10 tweets an hour – all day long – and he has 165,000+ followers. Others like @Mkapor seem to average 5-10 tweets a day and he has only 12,000 or so followers. And there are about a zillion twitterers (okay only 130 million or so) who average only 1 or 2 tweets day or less. The point is only you know why you are twittering and how much will be too much for your audience although there does appear to be a slight correlation between # of tweets and # of followers. If that’s important to you, consider tweeting more often. But if you find yourself asking this question again and again maybe it’s time to put down the phone and step away from the keyboard.

6. How long should I do it? Again this is completely variable. Are you using social media for your company or to catch up with family and friends? Have you used it long enough to realize that you don’t really care for it? Or you can not imagine going a day without it? My rule of thumb is: “Do it as long as it makes sense for you.” For some companies doing it isn’t an option, they have to do it, and do it well if they want to be taken seriously as a competitor. Some people are only doing it because they were told it was the next, new thing – but they realize it isn’t for them. Others take to it like a duck to water. That’s fine too. Like all of the other rules of thumb this is variable and only you can determine what makes sense for you. Not much help I know, but you’ll know what the answer is once you think about it, and do it for a bit.

 7. Now what? Well what do you want to accomplish? Now that you are comfortable swimming in the social media ocean what are you going to do with those skills? My rule of thumb is “Now that you’ve got the ball, run with it”. Again, not exactly an earth-shattering revelation but it is still very true. You can sit on the sidelines and watch or you can get in the game. And if you are going to be in the game, don’t you want to be where the action is? I know I do,  which is why I still play Rugby because there is no better team sport nor one that allows for so many opportunities to pick up the ball and run with it. Back to social media, only you can know what your goals are or what rewards you’ll get out of actively engaging in social media. And you should consider both of those aspects of your involvement periodically to make sure you are spending your time effectively and not wasting it because it’s the “next, new thing”.

So did I miss any rules of thumb? What are your social media rules of thumb? Let me know. -t

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  1. #1 by Cynthia Lamb on 2010/02/05 - 20:53

    Great information. Thanks for sharing!

  2. #2 by Beth Barany on 2010/02/10 - 16:49

    Thom, A good overview of the W’s of social media. People often want to be spoon-fed on what to do, without thinking about how social media fits into their live and their goals. I like all the questions you ask. Hopefully, readers will take the ball and run with it! I certainly do!

  3. #3 by Valerie Merriweather on 2010/02/11 - 09:25

    Thanks for the great tips Thom! I like your approach to social media – keeping it simple and do-able.

  4. #4 by Adriane Sanford on 2010/03/19 - 19:28

    Thom, I like your approach, to rule 5, 6 and 7. It’s really back to basics, in anything you do you have to set realistic time limits on what your schedule can bear and schedule time to engage in social media for pleasure or business marketing. For rule number one, I would add: if you are running a business then you should be doing social media. Social media is here to stay and it’s the new electronic communication/marketing era. Therefore businesses need to be engaging in electronic networking, branding and marketing.

  5. #5 by Judy Ossello on 2010/08/27 - 15:36

    I really like your rules for What and When because adding new information via Twitter or other social computing forums requires us to create a comfort level from scratch.

    Twitter conversations are really where I see the value of real-time broadcast-style communications. People seem to have an easier time being themselves when sharing and commenting on information vs. putting something new out there which can be little uncomfortable at first.

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