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Social media etiquette: 11 dos and don'ts

You say "please" and "thank you" and promptly return messages when you're offline. Here's why your brand better do it online, too.

At a young age we learn to be polite, listen, say "please" and "thank you," and respect those around us regardless of their socioeconomic status. So why do so many people get social media etiquette all wrong? Here’s the dos and don'ts of social media etiquette that will allow you to make better use of your time and develop deeper, more meaningful relationships.

1. Do listen.
This is your opportunity to find out exactly what your customers say about you and what they want. And—most important—remedy any issues they may have with your products or services.
Set up a social media listening post where you can monitor your brand and find out who is talking about it and what they are saying. Also, listen in on what the key influencers say and what people say about them. The more information you have, the better you can position yourself.

2. Do make time.
Social media is not a quick process. Look at the people in your offline social circles—those you hold closest. How long have you known them? How much time have you spent together? All of this time bonds strong relationships.

I am not saying you can't develop strong relationships online in a short period of time. What I am saying is if you want advocates for your brand, 10 minutes of exposure once a week is not going to cut it. If you want to receive the benefits of social media, be prepared to give.

3. Don't come across like a broken record.
This ties in with listening, and drills home the point that social media etiquette is more about listening than speaking, ranting, shouting or advertising your latest product. Say something new and different. Be opinionated.Share content that inspires you, infuriates you, or makes you laugh. You will find that many people will respond with their opinions and open conversations with you.

4. Do keep track of your engagements.
If the message, conversations and tone of your social media voice don't stimulate engagement, don't continue to allow that message to fall on deaf ears. It's a waste of time. Backtrack to see where and how conversations started and, without reinventing the wheel, see if you can reignite those flames. Or, use the same approach to spark further social media engagement.

5. Do respond in a timely fashion.
If you left a voice message with a company for someone to call you back, how long would you wait before you started to think they were ignoring you? Eight hours? Twenty-four hours? Three days?
If someone interacts with your business, asks a question, or makes a comment, you need to react quickly. That message may be from one person, but there are millions of others eavesdropping in the wings.

6. Don't be afraid to let go of your content.
Once you put content on social media, you have little to no control over where it ends up, what shape it takes, or the message it amplifies. Be aware that people will re-edit your company video and take the Mickey out of you. You are operating in a different world.

7. Do take care of how you represent yourself.
The Web is infamous for satire, and it is very easy to build high levels of feedback. Negative comments can snowball. If you make a mistake, other Web users may rip you to pieces. Remember that barriers-to-entry are low, but the standards are very high. You must plan your campaign. Pushing abject material out into the ether will not win over the hearts and minds of your potential audience.

8. Don't take social media lightly.
"Here today, gone tomorrow" is not an attitude you can afford to take when you develop a social media community. It is not good practice to update your online status twice in a two-hour period, and then only once the next week. Make a commitment to sit down for an allotted period each day to respond to people, ask questions, and share great content.

9. Don't highjack other people's subject matter.
Don't take somebody else's content, change the title, and brand it as your own. This is "scrapping," and it is the scourge of many content creators on the Internet. Instead, add a comment to the piece and share with your audience. Or, ask the content creator if it would be OK to use the content if you attribute it correctly. Most people create content with the intent of sharing it. Share it and attribute it.

10. Don't ignore negative comments.
Not everybody will like what you do or say online, but instead of seeing that as a negative, see it as a great opportunity to highlight the responsiveness and efficiency of your company's customer service.
When you show the social media community that you actually care about your clients' experience, you turn a soft cost customer service into a living, breathing entity.

11. Don't sell, sell, sell.
Social networks are not direct sales tools. They are places where you can develop a community of people who are interested in your brand and what it has to say. Not everyone in the community will spend money with your business, but that is OK. If they like what you say and share it with other people, more people will become aware of your brand and grow to like it.

Social media for business is about getting people to like, know and trust you. The more you communicate and have two-way dialogue, the more you will humanize your brand and grow a reputation in your niche.

A rule of thumb for social media etiquette is this: If you wouldn't do it in the real world while standing on a crowded bus, in a restaurant, or at a convention, don't do it!

What social media etiquette rules do you follow?

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