Five Rules for Responsible Social Marketing

  “I am baking cream cheese cupcakes this morning.”  A colleague of mine tweeted this and got a message within a few minutes that said something like: “Become a fan of Brand X cream cheese” Now, wait a minute. Where did that come from?



“I am baking cream cheese cupcakes this morning.” 

A colleague of mine tweeted this and got a message within a
few minutes that said something like:

“Become a fan of Brand X cream cheese”


Now, wait a minute. Where did that come from?

Unfortunately, we can expect a lot more of this in the
future. I say “unfortunately”, because this is clearly bad for business. At worst,
it will erode the power of the social channel; at best, it will become the
social equivalent of email spam – essentially transparent clutter in our
inboxes.  With Facebook’s and Twitter’s
new “publicity” policies, most people’s conversations are now exposed to those
willing to pay for them. These are not “privacy” policies, because you automatically
agree to share your information, unless you manually opt-out. First of all, how
many people truly understand the issue, and second, how many know how to
opt-out?  Not many on either account.

Why is this bad for business?  To paraphrase Henry L. Stimson, a U.S. statesman,
“nice people don’t read each other’s correspondence.” This means eavesdropping on
conversations, or snooping on email, Twitter, or Facebook posts.  Since most people are not aware that they are
being followed; they will be shocked and pissed when they find out.


So practice responsible social marketing. Here are some of
my own guidelines:

  1. Don’t
    connect with people beyond the context of the relationship
    – if people
    sign up on your website to get a monthly newsletter, don’t assume you can send
    them a message every week with your latest announcements.
  2. Social
    outreach needs to be subtle
    – use Twitter and Facebook to create real
    communities where participants get value for participating. Pummeling
    prospects with ads or product pitches through these channels is
    inappropriate. Recently, I see more and more companies following me on
    Twitter. I don’t really think this is a good thing.
  3. Respect
    people’s privacy online, even if you don’t have to.
    It is one thing to
    follow someone on Twitter, it is another thing to mine Tweets to build a
    prospect list. Just because I tweet that I am baking cream cheese muffins,
    doesn’t mean I want to be a cream cheese fan. This is really tricky,
    because this type of outreach can be a good way to find people who share
    your interests, but you need to be careful.  Err on the side of caution. The price of
    pissing people off is high when you are playing with your organization’s
    brand equity. Even if you don’t agree that this is inappropriate, others
    might. Would you like to see your “campaign” exposed in popular blogs as
    an example of inappropriate marketing behavior
  4. “Social”
    means that interaction is two-way
    . Connect in ways that don’t trigger
    “fight or flight.” When you join a community, listen at first to
    understand the conversation, and then join the ongoing thread. Don’t try
    to divert the conversation to your agenda. How many times have you seen
    people join a LinkedIn group and immediately send out blasts offering
    their professional services?  This
    is such a turnoff. Would you actually hire someone like that?
  5. Approach
    people in a respectful manner
    – how do you feel when someone on an
    airplane eavesdrops on your conversation, and then butts in with comments?
    It is no different online. Letting people know how you reached them, and
    providing a context for why they might be interested in interacting with
    you, is not only good manners, it is good business.

As always, I would like to hear about others’ experiences
and hear more suggestions.



About the author

A technology strategist for an enterprise software company in the collaboration and social business space. I am particularly interested in studying how people, organizations, and technology interact, with a focus on why particular technologies are successfully adopted while others fail in their mission. In my 'spare' time, I am pursuing an advanced degree in STS (Science, Technology, and Society), focusing on how social collaboration tools impact our perceptions of being overloaded by information. I am an international scholar for the Society for the History of Technology.


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