Getting started with social media as a small business owner can be tough, and learning the etiquette behind it isn’t much easier. The constant evolution of social networks can make it difficult to stay on top of best practices. Small business owners who only occasionally tap into these networks may find it hard to pinpoint and fully understand all of the nuances that act as unwritten usage rules for social media.
The more comfortable you become with social media, the more likely you are to forget that it’s still about business. A favorite quote of mine comes from my friend Jason Falls:
The more sales oriented you are, the less human you become. In today’s world, that often equates to fewer sales or at least a poor long-term sales strategy. The more human you are, the less businesslike you become. If you forget about business in that existence, you will suffer as well. It takes one to fuel the other.
You’ll achieve the most success when you have a balance of human and business elements. To help with achieving this balance, OutboundEngine created a guide on using Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter for Business.
When it comes to etiquette, behavior and what to do or not do, it takes practice to fully understand how these tips apply to your day-to-day behavior.
1. Complete All Aspects of Your Social Media Profiles
Social media accounts that are only partially completed are hard to take seriously because they automatically appear less professional. Choose a name or handle that easily identifies you and your business, and take the extra few minutes to thoughtfully fill out the “About You” information. Use your logo or a tasteful portrait of yourself for the avatar. First impressions are important and lasting.
2. Don’t Confuse Your Clients With Multiple Profiles on the Same Network
While it’s a good strategy to have a presence on all the social media platforms that most relate to your business, managing multiple profiles on the same network is cumbersome and may not be worth the extra effort. If you choose to keep your personal and professional personas separate on social media, be sure you’re consistent with the types of content you share via your business profile so your clients know which account to follow.
3. You Are What You Share
Use common sense when you share. What you put out there becomes a representation of you or your business in the social media landscape. But don’t let this stop you from making yourself known on topics that matter. Having no voice pertaining to your business and industry could be worse than a few people disagreeing with you. Be proud of who you are and what you represent as a business while staying aware of the image you’re crafting as a result.
4. Social Is About Relationships
Businesses use social media to both nurture existing relationships and develop new ones by sharing useful content. How often should you engage with your online “friends”? OutboundEngine automates updates to clients’ social media accounts about a dozen times a month for each of the big three networks — Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. This keeps fresh content front and center while freeing up our clients’ time. Plus each client is still able to post on their own, and they’re encouraged to do so.
5. Prioritize Your Networks
It may be tempting to try every new social media platform that sprouts up, but it’s dangerous to spread your marketing efforts too thin. To start, focus on the three top social platforms — LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Providing quality content via these outlets has a broad reach that’s worth your time and effort, no matter your industry.
6. Interact With Your Audience
Providing helpful content is nice, but it’s not all social media has to offer. Interacting with your followers is also key. See a question or comment on Twitter that you can answer? Send the person a friendly reply! Looking for recommendations? Ask your Facebook audience. Did you write a helpful, industry-specific post on your blog? Share it with your LinkedIn network. Build connections online just like you would in person.
Rather than leave a potential customer frustrated on Twitter, Coca-Cola quickly responded directly with a solution.
7. Don’t Be Needy
Don’t ask your Twitter followers to “please retweet,” and don’t beg your Facebook friends to “like” your page. Instead, get creative. You can still accomplish those tasks, but you’re better off earning them with helpful, shareworthy content.
8. Be Wary of Spam (and Don’t Be Spammy)
Not every Twitter follower is a flesh-and-blood person. How can you tell? If they’re following 20,000 people but have zero followers, chances are they’re fabricated. (And please don’t click on any links they might send you.) On the other side of the coin, don’t join 20 groups on LinkedIn and post the same self-promotional message in all of them, and then leave. That’s just rude!
9. Be Transparent to Gain Trust
Should you run into an issue that causes a flurry of criticism on social media, the worst thing you can do is try and hide from it. Rather than delete comments, try and respond the best you can, and don’t become defensive. Work to remedy the issue and let those who cared about it online know when it’s resolved.
10. Don’t Overshare
Successful social media abides by the Goldilocks principle — posting frequency isn’t too much or too little, but just right. Constant posting has a negative effect that can lead to quick unfollows and unsubscribes. With Twitter, you can tweet a half dozen times per day and be fine. On Facebook, aim for one to two posts a day, and the same goes for LinkedIn. The key is to be cognizant of your posting schedule; space out posts for optimal reach and minimal follower aggravation.
11. Entertain and Inform More Than You Sell
Though you’re in business to make money, that shouldn’t be the focus of the vast majority of your social media posts. Keep the 80/20 rule in mind here: 80 percent of the content you post or share should be entertaining or informative, while no more than 20 percent of your social media communication should directly relate to the goods or services you provide.
12. Match the Right Content to the Right Network
Each social media network has its own intended purpose and audience. Understanding this and matching your content and tone to the proper social media outlet is imperative for success. Here’s a breakdown: The casual community of Facebook makes engagement with others feel natural, while the industry-focused messaging of LinkedIn offers the perfect place to reach business professionals. Twitter handles rapid-fire conversation between both businesses and individuals, making it a useful platform regardless of the intended audience.
13. Avoid Poor Grammar and Spelling
Few things reduce your credibility as quickly as grammar mistakes and spelling errors can. To help avoid them, prep your social media updates in a document or spreadsheet and have a colleague proofread before you hit “share.”
14. Be Visual
Photos and videos can boost your social media strategy. Tweets that feature images earn 150 percent more retweets, are favorited 89 percent more, and lead to 18 percent more clicks. If your industry relies heavily on visuals (like real estate or interior design), consider adding social media platforms based on visual engagement, like Pinterest and Instagram, to your marketing repertoire.
15. DON’T WRITE IN ALL CAPS
ARE YOU MAD AT ME? DID I DO SOMETHING WRONG? Please, for the love of all things holy, stop with the all caps! Not only are they visually abrupt, but they also communicate that you’re upset about something.
16. Keep Your Brand Consistent Across Social Networks
Don’t lose your brand identity when you’re working across social media channels. Careful planning can help with this. First establish a clear vision of your brand before you set up your various accounts (or take the time to do so ASAP if you’ve already set them up), then hold to that vision as you post in each network. This can include using the same profile picture, business name and color scheme so you’re easily recognizable.
17. #Don’t #Abuse #Hashtags
Adding an appropriate hashtag (or two) connects your post to all other posts on that topic and with that hashtag. It’s a convenient way to categorize and subsequently search tweets and Facebook posts. That said, don’t turn every word in your post into a hashtag. That’s abuse. However, the hashtag rules are slightly different on Instagram. More on that here.
18. Stop Sharing the Exact Same Message Again and Again
It’s lazy and in poor taste to take the same social post and continue to share it over and over again on the same networks. (Exception: Twitter is the one platform that can handle a few repeats simply because your message can easily get lost.) If you want to revisit previous content, get creative with your delivery and reword it or use a new image rather than repeatedly reposting the same stale message.
19. Stay Away From Auto DMs
As you learn more about social networks, you’ll pick up on tips, tricks and tools others use. One Twitter option — the direct message (DM) — is a slippery slope. Resist the urge to send new Twitter followers an automated DM; it’s tacky. Instead, leave the DM for times when you need to have a one-on-one conversation with a follower and don’t automate your responses.
20. Share Without Expectations
Just because you’ve started putting time and effort into social media doesn’t mean you’ll see big results right away. Similar to starting out with your business, your reach may be slow at first until you make connections, build a reputation and develop a strategy. Consistency and patience can pay off.
21. Be Generous and Give Credit When Credit Is Due
This is especially true on Twitter. Nobody likes it when you steal a good update. Take the time to find the Twitter handle responsible for the original post and include it in your tweet. Send out thank you tweets to those who mention or retweet you. You can make some great connections when you play well with others on social media.
When an industry colleague congratulated OutboundEngine via Twitter on its “Best Places to Work” award, OE reached out with an appreciative direct reply.
22. Don’t Automate Across Platforms
If you’re using the same content across your social channels (and why shouldn’t you?), take the time to change the voice of the message to match the network. Though most social media platforms feature the time-saving option of multi-channel messaging, steer clear of it. Take the extra time to write an original message for each social media network based on its intended purpose and audience.
23. Think Before Tagging
Tagging others in photos is a great way to introduce you and your business to their friends, but before you do it, ask for permission. Many value privacy and don’t look kindly on others who call them out without warning. Unexpected tagging is a move that could cost you friends, fans or followers.
24. Don’t Fixate on the Numbers
It’s painfully easy to get caught up in the numbers game, but don’t. While having lots of Facebook fans and Twitter followers can be good, it really depends on the quality of those relationships. If you have 1,000 Twitter followers that are all spam accounts, your tweets are being delivered to an audience that doesn’t truly exist and won’t benefit from your social media efforts.
25. Have Fun
Just because you’re using social media for your small business doesn’t mean you should stop having fun with it! Try new ideas, post different types of content, and always keep your messages conversational. You’ll quickly learn that you can enjoy this part of your job.
With the social media landscape constantly evolving, the do’s and don’ts of etiquette for small business owners will also continue developing. Staying aware of current best practices and incorporating them into your social media strategy will keep your marketing efforts fresh and effective and your business top of mind.
Originally published 1/14/14; Updated 2/1/2017