Best Practices

Best Practices

Another in an on-going series of social business insights.

Having worked in social business for quite some time now, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, missteps, and outright fails. Luckily for you, that also means I’ve learned a few things along the way as well.

As it stands, I typically figure if I’ve learned something, most likely the rest of the world has learned it before me… but that doesn’t seem to be the case with social business, as I continually see and hear people making the same mistakes I did…  So I wrote up a few of what I consider to be some ‘best practices’ for playing in social spaces if your focus is on business and building value. Some of these may also apply from a personal perspective as well, but not all will.

Obviously this is not an exhaustive list, and will be updated from time to time as I come across new bits of insight and wisdom from my own experiences and yours as you share them with me:

  • Practical steps to getting started in Social Business: this is a quick start guide to help guide some best practices to get started in social business from either an enterprise level or small business level need.
  • Answer two questions to identify these two tenets of social business to guide you and build your frame-work for everything else you do. Know your goals and your audience before you build anything else.
  • Understand the risks and compromises to privacy and social engagement. When engaging in social business, or any social media, there is an inherent assumption of exposure. Building digital eminence is based on your network’s ability to identify you and connect you to your expertise. Know the risks and the rewards before you start building your profile in order to provide only the right amount of identifying information about yourself with conscious and informed intent.
  • Base your engagement in humanism:  Measure results, but not to the detriment of passion and the human elements of your employees. Those who have passion for your business will show more passion when also allowed to be passionate about things which don’t involve you.  Keep the holistic view of the social web in focus. Too fine a focus on just moving one metric will have a negative effect on all others.
  • Credit sources from whom you share: 
    This builds social stewardship and helps encourage others to create or share more as well. It also builds trust and authenticity as it exemplifies the transparent open communication. You may have seen this behaviour already in the form of: “hat-tip to”, “via”, “Thanks to”, “shared from”, etc. All great ways to note the source from whom you shared, and really a way to use your social currency in a symbiotic fashion. I tackled this topic previously in my posts on “Staying out of trouble by legally reusing photographs” and  the “Social Stewardship of Sharing“.
  • Add your own words when sharing links
    Provide context to indicate WHY your audience should click-through. Sell the link just like you’d build a great title for a blog post. If your tweet doesn’t tell me anything about the link, I’m not going to click-through. By showing your audience why you are sharing with some context or insight  you not only add value but you are also dramatically improving your own digital eminence.
  • Don’t retweet or share everything from another user/account: 
    Be discriminating/picky with what you reshare or retweet. By retweeting everything another account tweets, you are merely being an echo chamber and are not adding value to the conversation. In fact, you may actually be doing yourself and the person you’re retweeting a disservice by not filtering the really good content.
  • Tweet / share your own content as much or slightly more than you retweet/reshare others:
    Only retweeting content makes you just an aggregator. Add value to the space and create your own content as well as sharing others’. This will give your unique voice a chance to be heard which will show others why they should follow or listen to you.
  • Balance self promotion with sharing about others: 
    A continuation of the bullet abovee… Social sharing is a give and take. By promoting others you encourage good social steward behaviour and also show your own diverse interests and connections. In the social worlds people want to engage with people, not just listen to them talk about themselves.
  • Let your original content speak for itself:
    Asking for retweets or reshares comes off as an act of desperation. If your content is compelling, if you’ve shared it at the right times and you’ve given your audience a reason to share it out, they will. Asking for them to do so won’t get you the results you are looking for. More on this in my prior post titled “The etiquette of retweet requests (and how to improve your reach)“.
  • Post with a well thought out level of regularity: 
    One post a week will not a thought leader make. With the flow of information all around us, you need to stand out time and time again with consistency. But be careful to not flood your audience either. There is a fine balance between providing just enough to keep your audience engaged, and tipping the scales to where your audience is more annoyed by your posts than intrigued. “Flow, cadence, rhythm, and frequency” all work together to find that balance.
  • Help your content be seen by your global audience using time-shifted tweets or Facebook posts. Posting the same content across time zones will increase your reach substantially by making sure your content is being seen when your audiences are watching their streams.
  • Know when your audience is most likely to see your posts:
    Timing your posts for your target audience is critical. Posting content about a west-coast beach bonfire party won’t be seen by the right audience if you are posting at 9am Eastern time. Knowing when your readers are most likely to be scrolling their timelines (an hour after start of business, lunchtime, and hour before close of business, early evenings while on the couch catching up) will help ensure your posts are at their peak of visibility. If your audience is global, duplicating your posts for the appropriate time zones will make sure all your targeted regions see your content.
  • Respond to @mentions, direct messages, questions: 
    This is the whole social part of being social. You don’t need to go overboard and respond to everything (some don’t necessitate responses, and some trolls just simply shouldn’t be responded to), but especially when you are building your networks you should be responding and engaging with people as much as possible.
  • Respond in a timely fashion
    When people mention or tag you in social channels, do your best to respond as quickly as you can. People appreciate quick replies, even if it just to say: “Let me go find out..”. Responsiveness is a critical trait in communication… if you respond days later, you may even end up looking worse than if you never responded at all. Setting up triggers or notifications to alert you to messages which require response can go far in helping you achieve more timely replies. Best effort IS a best practice.
  • Engage with others:
    Don’t just push your own messaging; comment and reply to other’s posts. Showing authentic interest in what others say will help build your network of connected and engaged users with increased loyalty and passion. In turn this will help others become more interested and engaged in what you have to say.
  • Empower yourself and your employees to engage as themselves, in their own way: 
    Enable yourself and those in your organization to actively and consistently engage on their own in the social spaces. Rather than “command & control”, take the “open & transparent” method of engagement by being yourself, and allowing your employees to do the same. I point out an example of this in my prior post aptly titled: “Command & Control“.
  • Build trust and credibility with your network, not sales pitches:
    Social networking, and social business more specifically, isn’t about making sales pitches or product plays. It is, instead, about building networks of trusted and engaged individuals who will see you for what you are: authentic, credible, trust worthy, and a good resource around topics on which you have expertise.
  • Know the limits of your expertise and use your network to everyone’s benefit: 
    Be an SME (subject matter expert) for topics you know; don’t try to be an SME for everything. Acknowledge when you don’t know and then go find the right answer or connect your network to find the answer using @mentions or tagging in Facebook / Google+.
  • Use hashtags / tags:
    Using appropriate hastags on twitter and Google+ (the act of placing a # character before an unbroken phrase or word)  will create links to your content through the rest of the network resulting is more potential visibility. After all, that IS the biggest hurdle for us all in this space: being seen. Hashtags are the single easiest method to help your content be findable by all, not just those who follow you. But be judicious in your use of hashtags; don’t abuse their capabilities, use too many in single posts, or blindly use tags without knowing the potential impact.
  • “It takes empathy”:
    A great post from Brian Solis which calls out a critical piece to social engagement and transformation ( Brian explains how the activity in social is just a part of the whole, that empathy and emotional listening (not just monitoring) is really the heart of building strong social relationships that will be mutually beneficial in the long haul.
  • Know the hidden costs before you start:
    Before embarking on your own social business quest to build a presence and reap the benefits of social engagement, stop and take a look at what it really takes to run a successful blog or other social media account.  Now, plan your social strategy accordingly and with care to allow for more time to achieve the successes you desire.


Have you seen these behaviours before, for better or worse? Have insights of your own to share? Let me know in the comments here (or in the comments on any of my social presences where I’ve shared this out) and I’ll continue adding to this post as a collaborative reference point fully crediting any additions you provide. I expect to keep this post as a living document, updating and tweaking as I continue to learn from my own mistakes and from you all as you share your own insights as well.


Document Version Info:

1.6 – Edited to add social tenets: February 12th, 2014
1.5 – Edited to add privacy bullet: August 29th, 2013
1.4 – Edited to add best effort as a best practice link: May 10th, 2013
1.3 – Edited to add links to Adding context and increasing digital eminence: April 15th, 2013
1.2 – Edited to add getting started guide at beginning, as well as other tid bits throughout: March 14th, 2013
1.1 – Edited to add “Know the hidden costs before you start”: September 28th, 2012, 2:00pm PDT
1.0 – Originally posted: June 29th, 2012, 1:00pm PDT


Image credit: (cc) Flickr user Rosaura Ochoa



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