Many small business owners are still learning how to navigate social media, and it’s one of the most frequent categories for questions in SCORE mentoring sessions:  “Should I be involved in social media?”  “Is Facebook or LinkedIn better for my business?”  “What should I be posting on social media sites?” and so on.

You might have a business and professional profile and even post from time to time on Facebook or LinkedIn.  Perhaps you're a frequent Twit, er, Tweeter.  Maybe you let the world know on FourSquare whenever you stop at Starbucks for a latte.  But the point of social media is to be social, so if you want to benefit from the interaction you have online, make sure that you're not inadvertently one of the villains.  Otherwise you'll not make the friends or build the influence and positive image you desire from being seen and heard there.

The Villains

  • The Braggart - "Hey world, look what I just did!"  Everybody has good things to share from time to time, but the Braggart's entire content consists of "Look at me!" posts.  If Facebook is where your family gathers you might find more tolerance for constant posts about your son Johnny's latest handstand.  But maybe not.  Be very clear about whether you are posting in a personal role or in a professional role, and manage your security settings so only the appropriate people are receiving your personal posts.
  • The Huckster - "Come buy my ____________(fill in the blank)!"  There is little tolerance in many quarters - on most LinkedIn discussion groups, for instance - when a newbie pops in and spams with a promo in the middle of other contributors' posts on economic policy.  Hucksters tend to stalk big discussion threads, thinking that they will have the biggest audience for their deal of the day.  Unfortunately for the Huckster, group leaders are now watching carefully, even screening posts before they appear online.  The intruder is likely to find the door slammed in his or her face.  In social media or outside of it, you have to earn the right to present your product or service by building relationship first.
  • The Borrowed Philosopher - It's great to share a pithy quote from time to time, but if the goal of social media is to get known online, other people's words won't help people get to know you.  If you don't have anything of your own to say, maybe it's better that you don't say it.  Otherwise the channel turns into a boring echo chamber of Pollyana-isms.  Perhaps this isn't exactly villainous, but it won't attract people to you and your business.
  • The Soapbox Stander - Certain media are more tolerant than others on this one.  Every person has the right to his or her views on social issues, politics, religion- the subjects that are controversial or even socially taboo for public discourse.  The Soapbox Stander becomes a villain when he or she can't have any other conversation, or when the tone becomes so strident that it becomes uncomfortable for other participants in the conversation.  It's best if the Soapbox Stander can find a group of likeminded ranters with whom to socialize, or a site where energetic argument is the stated goal.  Otherwise, can you spell “un-friend”?

Most people aren’t intentionally villainous online; it’s more a matter of being aware of what is and is not expected and wanted online.  If you aren’t active on social media yet, don’t assume that it’s only a snake pit and you’d better stand clear.  There are companies and individuals who have figured out how to capitalize on the “social” in social media – while providing benefit to other participants:

The Good Guys

  • The Appreciator – This person provides positive testimonials on products and services they have used in the community. This can be a particularly powerful way to be a good guy on social media, because a group of like-minded small businesses can make a tremendous positive impact on one another’s business opportunities.
  • The Connector - People do business with people they know, people they trust and people they like.  A helpful online friend can help someone in need of services (or of a contact) with someone they know. The best connectors know a lot of people, and bring their own positive reputation to bear for the mutual benefit of the people they are connecting.
  • The Educator – Customers and potential customers are smart, but it’s hard to know it all. Social media educators share knowledge and resources that can help people and companies to make better decisions, take advantage of opportunities, etc. This benefits the educator in the long run by establishing them as a trusted resource.
  • The Altruist – Because social media is so full of participants it can be a tremendous tool for doing good works. Altruists can rally community support, drum up financial resources or pull together volunteers to help others. The altruist is going beyond profit motive and embracing a responsibility for improving the community.

Social media is executed best when it is intentionally developed as part of an overall marketing strategy.  It has become such a powerful (and inexpensive) tool that it’s to the advantage of many small businesses to include it as part of their marketing mix. If you have questions about how to execute social media strategy in your business, contact SCORE and schedule a discussion. We’d be happy to help you.

And while you’re at it, click the social media icons on the homepage to connect to our National social media channels.

About the Author(s)

Julie Poland

Julie founded her coaching and results improvement firm Summit HRD in 1990, and has worked with peak performers from the board room to the front lines in more than 30 industries.  She is author of the leadership field book "Changing Results by Changing Behavior."

President & Mentor, York SCORE
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