Social media etiquette

March 1, 2012

With more and more progressive organisations, candidates and unions getting into social media, the concept of etiquette is increasingly important. Most social media networks have unwritten rules of etiquette, particularly the smaller social networks (like new kid on the block Pinterest).

I’ve written before about email etiquette, and how it is important that you treat the recipients of your emails (or tweets, or Facebook messages, etc) with respect.

With more and more people using social media to provide feedback, make a complaint or follow up on an inquiry, guidelines for social media etiquette are increasingly relevant. It’s also worth noting that “social media” encompasses the big two — Facebook and Twitter — but also includes traditional blogs and email as well. The essence of “Web 2.0” is interactivity and having a dialogue.

Over at Knowledge Wharton, there’s a useful list of three things that organisations can do to “master” social media etiquette:

Saying ‘thank you’: Staff from online eyeglasses retailer Warby Parker send thank you notes to bloggers who write about the company, said Tim Riley, director of online experience for the firm. “It doesn’t matter if they have one or one million followers. We try to treat each blogger exactly the same,” he noted. “That helps us establish a relationship from the start. Hopefully people will then be more inclined to write about us on an ongoing basis.”

Getting personal: Panel moderator Kartik Hosanagar, a Wharton operations and information management professor, told a story about the personalized service that Zappos offered a customer who was going through a rough patch. A member of Zappos’ social media team read a blog post in which a consumer wrote about the recent death of her mother and mentioned that she didn’t have time to return a pair of shoes to the retailer. “Zappos had a truck sent to her place to pick up the shoes,” Hosanagar said. In addition, the company sent the woman a bouquet of flowers. “Customer interaction with retailers is ultimately transactional on the one hand, but with social media,you can create a one-on-one relationship.” Hosanagar noted, however, that the situation can also become challenging for retailers because they must extend the intimate relationship offline, when shoppers come to their bricks-and-mortar locations.

Targeted training: Dennis McEniry, president of Estee Lauder’s online business, said that the company provides targeted training and advice for employees interacting with consumers via social media. “Rather than trying to train our customer service people to speak online, we took makeup artists and beauty advisors and taught them” to give followers on Twitter, for example, suggestions and tips for using various products, McEniry said. The second group of people who speak online on behalf of Estee Lauder includes community managers who are in charge of social media for particular brands. “The third group is general employees. While we encourage them to speak on behalf of the brand they work for, we train them about what to say and what not to say,” and other do’s and don’ts during a two-day course, he adds. “We are more worried about what they say, or how they say it, than their active participation [in social media.] We also have a rule that any employees using these tools have to reveal that they work for a particular brand.”

These are all good pieces of advice, and although they are principally focused on the private sector and small business, there are many parallels to progressive organisations, non-profits, political candidates and unions.

For example, you should acknowledge donors and members (or delegates) who contribute significantly to your cause. With more and more journalists and amateur journalists using social media or blogging, a thank-you when your story is picked up can contribute to your good relationship.

All of your communications, whether to union members, or constituents (for politicians) should be personalised — and your organisation should have a member database (customer relationship management, CRM tool) that allows you to make notes on important milestones or events (birthdays, existence of children, and so on) so you can be aware and sensitive to personal circumstances.

Finally, the training advice is essential — you should train your front-line people — organisers, campaigners, service officers — in how to use social media effectively.

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