The idea that a certain set of rules governs social media is both limiting and silly, especially as social media are evolving on a daily basis. Just a few short years ago, social media started with Internet sites like Friendster, MySpace and Facebook, then expanded into mobile with Twitter. The next evolution will be ubiquitous networking, what I call "social everywhere."
It seems to me that social media are moving so fast, technologically and socially, that the very idea of the "rules" is old-school thinking.
All Aboard Facebook, Even Executives
For example, the fastest-growing demographic on Facebook is now the over-30 set. This means for the first time business decision makers and senior executives are creating profiles and engaging on Facebook.
One hard and fast "rule" of social media has been to not put things on Facebook that you wouldn't want an employer or client to see. But that's exactly the wrong way to think about social media! The smarter approach is to think of Facebook as an expanded "life resume," and purposely put things on it that you would want an employer or client to see to gain real insight into your personal life -- hobbies, interests, talents ... all the stuff that presents you as an authentic person and not another black-and-white resume.
This is what I've done with my Facebook profile, and my firm's Archrival Facebook page. About six months ago I realized that many of our clients were on Facebook and most were already my "friends." This recognition completely changed my thinking about Facebook, elevating it from a personal networking tool (stay in touch with old friends) to a way to build transparent and genuinely personal relationships with clients and prospects.
There's something about browsing through someone's wedding pics, meeting their dog, etc., that makes you trust that person that much more. So I broke the "rules" and went out and found all of my clients on Facebook and friended them. They all reciprocated.
Now I make a point to stay in touch with each of them on an occasional basis -- sharing links, projects, or just making a comment on a photo they posted or a status update. Again, the only rule is "don't be boring."
The success of this approach can be measured by how fast our fan base grew for Archrival's Facebook page when we launched www.facebook.com/archrival. Following the launch, I emailed a notification to my friends, including client friends, and within a few days we had over 200 fans. The base is growing daily and receives significant traffic.
As our clients "fanned" us, a notice appeared in their newsfeeds to their friends and associates, whose curiosity led them to our public page, which resulted in growing awareness in new circles of decision makers.
One of the conventional rules that we will see fall as social networking continues to grow is the dichotomy between the business and personal spheres. Social networking creates the opportunity to make the two work together, and individuals who do it smartly will find success from being open and transparent with clients and employers.