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20 social media rules you should never break

20 social media rules you should never break Kent Lewis
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Last year, I wrote "9 social media marketing rules you should break." The idea was to dispel the mythology around a few outdated social media best practices. The article built on a much older piece I wrote in 2011, "9 ways to lose friends and alienate people in social media," which took a more direct approach to explaining the dangers of following social media "worst practices." In the spirit of these articles, we thought it might be interesting to revisit the topic from a "definitive best practices" standpoint, but with a fresh set of eyes (and perspectives from my Anvil teammates). Without further ado, here are the top 20 social media rules you should never break.

Choose your channels wisely

Choose the right platform for your brand. Don't try to conquer all channels. You may enjoy Snapchat, but that doesn't mean it's your customer's platform of choice. Furthermore, you can do harm to your brand if you half-ass status updates on lesser platforms or even stop posting updates altogether.

Consistency trumps all

Consistent updates build trust and respect, as well as keep your brand top-of-mind. Creating a similar voice, messaging, and imagery across your social channels also provides clarity and harmony. However, this does not translate to cross-posting identical content across all social profiles.

Be authentic with conversations

Never automate responses and always respond to direct messages. Avoid automated responses (direct message or otherwise) even for new followers. Automated responses look insincere and may be treated as spam and blocked. Ignoring direct messages damages credibility. Aim to respond to any inquiries or issues within 24 hours. 

Inform and/or entertain

Consumers are real people, so don't beat them over the head with product sales pitches. Engage followers, build trust, and add value, and they will return the favor by being a fan and future customer.

Timing is everything

Evaluate platform analytics regularly to determine the best time to post based on impressions and engagement rates. While Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. may have been the optimal time to post last month or year, there is no guarantee that is still the case today.

Social media demands social brands

Above all, brands engaging via social media must respect the space. Users who choose to follow a brand on Facebook are welcoming that brand into a privileged space. In the Facebook feed, Red Bull speaks and shares alongside your aunt in Chicago who is battling breast cancer, the college roommate who just had her first child, and the parents, grandparents, and friends who all count themselves among the one billion users of the social network. Brands must not take this privilege or the accompanying responsibility lightly. Their approach and style must be adjusted so as to not provide a jarring voice or persona that will quickly lose its privileged place at the table. (Source: "Social Media's Second Act.")

Take it offline

Whenever possible, take conversations offline, particularly with unhappy customers or constituents. Carrying on public conversations with "trolls" can draw unwanted attention from current customers or prospects. For bonus points, create a crisis plan to reduce costly missteps when issues arise.

Share the love

When someone mentions you in a post, thank them with a shout-out. There are many ways to say "thank you." In order, from good to great: 1) Favorite/like the update, 2) share/retweet, and 3) reply with a personalized "thank you" note.

Reference your sources

When you quote, repost, or retweet somebody else, link back to the source if possible. Consumers expect to click on a link that will lead them to the desired source material.

Use high-quality images (and video)

Use high-quality JPEGs whenever possible. The additional clarity reflects well on your brand. Conversely, do not use transparent background PNG images. This is particularly true for profile pictures/avatars. Also, make sure you have an avatar-friendly version of your company logo for your social profiles. Most new logos are designed to fit nicely in a square or circle profile frame. For example, we designed the Anvil logo with social media in mind. When possible, take video instead of photos, as video is the most engaging and memorable media form factor (five times more engaging than text). Images can be compelling on Instagram thanks to filters, but 15 seconds of video can tell a story photos cannot. Even six-second Vine videos on Twitter offer compelling engagement opportunities. With faster mobile bandwidth and high-resolution HD cameras standard on smartphones, there is no reason not to take advantage of video capabilities.

Always triple-check

Always triple-check links and spelling. While Facebook and Instagram offer edit options on your posts and Twitter allows you to delete tweets, you never know who may have seen the error in the brief seconds or minutes it was live. Your edit history is visible to users, so best to minimize unprofessional-looking posts.

Tag away

Understand how to properly use hashtags and geo-tags to maximize reach and engagement. Research and test the optimal number of hashtags and when to geo-tag.

Get to the point

Just because Twitter allows up to 140 characters (for the time being) doesn't mean you should use them all. Leave room for followers to retweet you or add commentary. For example, @KentjLewis is 11 characters, so my maximum tweet character count should be 129. If you make it easy for people to retweet, then you will be more likely to amplify your reach as a result. If you are serious about maximizing your visibility and engagement on Twitter, consider even shorter posts (80 to 100 characters) to make room for a few hashtags.

Save the sex, religion, and politics for later

As the old adage goes, stay away from the big three taboo subjects, particularly on LinkedIn, which is a professional network. If you must express personal beliefs, use Facebook or Twitter, but even then do it with caution, as you never know who's reading it and how it may impact that relationship in the future. That being said, it doesn't mean you shouldn't share opinions. Having a point of view is important to separate yourself from the crowd.

Tweet ".@" to be seen

Never start a tweet with an "@" symbol. Always put a character (like a period) in front of the "@" symbol to make sure everyone can see your tweet. Otherwise, it appears as a conversational tweet that will only appear to users who follow both accounts and makes you look like an amateur.

Landscapes please

Do not hold your phone vertically for videos. Maximize the screen real estate with horizontal "landscape" style videos. The same is true for most pictures, with the exception of maximizing real estate on Instagram, where default photos are square. When posting photos to Instagram, the best photos are zoomed versions of vertical photos, otherwise the subject matter is often too small or cropped out.

Never "like" or favorite your own post

This may sound obvious, but it can be tricky when you have multiple profiles linked to your account, particularly on Facebook. For example, Anvil is the default profile when I "like" updates on Facebook, instead of my personal profile. As a result, I sometimes accidentally "like" Anvil posts as Anvil instead of as Kent.

Place URLs thoughtfully

Posts on Twitter and Instagram that include mentions of other profiles (with an @ sign), hashtags (with a # sign), and URLs (for embedded images or external links) can become overwhelming. Since all of these elements show up as clickable hyperlinks, the reader can become confused. While embedding images, links, and hashtags are all best practices, they can muddle the message and reduce conversion rates. Consider making the external URL the first clickable link in the post to maximize click-through rates.

Hash it out

Furthermore, limit your hashtags to three on Twitter and six on Instagram, and place them at the end of your post to maximize readability. Although hashtags are searchable on Facebook, using them is not considered a best practice. If engagement is your primary objective, use all 30 hashtags on Instagram posts. To save time, you can store your most common hashtags in your notes. If you don't like the way a few dozen hashtags makes your post look, you can post your cloud in a separate comment. It's a good way to boost visibility and engagement, and can be deleted later for vanity purposes, yet you retain the engagement stats.

Don't pay for followers

The follower count on your profile will look great, but the return on your investment will not carry through as most paid followers are spam bots and/or not relevant.

Special thanks to the following members of the Anvil team who provided a majority of the ideas for this article: Jeshe Burch, Melissa Fears, Julian Connors, and Tom Briggs.

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With a background in integrated marketing, Lewis left a public relations agency in 1996 to start his career in search engine marketing. Since then, he’s helped grow businesses by connecting his clients with their constituents via the...

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