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The rules of social media engagement: All of them.


The Internet is a largely unregulated place. Sure, corporate lawyers try and throw their muscle around when they sniff a suit, but the reality is, there are no rules. still exists over a decade on; spam continues to infiltrate from the darkest corners of the globe and short of selling kiddie porn, you can get away with anything you want; no matter how bizarre, how random (WTF?), how sick or how depraved. It’s the interwebs. That’s the way we like it. The less rules, the better, just as long as you’re not hurting anyone.

Daniel Oyston, my favourite Canberra-based writer since the late (great) Matt Price, wrote a lovely little piece yesterday about the rules of social media engagement – the ones that have been made up by social media commentators along the way. He questioned whether we should try and follow them, or just give up and let the marketers do what they want.

He knew the answer of course; dumb marketers will corrupt anything to make a quick buck. As former Naked exec Mat Baxter said over at MumBrella the other day: “We’re aware of the hypothetical rules in this sphere – there are a lot of people out there who claim to have the rule book. But the reality is that it will be shaped by what the consumer will tolerate.”

If a client ever comes to me asking for a stategy their consumers will ‘tolerate’, I will resign, on the spot (not once the press gets hold of it, not after no-one can believe what I’ve said anymore because I’ve lied to them in the past) because I will know right then and there that I have failed in my fundamental role as a marketing consultant, whose fundamental job is to build relationships with people; long-lasting ones. Profitable ones. Ones built on mutual respect.

Go to any party and the most popular person is the one who talks the loudest. They’re the one with the best stories (even if you know they’re lies); the one you tolerate because they’re good for a laugh after a few beers. They have the most friends when everyone is drunk and doesn’t care, but when people need someone to rely on, when they’re moving house, breaking up, falling in love and falling over, they’re the person you call after you’ve spoken to your real friends. If you want people to rely on your brand, you don’t want to be that person. You don’t want to lie to people.

You want to be the first person they call.

I’ve been lucky in the last few months to work with a bunch of clients who understand that fundamental value – that in an age where customer recommendations fly around the planet at the speed of light, 87% of people trust their friends opinions and only 14% trust ads any more (Source: Neilsen Global Trust in Adversiting urvey, 2007), any marketing strategy not built on trust is doomed to fail. I get to launch two massive social media campaigns in the coming months. One involves a company with a bigger presence in this country than McDonalds – another one involves a drink brand that outsells Coke in Queensland. It’s going to be interesing to put my money where my mouth is for those, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share the rules of social media engagement as I outline them to clients. These rules were born out of The Cluetrain Manifesto (a must read for anyone who thinks customers are happy to ‘tolerate’) and have grown up quickly after watching countless stupid marketers fuck their clients over by recommending social media strategies that take consumers for granted.

If you’re running a social media campaign, or a business for that matter, forget any other rules you’ve heard. Forget what the latest, greatest theory is, forget what your new Twitter hero said last night, forget what your lecturer said at uni, forget what your mate said at the pub, forget what your boss recommended, forget what the client says they want. These are the rules you need to obey:

Rule 1: Treat your customers the same way you’d treat your friends.

That is all.

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9 Responses to The rules of social media engagement: All of them.

  1. Zoe Scaman says:

    Completely agree.

    I have a client who wants to do ‘something’ in the social media space but only if they can delete the negative comments people write about them…

    Unfortunately i couldn’t jump up on the desk and dance around with my fingers in my ears singing “la la la i can’t hear you”…because that would be rude.

    I smiled sweetly and suggested that maybe social media wasn’t the right avenue for them at this point in time.

  2. Real friends don’t talk behind each other’s backs. If companies were serious about engaging, and building long-lasting relationships built on trust, they wouldn’t be scared of letting their customers tell them what they really think!

  3. Jye Smith says:

    Brilliant. Love it.

  4. Nathan Bush says:

    Awesome Matt -was scrolling down ready for a list and it stopped at one. And I completely agree. Good work.

  5. Nice one mate, I said the same thing in a meeting the other day – “Don’t be an asshat.”

    Of course your phrasing may have been a touch more appropriate πŸ™‚

  6. Katie Harris says:

    Nice one Matt.

    (Thank you for adding your link).


  7. Matt, I like the simplicity of your idea but suspect there might be some potential implementation issues. This idea is based on the premise that everyone likes what you & your friends like. This might not always hold true. However, I applaud the underlying idea of putting the needs of the customer first. Because that seems to be the key to your idea, & putting the needs of the customer or audience first is the foundation for successful social media engagement.

  8. @Kate, umm, it’s got nothing to do with common interests, it’s about respect and relationship-building. Thanks for chiming in though!

  9. I’m with Matt on this.

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