Promoting Politely: What's Naughty and Nice Business Etiquette on Social Networks

by Peg Corwin on December 30, 2008

Cake made from ZandaPanda Mold

Cake made from ZandaPanda Mold

How should you promote your product or service politely on social networks?  That’s in essence Sandra’s question.  Here’s how this ZandaPanda bakeware owner expresses it:

What bothers me somewhat is that everyone agrees that it’s bad form to try to market directly, but to me it also feels a bit deceitful not to. I very much like the idea of trying to offer something useful and being open and transparent, but then pretending that I don’t want people to buy my product feels a little false or manipulative. Sometimes I’ve just admitted that I’m shamelessly promoting my website or Facebook page and please become a fan.   That feels a little more ‘honest’ even if it might also be a bit rude. What do you think?

I’ve surfed around and pulled together this advice for her, and for you too, as you network to promote your business.  (If you’re a Web 2.0 pro, please weigh in on this advice.)

Cover Marketing Basics

Let’s assume that Sandra’s personal and business profiles have all the right keywords, that she’s joined relevant groups, that she has recommendations from satisfied customers in those profiles, or maybe on her “wall.”  Now let’s say she’s also searched by industry, keyword, or geography to come up with what we used to call prospects, and now loosely term “potential friends.”

Polite Promo Guidelines

Recognize that different social networks have different promotional rules and mores.

Some networks like MySpace is very promotion-friendly, but others like Facebook and Linkedin have tighter rules and are focused on friendships and networking. While some feel that Twitter is becoming too promotional, you can be a good Twitter citizen and promote in 140 characters.  See links below for guidelines from others about specific social networks.

Join Groups and participate in discussions.

Become a known and trusted part of the community before you mention your business.  First listen and give.  Groups offer more promotional latitude than individual network contacts, but still be lowkey.  The idea is pull, not push – to attract people so they want to learn more about you as a result of your knowledge and resources, not to push your products or services to them.  Reciprocity and gratitude are also important.

In general, make the first contact with an individual brief, factual and friendly, not promotional.

Sandra might find cake bakers and email them saying, “Hi there, I see we share an interest in cakes.  Would you like to connect?”  When you make a friend request, specify what you share.  People will often check out your profile to learn more.

Follow up with something substantive, something engaging.

A couple weeks, a month later, Sandra might send an email offering something useful — a recipe she likes, or something free.  For example “I just wanted to let you know I just found a GREAT video on decorating a wedding cake and uploaded it to my ZandaPanda Facebook page.  Since you follow cakes, you might want to check it out.”   Or she might ask a question like “What’s you’re biggest baking problem?  I’m working on a blog post and I’d like your opinion.”

After you provide something of value, I think it’s ok to close with something like:  “To have the most creative cake on your block and to keep up with silicone bakeware’s amazing capabilities, please become a fan of Zanda Panda.”

Don’t spam or overwhelm your Friends and Fans

Don’t overwhelm your new friends or fans (of your Facebook page) by sending too many emails.  For friends in Facebook, consider making wall comments rather sending emails.  Send only one or two Fan updates a month.  These can be promotional because fans opt into a Facebook page.

Speaking generally about social networks, Clay Olivier, in Social Networks Change the Online Retail Game, warns marketers to avoid a relentless pitch:

While social media can certainly be a suitable platform to announce specials and news related to your business, constantly pitching your own products while providing no added value is one way to lose reader interest fast. …Instead, keep the members of your target market engaged by sharing resources they want, even if it is a relevant article, video or news piece that is not about your business! Providing resources that are truly valuable to members of your network will keep them coming back to check out your profile. Use this technique to effectively build interest in what you have to say, and your intermittent marketing messages will have a greater impact.

Encourage your satisfied customers to promote you to your target audiences

You can ask others to talk about your products and services.  Research shows that third party recommendations are more credible than those from you.  If your client sends you an email or gives you a compliment on the phone, why not ask them to post on your wall or email their friends about your great product, or to share your latest video or pic of a new product they tried and loved.  Something like:  “See the pic of the cake I just baked.  Used ZandaPanda’s SuperChocolate mold.”

We’re all feeling our way here.  What do you call polite promotion in social networks?  Please help Sandra and I out.  Leave a comment with your advice about polite promotions.

Related links:

Do’s and Don’ts for Commenting on Blogs and in Forums

The Creation of Twitter Best Practices Round 1 from the pros at Ogilvy Public Relations, in their Twitter Strategy Series.  9 Dos and 5 Don’ts, including “Don’t use Twitter to push your ad or brands.”   See also the blogger code of ethics.

Guidelines for Brands Using Twitter “If you come out of the gate talking about your products out of context, you’ll come across as self serving and get tuned out. Offer value first—prove that you are listening and do something that no-one else is doing.”

Big Brands and Facebook. “Facebook marketing requires communications, not advertising.”

Interactive PR:  Social networks Advantages and disadvantages of interactive promotion techniques on social networks, with examples.

Etiquette for Linkedin and the Professional Networking World Liz Ryan of WorldWIT’s Ten Tips: LinkedIn Etiquette

The Ultimate Social Media Etiquette Handbook, with discussions of no-nos in Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Friendfeed, YouTube, Stumbleupon, blogging and commenting, etc.  She doesn’t think Facebook is for business.

Social Networking vs Advertising. An alternative to advertising in a social network.  Your strategy should be to listen to what the other person does and introducing them to a resource or potential client.  Give to get.


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