There's just something about the anonymity of sitting behind a computer screen that makes people do stupid things. Few but the boldest sales person would walk into a class reunion and try to close a sale with the alumni at their table, even fewer would walk up to a stranger's table at a restaurant to start shilling their offerings. Nonetheless this very thing happens every single day in the realm of social media. People walk smack dab into the middle of conversations and start hocking their wares without a second thought.

That brings me to the third lesson in this series: Don't be a social media jackass.

In this six part series, I'll be exploring six valuable lessons you can learn from the classic story of Pinocchio and offering up some input on how to apply it to your own marketing plans. If you are just joining the series, catch up on past articles:

Six Lessons from a Wooden Boy: Part One: Search Engines Want to be Real Boys

Six Lessons from a Wooden Boy: Part Two: Online Reputation Means Straight Talk

Life Has Rules and So Does Social Media

pinocchioass.gifIn the story of Pinocchio, the wooden boy eventually finds his way to Pleasure Island and makes friends with a boy named Lampwick. On Pleasure Island, little boys break all the normal rules of society. They drink, they smoke, they swear and they gamble. Of course there's a price for these actions; over time, the boys gradually turn into donkeys. It's not until Lampwick transforms into a donkey and Pinocchio sprouts a donkey tail and ears that he makes the choice to leave the island with Jiminy Cricket.

The world of social media really isn't so different. Social media has rules of engagement just like society. In fact, the rules of social media very carefully mimic the rules of real life interactions. Social Media users are expected to be polite, to listen more than they talk, to offer more than they take and to generally, behave themselves in an upright, pleasant and professional manner.

Unfortunately, one too many businesses takes a look at the perceived party atmosphere and dives in head first without giving second thought to the consequences of their actions. They hear about how many companies are increasing profits via social media and they run in with both guns blazing and no second thought to how to engage their audience. They throw the rules of society out the window and focus on doing what they think will most benefit them.

Like Pinocchio and Lampwick in a land without rules, they often end up making asses of themselves.

Find Your Balance

While doing business in the land of social media really isn't that different from doing business anywhere else, the stakes can be a little higher. Make a bad impression by pushing too hard at a Chamber of Commerce meeting and you're likely only going to offend a few local business owners. Do it on Twitter or LinkedIn and the ripple effect could extend around your industry and around the world.

That said, there are four simple things you can focus on that will help you navigate the sometimes choppy social media waters.


1. Listen: Make Sure You Don't Dominate the Conversation

listeningsmm.jpgThe absolute biggest, most unbreakable rule of social media is to listen. If you do absolutely nothing else in social media, it should be this. Why? Because the biggest value in social media is the insight you can gain from getting to know your customers.

You can listen to your target audience talk about your company, your competitors and even just about the problems they face in every day life and the solutions they've found for them. You can ask questions and listen to the feedback. You can ask for ideas and suggestions.

You'll notice how often the world listen got used in this section...there's a reason for that. Listen. Listen two to three times more than you talk. It will pay off, I promise.

2. Connect: Make New Friends and Keep the Old

friendssmm.jpgThe second biggest benefit to building a social media presence is your ability to connect with people. Social media can provide an avenue to build a stronger relationship with the casual acquaintances you already have in the industry and the social side of it can help you daisy chain those relationships to get introductions to other people you might like to connect with as well.

Listening in to the conversation is great (and highly useful) but it's not until you begin interacting and building relationships that you really start reaping the full reward.

Of course the key points there are "connecting" and "building relationships." You can't simply hone in on a few people and start talking at them, you need to find the people who have similar interests and begin finding ways to build those friendships and business relationships. Doing that takes time and taking the time to do it the right way "protects" you from accidentally breaking the rules and looking like a common fool.

3. Add Value: Find Unique and Genuine Ways to Help

helpsmm.jpgOnce you've taken the time to listen to the conversation and find ways to begin building relationships, the next step is to add value. Social media is about the collective sharing and spreading and development of knowledge. It's about building resources and becoming resources.

Like many other areas of life, the people who work the hardest to help others often reap the greatest rewards. Those who spend time lazing around and leeching off of others enjoy brief moments of success before finding themselves in a heap of trouble, often doing more work than they needed to in the first place. (Much like the boys who turned into donkeys and were hauled off to work the salt mines in Pinocchio.)

By the time you've reached point three, you really should have spent enough time listening and building relationships to have some idea of what your online community needs. Sit down and figure out how to meet those needs and you'll start building the type of reputation that builds your bottom line.

4. Measure: Know What You Want to Get from the Experience

measuresmm.jpgFinally, you need to have some idea of what you are looking to get from the experience. There's no sense investing your time in social media without some type of goal. Keep in mind, your goal doesn't have to be sales may be as simple as establishing at least one new industry contact a week or building a network you can gather feedback from for future product launches.

Whatever your goal is, make sure you identity if before you begin building your social media strategy. Your goals will heavily influence the strategy you put together and finding ways to track your results will hold you accountable for the time you are investing.

Up Next

Pinocchio may have found it fun to hang out on Pleasure Island soaking up bad living and doing whatever he pleased...but it didn't take long before he began to see the consequences of those actions. Life in social media is similar. Spend too much time ignoring the "rules" of society and you'll end up looking like a jackass.

In the next lesson in the series, we'll take a look at what Jiminy Cricket has to do with online marketing.

Images courtesy of creative commons license from Flickr users Carbon NYC, Eric Schipul, Ed Yourdon and Aussiegall.

January 6, 2009

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.


Jennifer - thank you for that! Terrific ideas, ideals and achievable goals!


I took away from you more than I left this time. Where do I fill out the IOU?

Great stuff. I like the pie graphic, but I would make listening at least half the total experience. Ah, there I go, breaking my own rule and telling other bloggers what to do.

You are now on my Must Read list. Thanks!


You always seem to have written something relevant that applies to me when I visit. Today is no exception. I am writing a about link building and adding value. Your site is mentioned in the article as a quality resource.

When I arrived here today I was happy to land on this article. I am including a reference and a link to this article. You have articulated your thoughts very well here. Thanks!

It reminds me of an oft-quoted sales advice: "God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason".

Listen twice as much as you talk is a good rule of thumb.


Jenn showing us how it is done, I have learned a lot from you and this is a great piece of advice for anyone considering Social Media.

Jennifer, this is a classic indeed! Love it.

"the rules of social media very carefully mimic the rules of real life interactions"

Amen! Regardless of the online environment, these environments were not created for marketers, they were created for people. Once upon a time marketers abused newsgroups in the exact same way they abuse social media today. Sadly, there will always be those who view any online community through green colored glasses and participate only for the potential financial gain.

Ahhh this post couldn't have come at a better time for some of the people in my Twitter network ;) Some of them are good, well meaning people that just don't understand how to use that space to sell their products without being a "social media jackass." I think this post takes care of that in the nicest way possible (can you tell i'm tired of getting spammed lol). Thank you as always.

well, I don't know ... it all sounds good in theory, but I have some serious doubts how it works out in reality ... people seem to have lost touch with the reral world and just focus on their demand to live a fairy tale life, which of course doesn't work out and then they look to blame somebody for it, instead of realizing their own mistakes, so sometimes it's for the best to kick back !

I must share this, I can't agree with fanboy more on this:

The measure, listen, add, connect graphic says it all. I'm going to print the graphic, laminate it and keep it in my wallet for future reference.

It applies in so many situations frm business, to raising kids to dating. Thank you.

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Six Lessons from a Wooden Boy: Lesson Three: Don't be a Social Media Jackass