Social media etiquette - can and should social media be used as a sales tool?

I watched in anticipation as a new Facebook group was set up to allow a group of business people to advertise their businesses to the other group members. This seemed to be a knee jerk reaction to the growing number of people hijacking the community Facebook group (originally set up to provide business people with a support network) with sales related messages.

I agreed that something should be implemented to stop the promotional messages making the group unusable and anti-social, but setting up a group with the main purpose of selling?

Within hours of joining the new group, my inbox was full of new updates from people promoting their business. Was I tempted to buy from any of these people? No. Was I impressed with the amount of sales garbage entering my inbox in a constant torrent of "hey look at me, I'm brilliant". No.

So this begs the question, why is social media not a direct selling tool?

Social Media Etiquette
Social Media Etiquette

Well, for me, the clue is in the name. Social media is designed for social interaction. That's what people expect, that's what people will tolerate.

In business, social networks are an extension of our face-to-face networks. We wouldn't arrive at a networking event and start shouting about how brilliant we are and why everyone should do business with us (at least I hope we wouldn't). We'd take the time to talk to people, find out about them, establish rapport and build a relationship. The business element will often come later.

Social media is exactly the same. I'm not saying that you won't attract business through Twitter or Facebook - you will and you should - but this business will come through the relationship you have established by being social, helpful and not by being a human megaphone of sales messages.

Social media is great for building a following and creating awareness and interest in your business. Once you have this interest, you can move the relationship off of social media and to your website or email communications, where a sales message is more appropriate.

So here's a few dos and don'ts for you to remember:

  1. Don't constantly bombard your followers with promotional messages.
  2. Don't ignore people who try to engage with you on social media - keep the conversation going and respond promptly.
  3. Don't focus on the numbers - engagement is much more important than the number of followers you have.
  4. Don't automate everything - be human and respond to people, but don't automate direct messages.
  5. Do give people a helping hand and answer any questions. Look at your social networks as being an extension of your customer service.
  6. Do post relevant content that your target market will be interested in.
  7. Do listen to what your target market are talking about so you can respond with relevant and helpful updates.
  8. Do make life easier for yourself by using tools such as Hootsuite to set up streams to follow certain people or certain phrases that you can interact with.

Be social, be helpful, be human.