I started a digital agency in 1994 and pretty quickly made my share of 'netiquette' mistakes. I'm still learning, but some things never change...
1. Politeness oils the wheels
Social media online are just like any social setting: whether it's your (or someone else's) blog, Facebook, Twitter or a Newsgroup, being polite generally makes for an easier life.
2. Social media are ephemeral
When I started I used Bulletin Boards (BBS). A few years ago Bebo was all the rage. As was AOL Instant Messaging. Online forums too. Today everyone's Twittering. Tomorrow we'll all be Waving. What's cool or 'now' now won't be in three years, so get used to it. Make best use of whatever works for you right now, and keep up to date with what's next, or you'll always be behind the curve.
3. It's in public!
Whatever you say, everyone can see it. They don't have to be your friends, you don't have to have OKed it (especially Twitter), pretty much everything's there forever. Don't ever say anything you don't want held against you or quoted out of context. The funny picture of the lamp post incident taken by your flatmates will haunt you.
4. People tolerate mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes, and some of us made a lot of mistakes in the early years. It makes you a rounded human being. Unless you're a brand, in which case it will make your brand seem fallible. So if you cock something up as a brand, apologise fast and profusely and go overboard to fix it, and you might just show people you care about your reputation.
5. A brand, in this new digital age, is its people
Given the above you might think you need to be anodyne to be a brand online. But brands need personality. So you need to find people who can represent your brand who you can trust not to screw things up (see 3 and 4 above), and who have a way of communicating that fits with your vision of how you want your brand to be perceived.
6. You can't edit live conversation
If you can find the right people to Tweet on your brand's behalf (or blog or broadcast or whatever), then give them free reign. It adds character to your brand. They'll make mistakes, but it shows you as a brand have faith in your people. Unless you're the BBC, which has a policy that every tweet needs a second opinion before it's tweeted.
7. Talk to each other
Make sure you're not talking at crossed purposes. In other words make sure that at least once a month everyone who is online on behalf of your brand (the web guy, the person from customer service, the PR person, the CEO, Janet) gets together to talk about what they're doing. If you don't one day you'll contradict yourselves, and 3 kicks in.
8. Social media = timesink
Social media have a tendency to be super-absorbing - you'll dive in and not emerge again for an hour. Limit yourself. I tweet and blog and Facebook too much, and I should know better. Also, the less you interact the less you'll screw up.
9. Monitor results
For the last year or so I've tracked the number of new business leads, PR opportunities, new supplier introductions and new corporate relationships that are attributable to social media. You'd be astounded. I reckon my daily 20 minutes has got me a dozen articles and interviews, and two big pieces of business. I'm even writing about social media - and my agency's an eCRM agency.
10. Have fun
I've made loads of contacts through blogs, Facebook and Twitter, met lots of interesting people, found a few good suppliers and engaged in some extremely entertaining and informative debates. Along the way I think people have got to know my company a lot better, through my own public interactions and those of my colleagues. It's meant people can relate to us a little better. It's given the power back to the customer - they're the ones who make all the important decisions, after all.
This article was written for the Institute of Direct Marketing. You can follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/felixvelarde