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The Six Principles of Social Media Behavior

Social media is more than Twitter, Facebook, or the names of other sites and tools. Social media is a social medium. These six principles will help you understand how to utilize social media effectively for your business.
Written Dec 23, 2010, read 3948 times since then.


As I've studied social media behavior, I've identified six principles that I believe are significant for fully understanding social media and the social aspects of using it. These six principles can help a business owner understand how to be successfully social on social media as well as how to move conversations in social media to in-person or phone conversations.


The first principle of social media behavior is Design, specifically the design of the social media website. How a social media site is designed determines how people will use it or not use it. Twitter is an excellent example. Old Twitter was poorly designed. It was hard to find the mentions link or other features, and the long stream of continuous tweets made for difficult reading. Gradually Twitter improved the design with lists, which made it easier to filter people into specific groups and also with an overhauled design that is much more user friendly. Nonetheless, one reason Twitter is used so much has more to do with the third party applications that were created to make Twitter easier to use. Tweetdeck, Seesmic, and Hootsuite were from the beginning much more user friendly and easier to navigate than old Twitter.


Linkedin recently overhauled its site as well. It borrowed liberally from Facebook's design, incorporating link and share buttons as well as the ability to send private replies without having to view a profile. Linkedin has also enhanced its company and personal profiles. Companies can add services and products to their company profile, while on the personal profile, a professional can add certifications, skills, and publications. All of these enhancements are improving Linkedin's design, and consequently improving the use of it as an actual networking site. However, while good design can help make a site social, the other five principles are ones people need to bring to a given social media site.


The second principle is Community. For social media to be an effective social space, people need to be able to find or create community on the social web. Forums and message boards are examples of virtual communities, with people regularly participating and commenting on each other's items and news, but the test for community is whether those same people will also network with each other outside of those forums. The same holds true for sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and Biznik. While those sites can be entrance points to a community and allow you to establish a reputation, the community has to provide some means for people to do more than just interact in virtual space. Biznik achieves this by allowing members to create events where members can meet each other in person and network. Linkedin and Facebook include event features  which people can use to set up events, albeit not under the official aegis of Linkedin or Facebook.


People on Twitter approach community in a different way. At scheduled times people will start a conversation and share information with a group of other people. There are conversations for social media manners, customer service, blog chat, leadership and a wide variety of other topics. These focused conversations provide people an opportunity to share information and ideas about topics as well as network with each other. 


The third principle is Social Context. While not all conversations on social media need explicit social context provided, it is important to establish social context when making an invitation to connect with someone. Just sending a generic invitation isn't enough, because that generic invitation doesn't provide much in the way of an explanation as to WHY someone wants to connect with you. And that why is important because it determines how you'll actually create a relationship out of the connection, as opposed to just being a number. Without social context, you become a number.


The fourth principle is Relationship. People want to have relationships. They want to feel like they are important to who they are conversing with, whether online, or offline. They want intimacy, a feeling that they are known and recognized. If you look at the tweets of celebrities, a lot of them do a good job of creating this kind of intimacy. They don't really know the people who are sending tweets to them, but they make a point to reply, which creates a relationship and the possibility of getting to know those people better. Relationships build trust and also remind people they are in a social medium. Not surprisingly, social media relationships are improved if there is at least an occasional meeting in person, because it provides that reminder that we're not interacting with a screen. We're interacting with a person.


The fifth principle is Call for Action. What I mean by call for action is not clicking on a special on a landing page on a website, or joining an e-newsletter, but rather a call to take the conversation and relationship off of social media and into another media. Social media is useful for staying visible and touching people, but it's not necessarily useful for having substantial conversations. Learning to recognize when there's a call for action, a call to move the conversation to a different medium is essential for leveraging social media effectively and developing sustainable relationships. This doesn't mean you should do this with every question you receive, but if you get questions that will involve longer answers, then it would be a good idea to set up a phone conversation, in order to answer the question and also establish a deeper relationship.


The sixth principle is Connection. Social media is all about connections, but if a connection is be more than a number, then what has to be looked at is what turns a follower, "Friend" or connection into an actual person, as opposed to a number. Several of the principles I've mentioned above are useful for turning a connection into a person, but it also comes down to recognizing how the person fits into your business or other purposes for being on social media sites. Not all connections are equal or important. Recognizing that will help you determine which connections you will focus on, in terms of cultivating a relationship that turns into business.


These six principles are ones I have identified as key principles of social media behavior as it applies to business, though at least some of these can be applied to other reasons that people are on social media. What is most important is that these principles can be applied to your social media strategy and leveraged as a way to develop activities that will help you realize your strategy in a way that grows your business. As long as the strengths and weaknesses of social media and the reality that we are in a social situation is acknowledged, then social media can be used skillfully to build relationships and grow business.

Learn more about the author, Taylor Ellwood.

Comment on this article

  • Communication Coaching, Classes & Consulting 
Portland, Oregon 
Karen Mathieson
    Posted by Karen Mathieson, Portland, Oregon | Dec 23, 2010

    Thank you, Taylor, for a thoughtful review of social media purpose, context and operation. I learned from your thorough summary!

    The Biznik social media mixture of public forum and individual contact potential allows me to follow the adage, "Praise in public, correct in private." I seek to make comment string contributions positive, on-topic, and relevant to the greater Biznik community. However, I shift the medium when I'm especially impressed by an author's thinking and expertise, and sense they might be open to a constructive suggestion about writing mechanics--one of my own areas of expertise.

    In the content of a private message, then, I reiterate my praise for their work and communicate the "catch" in as friendly and affirming a tone as possible. It's likely some people are ticked off by this--who among us yearns for unsolicited advice?--but so far the response has been highly positive.

    Biznik colleagues seem to "get" that I'm interested in helping them put their valuable insights across more clearly. Often, the feedback message leads to an upbeat sequence of return messages, an exchange of contact data, and a new buddy in my Biznik network.

    Oh, and just for the record: Taylor, you're not getting a private message on this fine article!

    ~ Karen

  • The Contractor's Web Designer-Web Design, Photography, Videographer 
West Jefferson, North Carolina 
Kelley St. Germain
    Posted by Kelley St. Germain, West Jefferson, North Carolina | Dec 29, 2010 you know of any sample written social media strategies available online that one could look at for guidance in developing one's own?

  • Holistic Business Coach 
Portland, Oregon 
Taylor Ellwood
    Posted by Taylor Ellwood, Portland, Oregon | Dec 29, 2010

    Hi Kelley,

    I've seen some sample policies (for example on Intel's site), but that's not the same as a social media strategy. I actually write social media strategies for businesses, so if you want some feedback on yours, I'd be happy to help you. Please send me a Private message.


  • The Contractor's Web Designer-Web Design, Photography, Videographer 
West Jefferson, North Carolina 
Kelley St. Germain
    Posted by Kelley St. Germain, West Jefferson, North Carolina | Dec 30, 2010

    Thanks Taylor. I am just thinking about how to write mine...I may take you up on your kind offer once I get it written. Thank you, I appreciate it!!

  • Holistic Business Coach 
Portland, Oregon 
Taylor Ellwood
    Posted by Taylor Ellwood, Portland, Oregon | Dec 30, 2010

    What elements do you want to include in your strategy guide?

    Do you have employees? If so what do they need to know?

  • SEO Consultant 
Jersey City, New Jersey 
Elvis Arias
    Posted by Elvis Arias, Jersey City, New Jersey | Feb 02, 2011

    well thought out approach, ill surely be testing

  • Holistic Business Coach 
Portland, Oregon 
Taylor Ellwood
    Posted by Taylor Ellwood, Portland, Oregon | Feb 02, 2011

    Hi Elvis,

    Glad it's helpful. Let me know if I can help you in any other way.