How not to lose friends and alienate people
For those of us who sell Avroy Shlain, Justine, Avon, Herbalife, Honey, Amway, Tupperware or anything else that involves handing out brochures, social media is more than just the window through which we watch our friends’ latest escapades, share our own adventures and giggle at tongue-in-cheek memes.
For the purposes of our mini-businesses, it’s the best thing since sliced cheese. Most of us purvey our products as a side hustle, to earn extra bucks while our salaries pay the bills. So a hefty marketing or advertising budget isn’t viable.
When it dawns on you that social media sites hold the opportunity of becoming your own personal billboards, you won’t rest until your little business is the proud new owner of a Facebook page, as well as Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube accounts and, if you dare, a WhatsApp group or two.
Social media sites are ideal platforms for making known your status as a direct seller and promoting the exhilarating special offers on your brand’s innovative products.
As an Avon lady myself, I love the potential social media offers for efficiently marketing the brand I sell. It’s free, far-reaching and the extensive functionality of facilities like Facebook Pages allows me to present my products professionally and in attention-grabbing ways.
Advertising on social media may encourage existing and potential customers to bite the bait. The golden rule to remember, though, is that “overenthusiastic sharing” rhymes with “being irritatingly overbearing”. The consequences of being trigger-happy when it comes to hitting the share button include a shrinking number of followers and online friends and, even worse, the loss of real-life friendships that you truly value.
Having made some of the mistakes you’ll read about below, I’ve developed a set of guidelines for my social media marketing activity. These help me to remain reasonable in terms of the amount of social media marketing I do and to avoid abusing the privileges of having been added as a friend or follower by someone on social media or having been given their phone number. You’re welcome to adopt whichever of them apply to your social media marketing efforts.
1. Be a bona fide business, not a backyard mechanic
Yes, it is a good idea to create a Facebook page for your business. On other sites like Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube, create accounts for your business that are separate from your personal accounts on those sites. Marketing your products directly from your personal accounts is sloppy, unprofessional and tacky. It effectively amounts to hijacking your friends and making them your captive audience, instead of giving them the opportunity to opt in by liking your page or following you on the other platforms.
On Facebook I push my luck a little by sharing most of my page’s posts on my own timeline, but the page does at least create a distinction between me as a business person and me as your Facebook friend. I’ve asked friends for honest feedback about whether they’re seeing too much of my branded content in their newsfeeds and so far there have been no complaints. My method gives friends who would prefer not to see my page’s posts the option of clicking on “Hide all from (my page name)” rather than having no choice but to unfollow or unfriend me.
2. It’s not about you, it’s about them
Before you post, tweet, or share anything, think about how others might interpret it – will it be perceived as insightful and informative, or crass and boring? Online, you especially want to avoid anything that sounds even vaguely like a desperate plea for people to buy your product. For anyone who spots your post while scrolling through their feed, it’s about as enjoyable as being pestered at a traffic light. And just like we duck and dodge at those traffic lights, they will scroll down as quickly as possible and try not to think about what they’ve just seen.
If you have a favourite TV or radio ad, the chances are that it tells a story rather than shoving the so-called benefits of the product that’s being advertised in your face. Nevertheless, the ad camps out in your brain’s “stuff I like” compartment, making you more likely to remember and choose that brand when you go shopping. Wouldn’t you love to achieve that when it comes to what people think of you and your brand?
On the other hand, those ads that make your ears bleed or your eyes glaze over are probably the ones with a guy yelling out the latest special offers or ones that consist of a trite monologue that spells out how the product being advertised has changed the character’s life (could they sound more like a novice actor who’s being paid to read lines?!). Likewise, your posts will irritate or bore people if they’re overly gushy or if you go for the hard sell every time.
The 4:1 rule, which was developed for Twitter, but can be applied to other platforms, is a good template for engagement. The idea is that every post that’s pure advertising should be followed by at least four posts that are entertaining or informative as opposed to being blatant sales pitches. Often I publish a tip relevant to my products together with an image illustrating the tip. I include a couple of images of the products that specifically relate to that tip and leave people to make the connection themselves.
Also on the topic of small doses is how often you should publish posts. To get their posts seen regularly by a large audience, yet without flooding people’s feeds, social media marketing professionals usually stick to these guidelines:
3. Groupies are born, not made
Unless you’re trying to get rid of friends, do not (I repeat: do not) add them to a Facebook group you’ve created. Would you be unfazed if a shop assistant showed up at your house, dragged you down to their store and then smiled graciously at you, expecting you to nonchalantly start making your way up and down the aisles? Now imagine that demented sales person being your friend. It’d be pretty awkward to get out of that situation, right?
People prefer not to be abducted on social media either. If you must have a group, use your manners and invite them to join rather than adding them yourself. If they’re interested in what you have to show them and they actually like the concept of groups, they’ll join.
You’re not going to gain anything from forcibly adding people anyway, because they can easily leave the group. For anyone who does that, the only impression you’ll leave them with is a bitter taste in their mouth.
4. WhatsWrong with WhatsApp
Read point four above again, then multiply the awfulness of that by a thousand. Now you have an idea of how obnoxious you’ll be perceived as being if you use a WhatsApp group as a means to advertise your product. 😖🙈🤮
It’s the digital equivalent of a telemarketer conference calling 50 people all at once and launching into their sales pitch.The telemarketer knows all 50 people personally and most of them are mutual friends too. Then those interested in what’s on offer start chipping in with questions, interrupting one another and shouting to be heard over the hubbub. If anyone hangs up, a loud voice announces who just left the conversation. Then after an awkward silence, the cacophony resumes.
In other words, WhatsApp should be used with utmost caution if at all. I do use WhatsApp, but I stick strictly to these guidelines. If you have your heart set on using WhatsApp to advertise, I beg of you, don’t ever add me to your group. Rather do this:
- Send your messages via a broadcast message. Each person then receives the message as though it was sent to them personally, so any replies will only go to you. No one else will have to put up with having their phone going berserk if 20 people reply with questions and comments then launch into full-on conversations, as would happen in a group.
- Send no more than one broadcast message per month. Otherwise it’s as irritating as having the same telemarketer call you every couple of days.
- Send no more than one image, voice note or other attachment every two to three months. Nothing bigger than 3MB – some people have limited data and/or limited memory space on their phones. Rather send them a link to the online version of your brochure so that they can access it when they’re in a free wifi zone.
- If anyone asks you not to send them ads for your product, apologise promptly and remove them from your broadcast list immediately. Add a note to their name in your contact list to remind yourself not to add them again at a later date.
- Simply put, don’t abuse the trust of those who give you their phone number. It’s not something they’d hand out to everyone in their online social network, so taking advantage of having it is especially offensive.
5. You’re not at a karaoke bar
Dragging a friend up on stage with you to sing “Sweet Caroline” is all fun and games in context. Outside of a karaoke bar, it’s a no-no. You also wouldn’t loudly discuss your colleague’s latest breakout of pimples, nor would you mock them about their choice of lunch container in front of the guy from accounting they’re crushing on.
The online manifestations of this are inappropriate tagging, as well as sharing your page’s posts on friends’ timelines. In your personal capacity, tagging friends in posts about competitions or memes, or sharing those kinds of posts on their timelines, is fine, as long as what you’re sharing is something they would appreciate.
When it comes to what you publish on your page, though, tagging friends or sharing those posts on their timeline is, at best, like filming an infomercial – studio audience included – in their living room. At worst, it could be mortifying for them, especially if the post relates to something they’re embarrassed to admit. Keep in mind that no matter how convinced you are that your product is just what they need, you don’t know how sensitive they might be about what they would prefer not to discuss in public.
Tagging a person when you announce the winner of a competition you’ve run is fine (assuming they actually entered the competition and you’re not just trying to co-opt them into liking your page somehow). Another good way to increase engagement is to post a question and ask people to respond in the comments.
6. Lay down your sword
Freedom of speech plus social media equals the potential for people to go public with their negative sentiments about your product. No matter how rude or untrue these digs may be, always refrain from responding in kind. You are better than that and you have various ways to prove it.
If their complaint is valid, you could reply with something along the lines of, “I’m sorry to hear about your bad experience with this product. I will contact you so that we can rectify the matter.” Directly after that, send them a polite direct message asking if there’s anything you can do to solve the problem. This will encourage them to communicate with you privately rather than continuing their rant on your page.
If the comment suggests that the person is simply trolling your page, in other words, their sole intention is to stir up trouble by being unacceptably abusive, foul-mouthed or some other version of antisocial, delete their comment. If they do it again, delete the comment and block them from posting on your page.
7. Keep it real
Dishonesty will erode your reputation. Breaking your promises will do the same, only faster. Don’t promise that your product will make some radical change to your potential customers’ lives unless you have an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence that this is true. If you promise to give a free product to everyone who places an order, come up with the goods and don’t dilly dally about it. No one gets conned twice by a sleazy salesman. Keep your promises and let your products speak for themselves.
The bottom line
All in all, it’s actually quite simple. From refraining from monopolising people’s news feeds, leaving people’s dignity intact and not boring people to death, to maintaining your integrity, most best practices are simply a high-tech version of old-school etiquette. Imagine yourself having a face-to-face conversation with a group consisting of your friends, family members and colleagues and behave accordingly.
I know it’s tempting to go plunging in where angels fear to tread. Every day I walk the fine line between gently building awareness of my brand and being the online equivalent of an overzealous fleamarket vendor. I feel the lure of social media’s advertising potential – the fact that it’s free, it’s quick and easy to implement and it has the potential to reach virtually everyone in your area and beyond. And did I mention that it’s free?
But we all know that hardly anything is absolutely free, with no strings attached. Someone inevitably ends up paying somehow or another. A negative unintended consequence can sting all the more when it unexpectedly boomerangs right back into your nose, robbing you of your reputation and creating hostility between you and the people you enjoy having in your life.
When it comes to advertising to people you know on social media, one of the worst negative unintended consequences is annoying, and thereby driving away, the very people you are trying to attract to your products. Even worse is realising that certain friends seem to be avoiding you in person as well as online. Another serious headache is getting into legal trouble for harassment or false claims. You’d better believe that it’s happened before and it’ll happen again.
For maximum gain and minimum pain, my advice is that before you share anything, pause and check whether doing so will be violating the golden rule: Do to others what you would like them to do to you. And even then, remember that some people are more sensitive to being imposed on than you are. So if in doubt, leave them out.
Do you have any other social media marketing etiquette tips to share?