Saturday, December 11, 2010

Social Networking for the Business Writer: Top-Ten List

This post concludes a series on effective writing in social media.

This will be the last post in the Social Networking for the Business Writer series--also the last post of 2010, as I prepare for Christmas break. Since the end of the year is a time for list-making, this post is a list of ten things every social networker should remember. Consider incorporating them into your New Year's resolutions!

1. Social networking is not free advertising. It's been said in practically every post of this series, but it remains the #1 thing to remember; a social networking forum is no place for a hard-core sales pitch. Never post anything with the sole purpose of convincing readers to buy your product or service; that's what your website (and paid advertising) is for.

2. Ask not what your fellow networkers can do for you; ask what you can do for your fellow networkers. Thinking only of yourself is bad business in any venue, and particularly unwise in any form of networking. Be ready to provide advice and referrals whenever you can be helpful, without considering "what I might get back."

3. Keep things short. Short sentences, short paragraphs, and short posts are the backbone of online writing. No one likes a page of unbroken text, particularly on a glaring screen.

4. Speak from your expertise. Search out questions and discussions where you can contribute meaningfully--where it's obvious you know what you're talking about. Some people choose their comment forums primarily on the basis of keywords that push their buttons; you can pick out these people by their emotionally loaded tones, their failure to cite objective backup for their claims, and their evident ignorance of what was actually said in the original post and other comments. It makes a less than professional impression, to say the least.

5. Feel free to make multiple contributions to an ongoing discussion, but don't say the same thing every time. Do your part to keep the discussion moving in a line, not a circle.

6. Don't be afraid to say what you think. Some people are so afraid of giving offense that they wouldn't dare say outright that cold-blooded murder is wrong--not even if asked directly. Aside from moral considerations, this attitude is, frankly, boring. Respectful controversy adds interest to a discussion; just be sure to keep it respectful. Hint: give sound reasons for your opinions, but stop at one or two reasons. Going on and on about why you're right will soon have everyone picturing you as a stressed-out fanatic.

7. Don't pick fights. Building on the last point, the only trouble with controversy is that it easily gets out of hand. The instinct to take any disagreement as a personal insult is strong, but something that must be resisted if social networking is to be kept professional. Once tempers are lost, so are the benefits of the discussion. So never call names, blatantly contradict someone, or use such loaded phrases as "Everybody knows...."

8. Watch your spelling. And your punctuation, grammar, and usage. No one expects heavy editing on a social networking post, but at least try to get rid of all typos. You don't want to come across as hurried and careless, certainly not in any setting that reflects on you professionally.

9. Be especially careful when including online addresses. While most human readers can still understand the text through the typos, computers take everything literally. One missed character--or substituting "com" for "org"--can take someone to an "Error" page. Worse, the "wrong address" might belong to a porn site or hate group forum. And even if nothing embarrassing happens, few people will bother informing you of the mistake or looking for the real site you referenced, so you've gained nothing for your trouble.

10. Budget your social networking. Know how many hours a week you can spend and what topics and sites to focus on. Have advance ideas of information you might contribute; your writing will go smoother and faster. If you're seriously short on time and have a decent-sized budget, consider hiring a separate social networking writer (contract or staff).

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season and a prosperous 2011!

Other posts in this series:
Social Networking for the Business Writer: Profiles
Social Networking for the Business Writer: Network Updates
Social Networking for the Business Writer: "Cold Call" E-Messages
Social Networking for the Business Writer: The E-Article Connection
Social Networking for the Business Writer: LinkedIn Discussions
Social Networking for the Business Writer: LinkedIn Q & A