As I sat down to write this, I realized that I could write this entire blog post in just four magic words, namely the Golden Rule.  Those who are successful at social media marketing would immediately understand exactly what I mean - no further explanation needed. 

no explanation needed 

But others might need a few more words of explanation.  I should begin by reminding people of the differences between various types of social media:

  • File sharing, such as Flickr and YouTube.
  • Social Bookmarking, such as Digg and Mixx
  • Conversational, such as FaceBook and Twitter

What you do on these websites differs greatly by type.  But that doesnt matter.  The Golden rule applies to all of them.

How people behave - the "etiquette" - varies greatly even within each type of social media.  For instance, at Reddit youll be crucified by the community for submitting your own material.  At Plime youll even have your account removed.  At Mixx and Zoomit and Tipd, it is perfectly acceptable to submit your own material.  Doesnt matter, the Golden Rule applies to them all.

Some communities are big.  Twitter for example is huge, but there a millions of intertwining communities within it.  Other communities are much smaller, especially niche-specific forums or discussion groups.  No matter the size, the Golden Rule applies.

Real Gold

real gold

In fact, the Golden Rule applies to the real world as much as to the virtual world, so its worth taking a look at real world social networking opportunities.  Imagine you are a newcomer to your local BNI group; how do you introduce yourself?  You probably pass out your business card.  Or you shyly wait for people to approach you one by one.  Or you let a member who brought you there introduce you.  But what exactly do you say?

Hi, Im David.  How can you help me?

No.  No.  No.  Wait a minute, you dont say that.  In all my life, I have never heard someone enter a new environment and ask for help right away.  Not at BNI.  Not at Toastmasters.  Not at conference or trade show receptions.  Not at outdoors clubs, not at church groups, not at anything.

More than just avatars

Actually, that last statement is not quite true.  I have seen people take the how-can-you-help-me approach in one place.  In social media.  Its funny how people sometimes do things online that they would not do offline.  You see this most frequently in Twitter auto-DMs " when you follow someone and there is a direct message automatically sent to you asking you to buy/vote/read something.  Or you see it at Digg when people say they will friend you only after they see you voting for lots of their submissions.

But social media is social " which means you are dealing with people.  Which means treating people like peoplebecause people you meet online are more than just avatars.  They actually are real people, just like you.

The Golden Rule

So when you enter a new social media community, or when you meet a member you havent previously met, how about greeting them

Hi, Im David.  How can I help you?

That's right, make yourself someone they want to meet, someone they would want to help.  Make yourself someone they see as adding value, not sucking value away.  Nobody likes a leach. Not in the real world; not in the virtual world.

Oh, and that Golden Rule Give before you ask.

David Leonhardt is a multilingual SEO specialist, operating from Canada. Visit his website and subscribe to his blog .