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The Social Media Rules Police Strike Again!

For as long as people have known me, I’ve been railing against the rules police in social media. They truly drive me absolutely insane. For ten years, one of the arguments that continues to surface is whether or not you should connect with people you don’t know online.

It surfaced again yesterday when I shared Dan Schawbel’s post, Why I Accept All LinkedIn Contact Requests. Dan lists 5 reasons why he connects with strangers, including referrals, research, awareness, influence and branding.

But there’s a group of naysayers that continue to espouse a belief that it’s terrible social media etiquette or some violation of the time-space continuum when you connect in social media with someone you’ve never met or don’t have a relationship with. Some of the rules listed in the conversation were not to connect unless you’ve met someone face-to-face. Or if you have a meaningful relationship first.

Folks… what the heck is the use of a social network that spans cities, states, countries, time zones and continents if you’re not using it? You really believe the best use of this incredible resource is simply to reproduce your offline network online?

Why don’t you just go pull out your old rolodex and call your high school buddies up to play Dungeons and Dragons?

You know what I call people that I haven’t connected with in social media? I call them potential customers, potential investors, potential employees, potential interns, potential friends, potential partners, potential vendors, potential mentors and potential colleagues.

And yes, I want to connect with them. I want to help them. I want to listen to them. I want to hear what they have to offer. I want to connect to as many as humanly possible! And when I need help, I want to reach out to them and ask for it. Guess what?! I get a lot of help from connections I’ve never met.

Lucky for all of us, the tools also have the ability to disconnect! I may do that if they’re rude, pushy, or wasting my time. There’s also a report spam button if they’re way over the line. I’m not asking anyone for a kidney or to have my children (yet), I’m just asking for a means to connect with people I’m truly interested in meeting.

It’s incredible to me that the same people who criticize folks about connecting to people they don’t know won’t hesitate to walk across a crowded room to shove their business card in your face, or cold call you to try to sell their product. Yet they sit there in utter disgust if you click a button on a web browser.

Here’s an idea… keep your rules to yourself. What I’m doing works for me… and my network.

About Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is the founder of The Marketing Technology Blog. Doug is the CMO of CircuPress and CEO of DK New Media, an agency specializing in assisting marketing technology companies with their inbound marketing - leveraging social media, blogging, search engine optimization, pay per click and public relations. Their clients include Angie's List, GoDaddy, Mindjet and many more. Douglas is also the author of Corporate Blogging for Dummies.

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  1. I’ve
    been thinking quite a bit about this topic as of late.

    What do we call people who break the rules set by others?

    Sometimes, we call them innovators. We call them pioneers. We call them

    But other times, we call people who break rules criminals.

    What’s the difference?

    It seems to me that the difference between a criminal and an innovator isn’t
    really the level of authority of the people who set the rules. We consider many
    revolutionaries to be heroes, but they were breaking the law and fighting with
    their own governments.

    Instead, I think the difference is really about the rules themselves: do the
    rules help people, or do they do more harm than good?

    With regard to social media, many of the rules are established by the companies
    that make the properties. Facebook has a rules about
    the contents of cover photos and who is allowed to have personal accounts.
    LinkedIn has a rule (more of a recommendation, really) about
    you should connect with.

    There are also rules that seem to arise out of the community. “Don’t be a
    jerk,” for example. Or: “Try to find out for yourself, and then ask
    for help.”

    I think that you start to cross the line from innovator to criminal when you
    start to look like people who are criminals. If you attempt to connect with
    everyone on LinkedIn and send them all the same identical message, you begin to
    resemble a spammer. That’s when people start talking about “the

    Likewise, if your resource optimization strategy depends on you being
    in the minority of people using that strategy
    , you’re going to trip
    on people’s sense of fairness.

    Rules are cornerstone of any community. Doug writes “keep your rules to
    yourself. What I’m doing works for me… and my network.” I think of an
    extreme version of this: “Keep your laws to yourself. What I’m doing works
    for me and the fellow bank robbers in my network.”

    Are there any rules in social media that can’t be broken? No. But there aren’t
    laws in any society for which there will never be cause to defy. That’s
    precisely why it’s important we keep talking about the rules, so we know which
    ones—if any—are worth keeping.

    • “the rules” – my point is that they aren’t any rules to actually keep. There are no rules yet… and people arbitrarily trying push their opinion as a rule is bs.

      • “There are no rules yet.

        How will we know when there are rules? And what about the rules that the companies specify in their own TOS?

        And finally, every rule is just an opinion. Hopefully it’s an opinion shared by many people (instead of just the people with the power) but rules start out as opinions and remain opinions, forever.

        • The rules are what works and doesn’t work for your company should help you determine how you leverage the mediums. And, of course, as you pay attention to how others are using the medium, you learn what works and doesn’t work for you. We don’t tell people that they “can’t” or “shouldn’t”… we share with them how that’s impacted other companies in the past and then see how to test it without doing any damage to their brand.

          There are, of course, compliance issues that people must abide by, but those aren’t social media rules… those are industry regulations and laws that must be followed.

          I’m not telling you that you must agree to every LinkedIn request. I’m just sharing with you that doing so is successful for me and hasn’t have any negative results. So… don’t tell others that they shouldn’t do it… maybe it will work fine for them.

  2. Even though I’m a LinkedIn junkie, I don’t accept EVERY LinkedIn request that I get, but I do accept all of those that make sense to connect with either now or in the future. But the beauty of it is that we can each set our own rules or guidelines to follow and don’t need to mimic what others do.

  3. There are rules, and then there is personal choice. Most social media platforms actually have very few use based rule sets built in. LinkedIn made the change a while back that allowed one to request connections to gobs of people, very easily. I got chastized only twice when I used it to build up my rolodex, and what did those instances tell me about those folks? That I probably wouldn’t want to hang out with them anyway. LinkedIn no doubt used bits of the same code in their endorsement model. Is it useful? Well, it depends. If I see a social media guru with twenty or thirty thousand connections, and they in turn have a huge number of endorsements for everything from social media, to email marketing, to raising the dead, I ask myself a couple of questions. Could they have possibly had direct interaction with so many, working with them on specific projects? Or do they regularly contribute high quality, relevant information (in other words, useful) to the masses? Or is it simply a case of fame worship?
    In most cases, we all fundamentally know when we are being spammed in a good way, or a bad way.

  4. Doug: I agree that one size does not fit all, but there’s one rule that IS important–LinkedIn’s User Agreement. For that reason, and a few others, I’m pretty selective when it comes to making connections. Here’s my two cents: http://linkedinstitute.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/its-about-connecting-not-collecting/

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