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“If you really want to know about business, you should refer to Scott Steinberg.” -Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group

Corporate Social Media and Online Etiquette Guide

It’s not just individuals that need to understand the nuances of online communications and social media etiquette—organizations need to be well-versed in these topics too. Our bestselling book, The Business Etiquette Bible, features hints, tips, and expert advice from top executives on how market leaders and working professionals alike can better discern how to effectively communicate through digital mediums. Following its launch, we spoke with Gary Davis, vice president of global consumer marketing at McAfee, who says that corporations and businesses can win or lose big with customers, depending on their capacity for proper online etiquette.  Here’s his advice for connecting and conversing with customers in a more professional manner:

What basic rules for corporate online etiquette should businesses be observing?

First, you need to make sure that you engage your audience in a dialogue. This isn’t about pushing information out and hoping people will consume it: It’s about having a discussion, right? Information needs to be setup in a way that allows for feedback and discussion.

Second, you need to be authentic. As much we love to think we can just spew “marketing speak” at things, your dialogue needs to be as transparent as possible. I think that’s very important to remember, because throwing up false pretenses does more damage than good.

Third, you need to be timely. The last thing you can afford is to engage [customers] in dialogue then act like it doesn’t matter. I remember a couple of years ago when I went to a wireless carrier’s forums and asked a question about a piece of software. They got back to me nine months later. At that point, they were better off just not answering at all because they looked like stooges for answering so late.

Everything we do today happens at the speed of the Internet. It’s all about consistency, regularity, and the cadence of having that dialogue.

How can a company best promote itself online through social media – and who in the organization should be the one responding to questions and engaging with the public? Also, how often should you be communicating?

I think you do it as often as is relevant and meaningful. What you don’t want to do is just spam stuff out there ad nauseum because then you’re going to lose relevancy. Posts need to be timely, and be done at a cadence that’s not going to overwhelm, because people just can’t consume that much information. As far as interaction goes, that depends on discussion. There are some matters that really require the response of a subject matter expert or a leader, and there are other things that can be answered by almost anyone—it depends on the competence or skills of your people.

When you are trying to have a conversation with customers, how do you make sure you’re responding respectfully if you’re barraged with opinions and insights? Case in point: Who and what do you respond to if five thousand people are talking and some of them take umbrage?

Some people are very vocal—they’ll respond over and over again, and be very active. In these cases, being temperate in your response is probably the right approach. There’s no way you can respond to everybody. You need to ask yourself, what are the main themes or thoughts that are coming through? Look for those, and respond to those.  You certainly don’t want to get confrontational and open up dialogue for debate on a forum that may not be best for a debate. Social media, at least the way we use it, isn’t a great platform for debate—it’s more for education and sharing information that consumers will benefit from.

What are the best, most efficient, and most powerful ways to promote your business online?

The two things I always turn to are media relations and social interaction. We recently did our Most Dangerous Celebrities Campaign. We had 500 broadcast tips, and thousands of tweets about it coming from a lot of the celebrities that were mentioned as part of the study. That’s the sort of thing that I think consumers really benefit from. For example, when Jimmy Kimmel spends five minutes of his show talking about this study, it really resonates. We did the study, and since he was the top male celebrity, he gets some mileage of his own. To me, that’s the best thing we can do.

Second to that is social media. I generally believe that people tend to buy depending on what their friends on social media are doing and saying. Historically, we’ve worked closely with industry pundits at outlets like PC Magazine and CNET, because that’s where people would go to decide where they should buy their next anti-virus product, for example. We’re finding more and more people are looking to their social network for recommendations. If all my friends are buying Hondas, maybe I’ll go buy a Honda as my next car, right? I think we’re going to see a higher degree of buying behaviors being influenced by social networks.

Q: What role do you think that many businesses and brands should play on social media and outreach channels? Creator, curator of news, pollster… perhaps even all of the above?

A:  It’s really all of the above. Infographics are a big part of this: Consumers really love to see meaningful information presented in a way that they can easily relate to. Polling and doing surveys and doing other types of activities are good, too. If all you do is insert yourself in the conversation or try and start a discussion, that’s going to come across as too limiting in scope and you’re not going to be afforded the opportunity that having more diverse and integrated campaigns can bring.

For more, be sure to grab your copy of The Business Etiquette Bible today!

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