Netiquette , or the largely unwritten rules of polite behaviour online, isn't just for regular folks. Those posting to social media on behalf of brands need to follow the rules too.
But what are these rules? Well, they are more like guidelines really (if you'll forgive the slight paraphrasing of Captain Jack Sparrow). The heart of netiquette lies in respect. You have to show respect to the people you chat with online, and this applies to brands just as much as it does people.
Here are my top nine brand netiquette guidelines. Why not add your own in the comments?
#1 Brands should provide clear social media guidelines
Who's responsible for posting on the brand's social media channels? Do they know the brand's voice? Or what messages it needs to communicate? Are they familiar with its values?
The social media and community managers who run brand accounts have to walk a fine line between knowing and protecting the brand, and being friendly, approachable and open with the community they manage. They can't do this unless they have clear guidance, and know their own authority.
#2 Rapid response
People used to write letters of complaint, but it takes too much time, involves a long wait for a resolution and the matter under discussion is kept private between the complainer and brand. Social media has led to a revolution in customer service.
People of all ages know that they can contact a brand's Facebook or Twitter account and get an issue swiftly resolved without needing to write in, or spend ages on hold. It's got the added bonus of being a public platform, so the brand's response can be seen for all to judge.
The things is, people expect rapid response and resolution when they contact brands on social media (we recommend around 15 minutes for Twitter and 30 for Facebook), so the people running the brand's accounts need to be able to respond and resolve issues fast.
#3 Use THINK
People are often encouraged to use this mnemonic when thinking about posting anything online:
T - is it true?
H - is it helpful?
I - is it inspiring?
N - is it necessary?
K - is it kind?
The areas that some brands fall down on here are the "is it necessary and inspiring" elements, which is why pages like Condescending Corporate Brand Page exist. All brand social communication should serve a purpose (beyond "we need to post something today").
#4 Let people be people
This is a risky approach. People can be warm, engaging, friendly and funny, but they can also lose their tempers, get sarcastic, and misjudge situations. This is why many brands prefer to drench their accounts in approved language (read: corporate jargon), rather than let that zany social media manager have full rein on the account.
Other brands realise that you get the best results on social media by letting people be people.
Think of tone as the body language of social media. I can't see you, I don't know if we're forming a connection, so replying to me in a similar tone - whether it be jocular or serious - and in your own voice, helps bridge that gap.
#5 Listen (I mean, really listen)
Not responding to a customer complaint is bad enough, but misreading messages, or using automated tools and getting the meaning of the message very wrong (like American Airlines did) is a major faux pas.
People expect just as high a level of customer service online as they expect in store.
#6 Don't engage in arguments, or stir the pot
This is where you have to balance letting people be people, with knowing your audience, and using some common sense. Not everyone will appreciate a snappy retort to a sarcastic tweet (just look at the recent Arriva Trains/Carwyn Jones Twitter spat).
#7 Don't flood people's timelines with posts
Not everyone follows hundreds or thousands of people on social media. Some only follow a few dozen. Think about how their timelines and newsfeeds would look crammed full of your posts.
A Simply Measured study found that the top brands on Twitter only tweeted 10 times a day at most (and this included retweets and @replies).
#8 Don't just use social as a selling tool - use it as a social tool - to connect
While some brands are selling from social media, most are simply promoting. Yet the primary function of social media is communication between people - conversation. Brands that never reply to tweets, retweet or favourite what others say, look aloof and out of touch.
And I don't mean engaging in a "But enough about me, let's talk about you. What do you think of me?" kind of way, I mean genuine discussion and learning about the other person.
#9 Respect the community
Brand communities aren't the brand's personal fiefdom. Community members are passionate about their community, and often experts in the brands product. Brands need to respect this knowledge and develop good relationships within branded communities, and with external fan communities (as the makers of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings have done with fan site theonering.net).
Social media sites were created to connect people to other people; to allow them to communicate over vast distances quickly and easily. Don't just use them to showcase how awesome you are. Use them to build relationships.