Rules tell you the way the average person does things most successfully.  If you apply them consistently you’ll have a better chance of success than if you don’t have a clue of what you’re doing, I’ll grant you that. But blindly following the rules will never take you beyond a mundane level of workmanship to art.  If Steve Jobs, Tony Hsieh, Howard Schultz, or Jeff Bezos were focused on rules you’d associate their businesses with the commodities that they sell.

You may be thinking, “Im not in a class with those people,” but why not aspire to more? It’s scary stepping outside the realm of the paint-by-number canvas.  It requires that you think, test, be present for your community, be patient and take risks that may not be successful. If you’re ready and willing to give it a try, go ahead and get outside your comfort zone by breaking one of these:

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Obsessively focus on your goal

Instead, obsessively focus on the customer.  Pay attention to the customer’s needs and she will lead you to your goal.  Let’s say you’ve been developing what you think is the next great product or service but lately there have been a few emails and requests on Facebook about something completely different—something you hadn’t thought of.  These requests, while not incredibly loud, have been persistent over time.  Unfortunately, you’re focused on some idea you had at your corporate goal setting meeting six months ago, so you turn a deaf ear.  Perhaps you don’t even have a system in place for knowing what customers are telling you online.  If you’re focused only on your goal, you may have just missed a fork in the road that you should have taken.

You should tweet or post a certain number of times per week

This type of rule, along with how long your blog posts should be, whether they should or should not have photos, whether you should answer all the comments in your blog or thank everyone who retweets you are questions you will need to answer for yourself.

If you are following some arbitrary rule about tweeting other peoples’ stuff and sharing other peoples’ content based on some ratio you’ve been told about, start there but don’t stay there.  Instead, spend time deciding what is really worth sharing.  Read through your Facebook page and engage to the extent that it makes sense.  Share links, comment and retweet when you find value, not based on a formula.

Never engage without knowing your objectives

This is a rule I love to break and I’ve written about it on this blog before.  Concern yourself with making a better world for your consumer, creating a place where people want to hang out, offering content that will help them, telling stories that connect people with your product, and creating meaning that makes peoples’ lives better.  Objectives such as getting more followers, increasing customer loyalty, generating more revenue, or getting more newsletter signups will result when you’ve set the stage and made it easier for people to do those things.  But all the buttoned-up objectives in the world won’t help if you haven’t changed the world for your consumer in some significant way.

Your mission is to capture the hearts and minds of the consumer

Ultimately, this is the outcome you’d like but in the same way you cannot go out and create a viral video, you also cannot go out and capture the hearts and minds of your customers.

The way to get there is to attend to what’s in your own heart and mind.  Are you thinking of the sale or do you care about whether your service is making it easier for your customer to do business?  Are you scheduling your Facebook and Twitter posts days in advance in order to get them out of the way or are you making sure that you’re there in the community, reassuring people who are concerned, confused, upset and acknowledging those who have said something nice?  You can’t control other people, especially not en masse in social media.  Your own attitudes and behavior determine whether people choose to give you their hearts and minds.

Develop a marketing plan and stick to it

The value of a marketing plan is in analyzing where you are, who you are, who your customers are and what you think they want.   But once you start planning into the future your marketing plan needs to be flexible, needs to live and breathe on a daily basis, unless you don’t think that the environment is changing every single day (was Pinterest in your marketing plan?) One of the greatest tricks that marketers need to learn today is how to be nimble without being fickle.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with rules. It’s when businesses become rule-bound that they set themselves up to become average.

It’s important to learn the mechanics and rules of social media, yet, every time I hear people laying them down like the Ten Commandments, I bristle.  What do all these departures from the rules have in common? They are more about the process than the endgame. These are the kinds of rules I like to break because they are in keeping with my philosophy, but you may like to think outside the lines of other rules.

Have you ever broken a marketing rule and if so, what happened?

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About Ilana Rabinowitz

Ilana Rabinowitz

Ilana Rabinowitz is the vice-president for marketing for Lion Brand Yarn and blogs about social media at Marketing Without A Net. Rabinowitz approaches marketing with an uncompromising focus on the customer and a grounding in psychology and neuroscience to understand what motivates people to make buying decisions.  She believes that businesses need to develop their own media as a means of creating a branded experience for customers.  She has spoken at digital marketing conferences including Web 2.0, Blogher Business and Internet Retailer. She is the author of a book about psychology, a book about mindfulness and co-author of a book about the culture of knitting. Follow her on Twitter at @ilana221.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.mcgrawmarketing.com patmcgraw

    Ilana,

    Great post.  When working with the leadership teams at small/medium sized businesses, I like to stress the importance of planning as well as the importance of writing the plan in pencil so that you can modify it based on data.  Then, I focus on the important of:

    Test
    Measure
    Analyze
    Modify
    Repeat

    After all, if your plan is to [ex] enter Market A or pursue Audience Z and your efforts fail because Market A fell into a recession or the government passed a law forbidding companies from outside the market to enter and do business…you need to be able to change your plan and focus on better opportunities.

    Looking forward to the comments of others!
    Pat

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

       Pat, I love it: Test, Measure, Analyze, Modify, Repeat (or Test, Measure, Analyze, Modify, Test, Measure Analyze, Modify until you get to Repeat)  It’s like a recipe or a piece of music–part art and part science.  Thanks for chiming in.

  • Jill Carlson

    Great post, Ilana. On your second point, not following arbitrary rules, I agree. But with Facebook specifically, EdgeRank (affinity x weight x time decay) plays such a huge role in what your followers see. So while you shouldn’t take the “post at 2pm on Thursdays” advice too seriously, it is important that you post great content, rich content (photos, links, etc.), and in a timely manner. It would be a shame to share valuable content, but never have it surface to your targeted audience!

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

       Jill, thanks for comment and your compliment. 

      When I say not to take too seriously the advice to post at a certain time, what I mean is that the right time for one company may be the wrong time for another company so just test it.  And while it may even be the right time for you this week for a certain type of post, it may not be true next week.  Watching your results over time will give you trends that are true for you and the way you engage. 

      As you say, it is extremely important (it’s everything!) to get your posts seen by others so anything and everything you can do to increase the likelihood matters.

      • Jill Carlson

        Absolutely – I agree. No one knows your business better than you, so it’s important to put advice in context & run your own tests. Amen to that! And thank you for responding!

  • http://twitter.com/EADolan Emily Dolan

    I’m studying Social Media Theory and Practice #NewhouseSM6 with @Dr4ward at @NewhouseSU and subscribe to this blog.  I really enjoyed this post and believe that you have a very valid and noteworthy point: there are rules that should be broken.  I especially enjoyed that the spirit of the post focused on the satisfaction and well-being of customers.  Overall, a very provocative (in a good way) and insightful post.  Thanks for sharing your valuable insight on this matter. 

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

       Thanks for your comment Emily.  I’m glad you liked it.

  • Sarah Faglio

    Hi Ilana,

    Thank you for sharing this helpful article on how to develop successful online marketing campaigns.  Tweeting is important and having a goal in mind is imperative to creating content to share.  A recent study showed hows the effectiveness of social media as a marketing tool.  Here is an article that further describes the study and its findings: http://www.grmwebsite.com/blog/bid/71928/Research-Shows-Social-Media-To-Be-An-Effective-Marketing-Tool  I hope this further supports your advice in using social media (such as Twitter and blogging) as a marketing tool.

    -Sarah

  • Anonymous

    There’s nothing wrong with breaking a few of those stereotypical rules! I like to challenge many of these rules from time to time as well!

  • http://www.mydiscproject.com/ Peter Scazzer

    Definitely I agree on this post.  The question here was if you will break these rules there should be a replacement or is there anyway to modify these marketing rules?

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

       Peter, the fact is that every one of those marketing rules is reasonable and you don’t really need to break them, but I am suggesting that you don’t need to follow them either.

      Most businesses, especially large ones follow these rules to the letter.  If you know your business and your brand, you can waver from the straight and narrow path when it means that you have experience and knowledge that tells you the standard route is not for you.  All of the great brands break some major marketing rule and that’s what sets them apart.  

  • Ralf Lippold

    Love the post – so true in my own work. Being a lean thinker, and helper your advice comes close right away. 

    Following the path into the future to the letter is (most probably) make the doom reality.

    Adapt fast to the reality around you, pivot into new directions (even though others advice to not do it).

    Thanks a lot for your insights Ilana, and Guy Kawasaki for sharing it on Twitter

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

       Ralf, thanks for your comment.  I like the way you rephrased the ideas in aphorisms.  And thanks for sharing the fact that Guy Kawasaki retweeted it.  I just heard him speak about social media and he embodies the message he shares of being an enchanting brand.

  • http://www.probloggingsuccess.com/ Jane | Problogging Success

    Love the post Ilana. Especially I would like to break the last rule. I never believed in a static marketing plan. And the fact that a marketing strategy works today doesn’t mean that we need to hold on tight to it for the next ten years!

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