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As a marketer disguised as a consumer, I enjoy being actively solicited. I can’t tell you how many hundreds of friend requests I’ve received over the years via MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. What I can tell you is how many I’ve accepted – 3. Most of these were businesses reaching out in an attempt to introduce me to their products and yes, this does include bands. I consider musicians to be business owners with a product that needs to be sold just like anything else. I accept those 3 solicitations from a local cake decorator, a band from California and a fellow marketer. Maybe I am someone who critiques more difficultly then others because of my career but I would like to share with you the reasons I choose to accept these solicitations because I think it may help business sway their pathetic attempts at social networking in a more profitable direction.

When I was first confronted by a personalized friend request on MySpace from a local cake decorator, I was intrigued. The first reason I didn’t automatically click the “block” button was because it was something new, something I hadn’t seen before – a cake decorator who owned her own business reaching out to the local community, I was impressed to say the least. The second was because she sent a personalized message with the request, it said: “Hello, my name is [Name Here] and I decorate cakes. There is always a birthday, wedding or anniversary so I thought you would like to add me in case you should ever need a cake!” You can’t beat that message, you really can’t. I enjoyed its simplicity and how genuine it sounded. The third reason I accepted was because her picture wasn’t something obnoxious and distracting, it was a candid image of one of her best custom cakes. Maybe it was my passion to support local small businesses, the fact that the request was so refreshing or that she doesn’t SPAM bulletins or messages or status updates. That will get someone deleted quickly and I will get into that in my third and final example below.

If you (as a consumer) have a MySpace or Facebook – I can almost guarantee that you’ve been friend (fan) requested by a band at least once. These are some of the most struggling young individuals who actually know a lot about the different websites to join and how to send requests for better exposure but have absolutely no idea what they are up against. There are thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of bands sending SPAMED requests each day – so what set this band apart from the rest and spiked my interest enough to accept their plea? Most of the examples of things I appreciated about the requests will run common through my three “acceptance” examples because they are all just proper conduct when sending a request.

The first thing I noticed about this band that made them different was their default picture. It wasn’t of flaming skulls or weird cryptic text written in blood, it did not contain weird cult-like images of cows being sacrificed or the typically image of a red rose – it was candid image of their band and it wasn’t professionally taken. The second thing and final thing that caught my attention was that they set the music player on their page to only play when you clicked play. Who here has visited a MySpace page before and been blasted by music? We all have. This showed me that they didn’t want to push their music on me and that they wanted me to make the first move. I browsed their images and read the short about me and clicked the Play button. The music wasn’t necessarily what I typically enjoy but I accepted the friend request and have started to listen to their music – and that’s what’s most important.

The third and final example of a business that I decided to accept a request from came via Twitter. Unfortunately, businesses are trying way too hard to force themselves into networking these days and Twitter is a terrible place to learn network etiquette. The way businesses treat a tweet-relationship is a terrible, terrible way to gain market share. I was recently ‘followed’ by a company that specializes in marketing and PR. At first, I felt that they simply aligned my interests with their own and sent the request, so I didn’t reciprocate the request by following them. However, when I had a few moments I looked over their recent tweets and found a few things that I enjoyed.

This company posted very useful, industry related information and links in their tweets and didn’t use their Twitter account to SPAM information or sales about their own organization. This is a common fault with businesses and Twitter – no one cares that you are the self-proclaimed experts in the field. I accepted this request because they posted short and useful tweets that also included brief updates about the new relationships they forge with clients. These are examples of ‘ok’ tweets. Finally, I noticed something else and this is very important. I looked at their following to followers ratio. About 50% of the people they are following follow them in return. This is an awesome ratio for a business and I was quickly impressed. You are always tipped off when the ratio is 17,385 following / 123 followed.

So what can you as a business do to improve your chances of being accepted in the online social networking world? It’s actually quite simple. Here are three rules to get started:

1 – DO NOT SPAM – This includes friend requests, bulletins, messages, status updates, tweets and referral requests.
2 – KEEP IT PERSONAL – When sending a request treat it very professionally but try to add a personal message, keep it short and to the point.
3 – DON’T TWEET NONSENSE – Consumers will quickly identify a tweeter who posts things that have no value and do it every few minutes.

Mega-corporations like Bank of America are starting to adapt to the sensitivity of social networking with their clients. In this case, it can become more harmful then helpful should you begin to bother your current customers. Small businesses seem to have jumped right into their efforts to network sometimes do not have the guidance to engage these methods properly just yet. You can quickly expand your online portfolio if you follow just a few simple steps (some listed above) and do so at a careful pace. I encourage business owners, especially small business owners to do some research and test it out personally before plastering their company names in front of everyone. Learn the programs, language and techniques first and lastly – have fun! Enjoy this opportunity, it will help you make it more personal!

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