The Old (Evolving) Rules

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Are rules set and permanent?

That’s obviously not the case – especially when it comes to social media. I’ve recently been watching some of the discourse online and how many people struggle, because they feel that no one is giving them any hard and true answers as to how they should be doing things online. What these people fail to realize is that marketing using these digital channels is not a linear process and very much like a relationship. The dynamics at play call for very different strategies and tactics as you move from brand to brand. "You’re not telling me what others in my industry have done to be successful?" is a common comment I see/hear.

Let’s be raw for a minute…

If I explained to you how I managed to join with my business partners here at Twist Image and how we built the business to be successful, do you think it’s a model that you could replicate? Look at Instagram. Do you think that’s a model you can replicate? Here’s the thing: in a world where you can now do almost anything in these digital channels, what makes you think that any kind of best practice is actually going to provide a semblance of success for your brand? Show me a successful story and I’ll show you many exceptions with very few rules.

Should I follow you back?

A friend recently decided to get more active on Twitter. Because they have some visibility in the marketplace (they’re a known entity in media), they asked whether or not they should follow everyone back on Twitter who is following them. Had you asked me this question when Twitter first started out, I would have said "yes!" Had you asked me this question two years ago, I would have said "no, follow back only those people that you find interesting." Being asked that question the other day, I was stumped. Why? Because the answer is yes, you should and no, you shouldn’t and/or be very selective. If I look at three of my contemporaries: Gary Vaynerchuk, Amber Naslund and Mark W. Schaefer, I would say that the three of us have very similar business goals. We all use Twitter as a way to connect, provoke some thought leadership, all with the ultimate goal of getting clients to work with us. When I watch those three in Twitter action, none of them have/deploy the same strategies or techniques. We’re all in the same industry and we all have the same business goals and we’re all so fundamentally different at leveraging Twitter. And, most importantly, we all have very different followers with varying degrees of engagement.

Rules have become personal.

Do you remember when online marketers would tell you that you should never use the word "free" or use all caps in an email subject headline? The thought was that these emails would be relegated to the junk mail folder (or, even worse, be marked as spam). No more. The spammers have become so sophisticated, that they don’t even use those techniques anymore, so the rules have changed. In fact, we regarded email as the future of direct marketing and we’re currently seeing a very different kind of email marketing opportunity arise: one where it acts as a trigger to engage consumers to enact in different ways. More rules that are changing, evolving or becoming extinct.

Rails yes. Rules no.

Does this mean that everything is up in the air? No. There are rails. There are instances of blunders, foibles and big time idiotic moves that have highlighted the importance of knowing the rails: where they are and where they go, but that’s about it. We can talk about everything from context and consistency to personalization and a certain humanness that are profound rails of what makes something work in the digital channels (and what makes other things die), but even knowing where the rails are (and keeping your hands on them as you walk down the path) is no guarantee of success. 

Great, now what?

Why not go back and look at all of your digital marketing channels (website, mobile environment, search engine optimization, email marketing, social media, affiliate program, web analytics, etc…) and start looking through the "rules" you created to ensure success. Make a list of these rules. Then, do some quick online searches, attend some webinars or local conferences and see if any of your rules have changed, shifted or have been debunked.

The results will surprise you.


  1. Great post Mitch! I find that I’m rethinking some of the social media rules I’ve followed. I recently scheduled my first tweets and I’m sure I’ll keep doing that — in moderation. The best practice you give about whether to follow people back is an excellent one of how the rules do change and should. Maybe someday there’ll be a hard set of rules like there used to be in what is now called traditional marketing but I don’t expect that to happen any time soon. As long as social and digital media continue to rapidly evolve, the rules will too.

  2. You just discussed the bane of social media Mitch. For people it is much easier to succeed in social media than a brand. But the idea of brands selling and marketing and advertising is what is driving the VC’s the Facebook IPO the bubble and the aura of the platforms.
    But when I ask people for proof social works for brands in terms of moving sales or earning ROI I get so little back. And the few big successes can not be replicated. Brian Solis recently published a slide share showing how brands should use Influence to launch products. His one case study of this working? A rollercoaster at seaworld in texas…from 2008!! Then he highlighted 6 big brands that used influence to launch products….with no proof this worked.
    MTV just got kudos for 100mil total fans. Yet go to the main MTV brand page and just to get 10,000 to 30,000 actions a day on the page (likes, comments etc) they need 33mil fans.
    I see this at social media club breakfasts…professionals looking for a repeatable road map. and there is none. Things that work for one brand or person most likely won’t work for others. Problem is there are a whole lot of jobs depending on forcing Social as a success or somewhere you have to be. When for many businesses their street sign will blow away social for impact.

  3. Mitch – The thing I struggle with in light of how iterative things have gotten is how, from a project management standpoint, to execute when the path of execution is so non-linear. By “how” I mean, what tools are useful for planning, executing and communicating non-linear, highly iterative project flows. Pretty much every project management tool out there is built for linear planning and execution. Set and forget. But that model doesn’t work in dynamic project management environments. At least not for my agency. That said, I would genuinely appreciate knowing what tools and strategies related to executing per se do you find are helpful for your team and for communicating with clients who demand at least some semblance of at least high level linearity to the project execution flow?

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