The Ten Commandments of New Social Media

The Social Media Rules

A lot of people new to social media wonder if there are any rules, and if so, what are they? You’ll be glad to know that yes, this frontier isn’t quite as wild as it looks. Even in these relatively early days, there’s a healthy set of conventions, laws and norms. Just like the original ten, these won’t keep you out of every kind of trouble, but they cover the big stuff pretty well.

Commandment #1: Thou Shalt Participate in the Conversation
The conversation is going to take place with you or without you. The 21st century has no patience with cowards. Opting out is not an option, so get in there and participate.

Commandment #2: Thou Shalt Not Lie
Nothing will sink you faster in the wired world than lying and all its variants. It’s too easy to compare stories, and too easy for your attempted coverups to get leaked. Don’t tell two conflicting stories in two different media. Don’t say you’re one thing when you know that your actions tell an entirely different story. Don’t tell lies of omission. And . . .

Commandment #3: Thou Shalt Not Astroturf
See Commandment #2. Don’t try to engineer conversation or use fake characters to advocate for you. I guarantee you will get caught, and your credibility will take a beating you may never get over. Creating a space for conversation is good. Creating sock puppets is bad.

Commandment # 4: Thou Shalt Talk Like a Human Being
Corporations don’t hold conversations. Enterprises don’t hold conversations. Entities don’t hold conversations. Conversations take place among people. Be a person.

Commandment #5: Remember Thy Community and Keep It Holy
It’s not an audience of passive recipients of your message. It’s a community made up of a complicated mix of personalities. The community has its own needs and its own imperatives. Take care of your community.

Commandment #6: Thou Shalt Not Be a Wimp
Bullies have been a factor in every social group that has ever existed. The anonymity of the Internet gives bullies an extra measure of courage. You must face bullies down every time you encounter them, clearly and forcefully.

Don’t let bully-wrangling turn you into an aggressive butthead yourself. And don’t be a hall monitor, waggling your finger and quoting rules. (Or commandments!) Instead, see #5: be a citizen who values civility and defends it on behalf of your community.

Commandment #7: Thou Shalt Not Snivel
You’re going to get beat up every once in awhile. Never, ever whine about it.

Commandment #8: Thou Shalt Write What Is Worth Reading
Typos aren’t necessarily a big problem, although you notice you never see one on Copyblogger, Problogger or Seth’s Blog. Vague, weak, insipid or meaningless writing are a big problem. Write clearly and with vigor. Cut out every line of corporate doublespeak. If you don’t know how to do that, subscribe to Copyblogger, read it faithfully, and put their advice into practice daily.

Commandment #9: Thou Shalt Not Pontificate About Shit Thou Knowest Nothing About
You will get caught and mocked and that’s just embarrassing.

Commandment #10: Thou Shalt Have a Sense of Humor
It’s just people, and people are pretty much the funniest thing ever. Nothing will serve you online as well as a sense of humor, especially about yourself.

If you found this post useful, I would be honored if you were to Digg, Sphinn and Stumble it!

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  1. There is soooo much diversity in this community…

    No offense to these writers. Is it necessary for us to hold them up as the paragon of virtue every single time???

    Frankly, I’m more interested in people that are innovating in the space much more (from a perspective) or perhaps newer versions of Copyblogger, Problogger, and Seth that are arising.

    Making these guys the paragons squelches our diversity and makes life in social media like whitebread. Trite and banal.

    Please, give up our sacred cows and our idols…..seriously. Please…for the love of all that this space means and stands for. Please.

    >> Copyblogger, Problogger or Seth’s Blog.

    Clearly I should put down the coffee.

  2. Sonia Simone says:

    Fair enough, although I will say that I do see little typos on a lot of the non-holy-grail blogs, which kind of screws up my example.

    It’s an interesting point–do we quit reading the big guys because everyone else does? Every one of those blogs I subscribed to the first time I read it, not because I knew (yet) that they were holy grail, but because they were wildly useful.

    But let me know what blogs are the new paragons? Who should be wildly influential? Who should we be reading? I’ve mentioned Chris Brogan and Dosh Dosh in this space, and they’re both pretty great, but I will say that neither of them can (yet) speak to the mass audience that Darren, Brian & Seth can.

    I do really dig Ittybiz, and I probably should have worked her in there somewhere. Maybe I’ll add her to the sense of humor one. Everyone, go read, she’s really good.

  3. Good stuff, I particularly like number #9, made me laugh!

  4. I found your blog (as well as Naomi’s at Itty Biz and Shane and Peter’s at…well…Shane and Peter’s Blog) through having taken a swerve off the beaten track and I am happy to come across stuff which makes me marginally less stupid everytime I visit.

    I still read Seth’s Blog because it’s still interesting not because it’s popular. Once it stops being interesting people will leave. This is probably the eleventh commandment on your list.

    Good post Sonia.

  5. Sorry. I think I’ve had that under my skin for a bit.

    I think those examples are probably great for explaining to clients.

    I’m a big Chris Brogan fan. Two blogs in a somewhat related vein are the Web Strategist and Conversation Agent. I think Chris would recommend both as well as other innovators in the space like Beach Walks with Rox.

    I think Maki of Dosh Dosh is smart about a lot of things–I think his specialty is his post design and using massive white space on his blog.

    I think one move we can take from Darren, is that the video moment is certainly here.

  6. Sonia Simone says:

    D’oh, Tim, you are so right, “Thou Shalt Be Interesting” should have been #1.

    Cool, Nathan, thanks I will check those out. I think very highly of Chris as well–he puts out an amazing amount of great stuff.

  7. Sonia Simone says:

    Thanks Caro! And I even added the numbers back in so that 9 and 10 show up. #9 was a little indulgent on my part, but I’ll pretty much post anything that makes me laugh.

    Thanks, by the way, to all for the Sphinns and Stumbles. I love my readers and I would really like some more of them.

  8. kexbrown says:

    After being a lurker for about a year, in the last three months I have started joining the conversation. These commandments are excellent.

    I was actually turned on to commenting on other blogs by Caroline Middlebrook. If you are looking for a new blogger to follow or just some blogging advice, I recommend paying her blog a visit now and again. I promise it won’t be a waste of time.

    By the way, I was NOT paid to say that. :)

  9. Sonia Simone says:

    I like Caro a lot as well. She’s the only “make money online” person I read regularly any more. Her authenticity and humility really stand out against the sea of same-y blogs that promote the same techniques, the same hype, the same affiliate products that are all going to lead to a six-figure income in three weeks.

    I have a select number of those that I do read occasionally, as I think there are a few useful points to be picked up here and there, but they’re not people I want to be in a conversation with. Caro is.

    Welcome to remarcom, I hope you stick around!

  10. Troy says:

    It’s not often I find something funny to read on this subject, nice post! I’d say that you can get away with a few mistakes on the other commandments as long as you’re solid on #10 :)

  11. Sonia Simone says:

    Troy, I think that’s very true!

  12. Yah, I unsubscribed to because he started coasting and writing lame posts. I guess he had other stuff going.
    I just started a new full-time job, so what am I going to do? Get up earlier and post. Get more subs. Tell it like it is. Innovate. Iterate. Generate new ideas and run’em up the flagpole.
    I am a new media guy in a fourth-generation world looking for the fifth-generation concept.
    If you wanna help, hit the forum. Hit me with you best ideas. We’ll turn them into a book and a training course.
    Ask me about it at SOBCon – I’m going if I have to sleep in the friggin’ lobby.

    Hey Sonia, do you wanna be a sponsor? Send me an e-mail.

  13. thanks for his good post!

  14. It’s such a neat thing to be a part of, the slow painful death of all the crap everyone is so sick of looking at that teaches the Internet generation that the laziest people are the most successful ones.

    Social media is becoming like this higher power that had to step in and say, “All right, enough is enough. Time for a good old-fashioned clean up.”

    I have seen only a couple of salescopy sites pop up claiming to offer the “web 2.0 marketing secrets” and tell you how you can be part of community themed sites, get this, on autopilot!

    Too bad that people who care about the integrity of their favorite hangouts quickly put them in their place.

    I feel like I’ve been let out of a cage. I’ve been wanting to tell these hype-mongers where to shove it for so long but they hid.

    When slimy salespeople try to invade places where there are people trying to collaborate intelligently, it is pretty fun to see.

    I even had to write a eulogy/parody post to “Dear Mr. Internet Marketing Guru” and bid him farewell.

  15. Hey Sonia, it’s Samantha from iggli! It was really great to meet you at GroundFloor Media’s event tonight (2/20) and talk with you about Gen Y/X/Boomer issues! I remember you mentioned this post and I really love “Thou Shalt Not Astroturf.” Definitely dugg! Feel free to bop on over to my blog, you’re also on my rss :)

  16. Sonia Simone says:

    Hey Samantha, really good to see you! Thanks for the Digg. xox

    @everybody, Samantha is part of the coolest new blogging community, really a neat project.

  17. Susan Muegge says:

    I work in marketing, and I can’t tell you how few people can write anything worth reading, within and without the blogosphere. While copyblogger is a great suggestion, the thing that enables people to write really well about anything is passion. Ask a writer about the Oxford comma–even if they can’t write worth crap for their industry, they instantly become animated and interesting. You can read all day, but until you’ve tapped into something you’re passionate about, you’ll still be writing boring drivel.

  18. Sonia Simone says:

    That is a very good point, and I think a lot of boring blogs (and other boring writing) come out of people writing what they think they’re supposed to write or what they think would make money, instead of what they actually find interesting.

  19. Hi Sonia, excellent list, in particular “Thou Shalt Not Pontificate About Shit Thou Knowest Nothing About”…

    I call it the Cliff Claven syndrome(the know it all mailman from Cheers for those who need a reference).

    If I had a dollar for every half baked post I’ve read, I’d be retired by now. Later…

  20. Todd Jordan says:

    Great set! This is a good and instructive read. I’ll definitely be linking back to these.

  21. Reading this a couple months later and I think your post is 98-99% spot on. Well done.

    See you around.

  22. Matt Hames says:

    I disagree with #3, and think it’s where the biggest opportunity might be. Take a look at BMW’s Viral idea. They invented a town, invented a guy to make a film about the town. The invented guy has a Facebook page, a Flickr account, a YouTube account. The absurdity is that the town built a ramp to launch BMW cars to America (from Bulgaria).

    I liken it to Wrestling. People who watch wrestling know it’s fake. But they are entertained. Thus, be entertaining and you can invent characters to tell a story using social media. In my opinion.

  23. Jay Deragon says:

    Love the article and the frankness of the ten points. The old would respond Who do you think you are? And the new would respond “We are The Peoples Congress of Commerce.” I said that to a Fortune 500 executive recently and he said “Are people really that interested in media?”. Go figure

  24. Sonia Simone says:

    @Matt Hames, that’s an interesting point–frank astroturf, if it’s entertaining and makes a good story, can be great. But that’s different from Walmart creating a blog to follow “real” customers around the country on an RV trip, only to quickly emerge that the whole thing was staged. Godin’s argument is that if your audience doesn’t get angry when they find out it’s just a story, you’re in good shape.

    @Jay, it fascinates me that in addition to the growing rich/poor gap, there is a major (and not shrinking, as far as I can tell) clued/clueless gap. The patterns are so clear to some and entirely invisible to others.

  25. Brian Yakman says:

    I’m not sure if anyone has pointed this out yet, but ironically, you have a typo on Commandment 8. You say “you never see on one”. I believe you mean “you never see one on”. Sorry, I’m not trying to be a wise guy. I just thought it was funny, especially given the commandment it was on.

  26. Sonia Simone says:

    Ha, hilarious Brian! Fixed, and thanks.

  27. Nice collection of ideas here. The site looks fantastic by the way.

    Michael@ Awareness * Connection@s last blog post..Hamsterbilities: Preparing Kids for Responsibilty

  28. Sonia Simone says:

    Thanks Michael! You’re the very first commenter on the new design, woo hoo! I wish I had a prize for you. :)

  29. Sometimes I wonder if we are truly on the verge of some fantastic social media driven revolution that will utterly transform the world for the better. Sometimes :-)

    Seamus Anthonys last blog post..Too Busy for Self

  30. Mark says:

    Good list! I’m working on lurking less, in accordance with #1.

    I laughed at #3. I haven’t heard astroturf used in vain before. Not sure if you were only going for fake grass or if this is slang for a comb-over.

    Mark (who has a healthy, bushy head of hair with just one teensy weensy grey bit) :-)

    Marks last blog post..Summertime News

  31. Ron Amundson says:

    What about paid astroturfing, either via upfront payment to assist in community building, or the proverbial, join this and get a free (most amazing deal ever)?

    The pay for poster model seems to run under the radar, although its a fairly common practice by many to accellerate growth to reach critical mass where the community becomes self sustaining.

    The get the free deal model is a lot more overt and common.

    Neither model lends itself to significant participant passion in the community, albeit the best pay for post participants are passionate about their subject area. Organic growth otoh can and does work wonders in the passion and sustainability domain, the problem is getting from A to B.

    My preference over the last 4 years has been organic, albeit in many ways, those who used the revenue short cut seem to have done very well. As social media evolves, what are folks thoughts? Will the less than geniune methods fall out of favor, or will they grow as folks clamor for more and more of the pie as quickly as possible?

    Ron Amundsons last blog post..Why do so many wordpress themes tank?

  32. Sonia Simone says:

    That’s a good question. The old-fashioned “social media purist” in me says that the fake stuff will never have the power of the real stuff. But as social media becomes more and more mainstream, it might be that the expectations change.

    For now, I think astroturfing is still too risky (plus it’s lame). There’s always a savvy user somewhere who spots the 10 weirdly bright, flat comments from the same IP address and calls you on it. If you can’t get a few people passionate enough about your thing to evangelize it for real, go back and get more remarkable. Maybe Pepsi or Nike could get away with the paid model to create buzz, but a smaller business without the support of superbowl ads and mass media storytelling stands to gain much more by going organic.

  33. Ozarksagent says:

    What a great post, made me think, laugh and react. Learned a couple things too! Thanks for helping us struggling to learn how to blog like you pros!

  34. Sonia Simone says:

    Thanks Oz! (I hope I may call you Oz.) :)

  35. JustinSMV says:

    What a great list! thanks for sharing

    JustinSMVs last blog post..Don’t Be Corrupted By Social Media Slang

  36. Jay Philips says:

    Thank you for documenting the commandments. I plan on following all of the commandments and will be passing them along to the rest of my peeps.


    Jay Philipss last blog post..Nelson Tan added 5 new blog posts


  1. [...] Amid all the hype and jive about social media is remarkably good blog, Remarkable Communication, by Sonia Simone, which starts to make some sense of what it is all about. For example, I call attention to her Ten Commandments of Social Media. [...]