Image Credit: Alex Bruda

Image Credit: Alex Bruda

No rule book exists to tell us how to behave ourselves in social media. With no eyes peeking into ours, we forget real people are out there reading our stuff and we  make an impression with every sentence we write online. A colleague told me about an agent who posted in public that his or her writers were undergoing plastic surgery and a vasectomy. Joke or not? Who knows. But even if it was a joke, not everyone read it that way.
Social media gives writers a place to find and connect with writers, editors, agents, readers, publishers and others in the publishing and media industry. Keeping your name out there not only leads to gigs and opportunities, but also shows future clients and publishers that you already know how to market your work.
So, here are 10 commandments to do right on social media, build up a following and mind your manners.

1. Thou shalt listen

This helps you get a feel for how people use the social media site or blog. It also encourages you to respond to others after you’ve heard them. Chris Brogan offers tips on listening.

2. Thou shalt do unto others to help without any expectations in return

One word: Karma. Even if karma isn’t real, helping others makes you feel good about yourself and drive you to do more. Plus, people will remember you for it and it’ll strengthen your relationships. Sarah Evans asks, “What have you done for your community today?”

3. Thou shalt read a diversity of resources and people

Spread your eWings and visit blogs, Twitter IDs and other accounts you haven’t read  (check blogrolls, Twitter followers, etc. to find new ones) and check your friends’ connections. Sticking with same people limits your ability to meet others.

4. Thou shalt respond

If people ask you a question or take the time to leave a comment in your blog, you can take a moment to reply. Notice this says, “Respond,” not “Respond to every single message directed to you.” It’s overkill to thank every single person for mentioning you, retweeting you, linking to you. Instead, return the favor by pointing to their stuff, responding in private or commenting on something else they wrote.
Also, write more than “I agree,” “Great post” and “Thank you.” We have so much content online, a lot of it wasteful. Compliments are always nice, but not in a public response that adds clutter. Email the person, if you can’t think of anything else to say.

5. Thou shalt be genuine

Be genuine about mentioning and promoting others. Be genuine about the things you say. Be real. Be you. Some mentioning other people come across as phony looking to ride the wave of someone else’s popularity or kiss up to that person. You love it when someone mentions you, right? And you tend to remember them better, right? Well?
When you write a blog, article or tweet — look for genuine opportunities to link to other people’s stuff, quote them or credit them. Notice this post has a few links to other people’s high quality content that explores a topic further for those interested. Bonus points if you mention a competitor.

6. Thou shalt play nice

It’s incredible how many arguments turn nasty online and how many people say things in a mean way. We all have different opinions. (That’s a good thing — it’d be a dull, dull world otherwise.) We just need to remember to play nice and show respect. It goes a long way.

7. Thou shalt remember that everyone can read your content

Mom, kids, editor, publisher and people who might hire you. You’ve probably heard a few of the stories about people landing jobs only to lose it because of something they said online.
It’s also wise not to cuss in public. Granted, some popular folks cuss. But not everyone can get away with this. You wouldn’t cuss in a job interview, would you? Think of the Internet as one big job interview. After all, writers don’t always do one gig forever.

8. Thou shalt not obsesseth with thy numbers

Email newsletters … Twitter followers … Blog comments … Blog readers. People email me asking how I got so many Twitter followers. Well, it didn’t happen in one night, one month or even six months. But who cares how long it took? The point is to have high quality conversations. Spammers have figured out how to gain high numbers in Twitter — so obviously, quantity means nothing.
Listen and deliver valuable stuff. They will come.

9. Thou shalt not gossipth

The kind of talk of someone else’s private business makes a person look like a gossip and future clients might fear you’ll gossip about them. Yes, skip sharing private details even if the subject is open about it.

10. Thou shalt forgo the hard sell

Social media helps you gain trust and credibility, which will build your relationships. People WILL connect with you and ask about your content. When you do, at least add value by telling people what they get out of it. How much should you self-promote? I believe it should be closer to 70/30. That’s between Pareto’s 80/20 and Maria’s suggestion.
Not convinced that writers need social media? Maybe Joanna Penn can convince you.
Agree? Disagree? Please share your thoughts in comments or create a blog post of your own and let us know about it.