As a social media agency that supports healthcare, financial services, non-profits, retailers and other agencies, Make Me Social is made up of a staff with significant experience throughout the communications industry, ranging from direct mail to public relations to long lead journalism, all of which have their own rules for professionalism and ethics.
It was quite apparent though that the same level of rules didn’t exist as we ventured into the web 2.0 world. In theory, this made sense because social media was built around the premise of individuals sharing unfiltered information quickly, and while this level of freedom has been tested over the years, the extremes have been accepted because social media is to be the next step in communication.
However, now that different industries are choosing to pursue strategies involving this next step, the current level of freedom has to be reconsidered.
Make Me Social realized that if we were to promote social media as an influential component of an overall business communications plan, we needed to show that guidelines exist. So, amongst our first goals was to develop our own standards and practices for how we would represent clients. We pulled from the different guidelines that exist and then tweaked to make them applicable. To date, they have served us well, but it has always been clear to us that larger scale regulations were necessary.
So, last week, when it was announced that the 2010 Associated Press Stylebook, a bible for many, had put together a section on how to use social media, we saw it as a significant step in organizing the medium.
The A.P. Stylebook , which was first published in 1953 as a 60 page collection of rules, now exists as a 450 page book of grammatical and technical answers on the writing process that provides consistency no matter the situation. With the new section on social media guidelines – which includes information and policies on using tools like Facebook and Twitter – members of the communications industry now have a set of standards to apply to their work in this arena. In addition, the Stylebook also includes 42 separate entries on terms such as app, blogs, click-throughs, friend, unfriend, etc., allowing them to officially become part of the literary vernacular.
It is important to understand that no one wants social media to be restricted to the degree journalism is (not even journalists), but developing basic standards allows people to differentiate between those organizations that would like to be taken seriously and those that don’t. The A.P. Stylebook isn’t law, but utilizing it gives social media the proper balance of freedom and authenticity.
Recently, a marketing expert in the financial services industry wrote in his blog an explanation on how social media is still very much in the “wild west” phase of its development, indicating that the reason why many reputable organizations have chosen not to dip their toe in yet is because law and order hasn’t come to town. Many have tried to “deputize” themselves as the rule makers by creating posts, holding webinars or publishing books of their own thoughts, but these attempts are the equivalent of city council passing ordinances. The A.P. is considered Congress.
Social media is in the mainstream (and, in truth, for many, the mainstream is now social media), but that doesn’t mean that certain benchmarks can’t still be hit in order to further legitimize its place. For social media, those benchmarks will come from the continued development of common practices by those that want the medium to flourish.