Imagine inviting guests to a birthday party that you orchestrated for a family member. As things get underway, your next door neighbor, who happens to have a Tupperware business, notices all of the people at your house and decides that it’s a great time to pop in and solicit some of your guests. How would you feel as you watch your neighbor all but forget why everyone is gathered? Many of you would most likely ask the brash visitor to either stop or leave. Is it because Tupperware sales are inherently evil?  Of course not; it simply is happens to be the wrong forum for such activity.

I’d like to use this illustration for how some small businesses use social media. Oftentimes, entrepreneurs show up at a place designated for fun and then ruin everything by peddling services to anything that breathes.  Is there anything wrong with promoting your business? No. However, it is critical to respect the rules of the road as set forth by the social network you are engaged with.

A former schoolmate recently included me in her social media circle. As if turns out, she runs a small business. Every day, she all but inundates me and her contacts with sales "specials"; as a consequence, I have trained myself to overlook her numerous offers and sales ploys. To be truthful, it's kind of aggravating - and it's my job to be knee-deep in ads! I put up with this poor use of social media because she's someone I know. The sad truth is a potential customer will not be as forgiving.

Instead of showing up at the social media party with your hand out, try implementing one or more of the following ideas:

Vote on It
Social media works best when the average person feels as if they can participate in the process.  Instead of ramming a “buy it now” message down the throat of your audience, turn things around and promote a sale by voter participation.  For example, you can create a post saying something like, “Would you rather see 25% off handbags or 25% off all shoes? Vote now and we’ll have the winning sale this weekend!”

Never Leave Empty-Handed
Make it a point to provide your audience with interesting or helpful tidbits of information.  For example, a plumber could post something like, “…If your garbage disposal smells funny, try pouring in a one cup of bleach and one cup of baking soda…”  The idea is to send the reader away with something they didn’t have before.  If you make this a habit, they will begin to view you as a trusted source of information.  And when the time comes to overtly promote your business, you’ll have a more receptive audience.

Lighten the Mood
While I’m a proponent of professionalism, it’s sometimes good to have unguarded moments – show the public that you are not some faceless, profit machine.  At good way of doing that is poking fun at yourself.  For example, you could post all of your bloopers and outtakes from your radio and TV ads online in a collection.  The hope is that there could be some viral-gold in your mistakes.

Walter Dailey is a proven creative strategist. He’s the lead consultant and executive producer for Dailey Sound Vector, a creative services organization that specializes in jingles, radio ads and marketing campaign development for small and mid-sized businesses.  Ask Walter your questions at walter@dsvmedia.com