The single most important rule of business is this one – “Don’t follow rules.  Start with rules, and then follow results”.

I am not a big fan of social media.  Personally I love how Facebook allows me to connect daily with all my geographically scattered friends, co-pipe band crazy followers and of course, my family.  I am sure I am not the only mother who learns far more about her children’s interests, friendships and activities from their Facebook postings than from the conversations at the breakfast table.

But professionally I am just not a big fan of anything that competes for the precious headspace of business owners with questionable returns.  Social media is a very big competitor.  The best compromise I have managed to nurture with social media professionally is to continue to engage as meaningfully as possible despite the nagging feeling that I must be missing something important, and alongside a somewhat uneasy feeling each time a LinkedIn contact endorses me for a skill I am pretty certain I don’t have.

And I am not alone in my uncertainty of what I might be missing or to the authenticity of the levels of professional engagement on social media.  Of course we could employ or contract the assistance of those we believe have the expertise to get tangible results from the social media system, and many of us do.  But if social media offers us a way to connect personally with our contacts, really what’s the point of someone else doing it? And if it appears to our followers that someone else is doing it then surely we actually create a bigger disconnection and authenticity issue?  But doing it ourselves means we have to spend precious time and headspace connecting, commenting on and sharing information and ideas to assure our contacts that we are clever, informed, interested and up to date.

I understand that there are many dashboard/management systems to assist us with the management of social media interaction, that we need a strategy and that someone always knows someone who definitely made the most critical contact of their career with social media – but my question is always, no matter how efficient we might get at the procedure or how many valuable contacts we do make, how much are we actually earning from our time spent on social media?  And more importantly, how much is the time we are spending on social media and away from other key activities of business leadership costing us?  And is there a cost to our authenticity from the nature of our contributions?

I assure the social media experts that I am not suggesting that there is no value to social media.  My thoughts and questions in this article simply relate to the cost of social media activities to our headspace, our bottom line and our authenticity.

I am going to answer my own question here and suggest that the only rule that really applies to these sorts of questions is that results should rule where we follow.  I had the experience of a real life example of this with specific regard to social media this past week.

Having spent some time looking around my Facebook business site with one of my well-qualified and experienced support staff we noticed that the last few blog articles we had placed on the page were not being read whereas the postings previously had been well read.  The difference turned out to be that we had recently been posting the blogs in such a manner that only a heading appeared on the post i.e. “archive link to the latest EnQ newsletter”.  In theory, the social media training is to place as little copy as possible onto the post to avoid putting people off.  BUT in practice, the previous postings that displayed the article content, with the first paragraph at least, immediately readable, was read, and shared, by far more people.  Clearly some actual content was needed to engage the readers to read on, share and comment.

I cite this example on the subject of social media in this article but these kinds of “against the rules” situations happen in all kinds of areas of business.  We therefore need to be aware that rules can often lead us away and not towards successful results.  Assumptions, experts and previous experiences can be dangerous if we rely solely on them for direction for too long.  They should be a starting point only.  We need to consistently be reading and interpreting our results ourselves, so that we can know for sure what it actually working.  We might not always know why but we can work further on that when an unexpected result or trend is exposed.

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