In their new book, marketing experts Tim Tobin and Lisa Braziel suggest that the activity generated by social media sites is analogous to a giant, ongoing 24-hour cocktail party. In fact, the name of their book neatly sums up their philosophy: Social Media Marketing Is A Cocktail Party: Why You Already Know the Rules of Social Media Marketing.

They encourage readers to believe that social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter create an ongoing cyber party that you can step into and out of at will. While there’s no question that social media marketing offers another avenue to market yourself and build relationships with clients, referral sources and experts in your field – the cocktail party analogy seems like a stretch.

Or does it? Let’s take a closer look.

In fact, let’s peek through the windows at an imaginary cocktail party in full swing. What are people doing and saying?

By the buffet table people are gathered in small groups making small talk and getting to know one another. In the kitchen a group of people are engaged in a heated debate over an article they read in the New York Times as the caterer tries to work around them. In the dining room, a group of animal lovers stand at the buffet table, cell phones in hand, sharing pictures of their dogs. On the couch in the living room, two professionals sit discussing business next to a couple of people talking about sports. From the hallway come bursts of laughter as someone tells jokes to a group gathered there.

Supporting all of this activity, the host (think social media site) is working hard: providing the location for the party, greeting new comers and introducing them to one another.

Alright, maybe the analogy isn’t too far off. A look at our imaginary party tells us that everything people talks about at a real cocktail party — sports, politics, personal interests and business — with a few jokes thrown in, is likely to be part of the chatter on a social media site. But there are some people who love parties and jump in with both feet. Then there are those who don’t. For those wondering how to navigate this new social scene – and do a little marketing at the same time – the territory seems very foreign.

Don’t worry, Tobin and Braziel, say – it’s easy. Use the same conversational strategies you’d use at a cocktail party and you’ll be fine.

So what does that really mean? Well, for example, you wouldn’t go to a cocktail party spewing one long commercial message about how great you and your firm are – and you shouldn’t do this on line either. In a real life social situation, surrounded by people you don’t know you’d start with small talk, share a little about yourself personally, ask questions of your fellow party goers, tell a funny story or two, and then mention something about your firm. Or, you might be introduced as an attorney, say a little about what you do, then spend a little time finding out what everyone else does as well. There’s give and take – some talk of business mixed with conversation about your family, your hobbies, maybe the sports you follow.

Offering very definitive guidelines on this subject, popular attorney and blogger Nicole Black recommends using the 50-30-10-10 rule, when operating in an online forum. (Her forum of choice is Twitter, but this rule can apply to almost any social media forum.) Here’s what she advises attorneys who decide to step into the party:

  • 50 percent of your posts should provide followers with links to articles, blog posts and other online content you think might be of interest; this includes “re-tweets,” or “sharing” of relevant content. If you want to be seen as an expert in a particular field, this is the opportunity to aggregate information on a specific subject matter and share it with others – but do so in a way that is helpful and informative;
  • 30 percent of your posts and comments should consist of replies to other users’ posts, links, status updates or tweets —in other words, engage in conversations with others at least 30 percent of the time. Don’t make it a habit to focus only on yourself and your needs;
  • 10 percent of your posts can consist of self-promotion, including your firm’s blog posts and information about professional activities and accomplishments;
  • The final 10 percent of your online communication can be comprised of posts or tweets that are devoted to your personal interests and hobbies.

If thinking about the world of social media as a giant cocktail party makes it friendlier and less foreign to you, feel free to do so. While nothing will replace real, live human contact in terms of marketing effectiveness, adhering to that notion and these conversational guidelines will help you navigate that world and market yourself appropriately. Just remember: be sociable, it’s a party. Don’t make it all about business.

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