The Obsession with Best Practices

January 29, 2014

One of the best blog posts I’ve read this month is "Digital labor ou digital volunteer? Marx à l’heure du web 2.0” by Sylvain Léauthier. He argues that the world of personal and professional marketing on the social web has become obsessed with best practices. In this article, Léauthier says (translated from French): "Websites, blogs, and articles are full of tips, recommendations, white-papers, and other good practices on the proper use of FacebookTwitter, or blogs, whether personal or professional contexts. … These tips may sound like real injunctions, as if there was only one right way to behave and use these media. This obsession with 'how-to' prevents an introspective approach to our use…”

And Léauthier, I completely agree.

Firstly, just read enough best practices, and you’ll realize they contradict each other. Dan Zarrella says to write tweets between 120 and 130 characters, while Miranda Miller tells you to use fewer than 100 characters per tweet. Zarrella says people who post 10-50 times per day have the most followers, with the "sweet spot" at 22 tweets per day. Miller says to tweet 4 times per day or less.

Secondly, although best practices are important and offer valuable information, the obsession with these best practices results in two bad behaviors: total dependency and overlooking your goals.

Avoid total dependency

It’s actually helpful to read best practices, and you should pay attention to them. However, don't depend entirely on someone else telling you how to do everything without some experimentation and analytics assessment on your own part. Someone told you the best time to post to Facebook is at noon, so you do. It’s good to respond to best practices by experimenting on them. However, if you never go back and check on how effective posting at noon was for you, you’re lacking an important step in your social media management: analytics assessment for iterative improvement.

Know your goals

Every department is different. This means that its goals are different, meaning its key metrics are different, meaning the tactics employed on its social media platforms will be different. This means there isn’t “one right way to behave,” as Léauthier says. One tactic may bring you more followers in your key audience. Another tactic will bring you more interaction and engagement on your posts. In their best practices, the experts tell you how to do both, but they can’t tell you which tactic is more important, because different metrics match up to the unique goals of your department.

Think about best practices lists this way: 

  1. When a social media expert tells you how to get more followers or more shares, they really are telling you some ways to get more followers or shares. But ask yourself, will more followers or shares affect your ultimate goal, or is it actually click-throughs or likes? Figure out what metrics matter to you.
  2. See these lists as opportunities to do an informed experiment. Although best practice lists aren’t the end-all-be-all rules of the trade, they are still highly valuable. An uninformed experiment is like shooting in the dark, but best practices help guide your aim.
Posted By
Stephanie Hatch Leishman

Stephanie Hatch Leishman

Social Media Strategist
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Communication Production Services

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