Are Social Media Rules Made to be Broken?

General Douglas MacArthur famously said,

“Rules are mostly made to be broken and are too often for the lazy to hide behind”.

Going by a provocative post last week on Media Bullseye, it would appear that Chip Griffin subscribes to the late general’s principle, with regard at least to social media.

Throwing Out the Social Media Rulebook opens with the claim that “far too many” of Chip’s colleagues treat social media “more as a religion than as an art” and goes on to complain of “rule after rule that many think cannot be broken in order for an activity to qualify as legitimate and successful”.

His view?

I’m here to tell you that most of the rules are bunk, and we as an industry do ourselves a disservice by frightening off potential participants with absurd proclamations of the way things must be.

He lists nine of these rules that he says “just make no sense” and, for each, explains why:

  1. It Isn’t a Blog Without RSS.
  2. It Isn’t a Blog Without Comments.
  3. The Press Release is Dead.
  4. The Social Media Release is King.
  5. It’s All About Conversation Not Messages.
  6. The Customer Controls the Relationship.
  7. Authenticity and Transparency are Immutable Truths.
  8. Audience is a Word of the Past.
  9. Lack of Comments Means Lack of Influence.

Lee Hopkins compliments Chip on his reasoning, then disagrees with him:

This ‘throw the rule book’ stuff is all fine and dandy when you know what the rules are, but most corporations, businesses, enterprises and the corporate communications people within them haven’t got a clue how to best engage.

Like a number of the people commenting, I am sympathetic to the view put forward in the original post and in fact have often made similar observations about “rules” that people presume to make for blogs. I believe the response “who says?” should be asked more often when people proclaim what blogs should and shouldn’t be and what they should and shouldn’t contain, how they should be written, who should write them and so on.

And indeed, as Lee Hopkins says, many of the comments on Chip’s post agree with the author. Although I read the comments overall as reflecting the full panoply of views from Agree, through Agree Somewhat, Disagree Somewhat, to Disagree.

The variety of views may have something to do with what Jim Turner has said:

This post is somewhat like a shotgun blast. Some of the pellets hit their mark and some not so much, but it does go to show that Social Media is an art and many of us out there have our own definition of what we think that art is.

Responding to that in the comments section Chip says: “definitely a shotgun approach”. Which was interesting: one of the most instructive aspects of this conversation via the comments is that Chip has actually been more accommodating to other points of view than one might expect from just reading the initial gauntlet-throwing-down post.

Shel Holtz agrees with Chip’s basic proposition, although not with every point in the “manifesto”. His comments, taking each of Chip’s points in turn, provide a neatly counterpoised viewpoint.

A couple of points on which he disagrees with Chip and where I find myself more in agreement with Shel’s viewpoint, are:

On blogs and RSS:

“It’s certainly still a blog without RSS. However, it’s probably a blog that isn’t being read as much as it would if it did have RSS.”

On transparency and example of not needing to disclose that a CEO blog is actually written by a ghostwriter – disagrees strongly (as do I)

“Good grief; there are so many communication channels where it’s acceptable to have a ghostwriter, why pollute this one?”

Shel’s general comment: there are no rules, just guidelines.

And it looks as if the discussion is not over yet: in a comment on Dec 14, Chip writes:

I plan to follow up on it in the coming days, so keep the thoughts coming.

A good discussion and some valuable reference posts for social media consultants and corporate strategists alike.

Des Walsh

Business coach and digital entrepreneur. With coach training from and its Graduate School of Coaching, and a founding member of the International Association of Coaching, Des has been coaching business owners and entrepreneurs for the past 20 years. Over the same period he has also been actively engaged in promoting the business opportunities of the digital economy. He is a certified Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) coach, and a certified specialist in social media strategy and affiliate marketing.

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  1. I like the “rules” as presented at OnLine Market World Conference ( Oct – 07 at SF) and BlogWorld (Nov 07 – Las Vegas).

    As a newbie blogger, the rules provide a framework, analogous to a fine painting being limited by the picture frame.

  2. Des,

    The “rules” which I deemed to be valuable take-aways were…

    (a) Strive to blog 3 times a week and get past the 3 month mark.
    (b) Carefully select area of expertise and authority and be authentic, communicative and listen to others.
    (c) “Distribution if King, but content is King Kong”.
    (d) Spend 50% of time reading other’s blogs.
    (e) Find thought leaders and contribute to their blogs.

  3. Carlos
    Thanks. Those are really practical rules, obviously distilled from experience. (a) is good – aiming at 3 times a week is more realistic for busy business people (any other kind) than the usual “you must blog at least once a day, preferably twice or three times a day” that “experts” so often trot out. To (d) I would add – and leave (intelligent, value-adding) comments

  4. Des,

    As a new blogger myself trying to wake up my own industry to the changing importance of new media platforms and their increasing influence, it’s refreshing to find that bloggers are all “lock-step.”

    Your perspective on general guidelines is really helpful to people like me who are just glad we’ve finally begun our journey up a pretty steep learning curve.


  5. oops…here I go already…I meant it’s great to see that leading bloggers are NOT all lock-step!

    Thanks again.

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