The Importance of Character in Social Media

By now, most people involved in marketing, advertising and PR have put aside any skepticism they may have had about social media and are using such online communications vehicles as blogs, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to reach out to and engage with others.

They’re finally realizing that — as I’ve said before here on this blog — the guaranteed efficacy of a one-way, top-down, interruptive monologue by businesses and bureaucrats is history. And that the era of inclusive, open-ended dialogue between company and constituency is upon us.

Yes, social media appears to be on the verge of going mainstream in more ways than one.

However, what’s still a big challenge for many of those using social media for business is using it correctly, adhering to the unique set of principles that differentiates this discipline from more traditional forms of communications.

For social media to work well, the social media makers themselves need to be transparent and authentic, responsive and generous, credible, conversational and considerate.

Ideally, social media makers need to embrace “the six pillars of character” – trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship – that are so familiar to so many people of all ages and from all walks of life thanks to Michael Josephson and his book, “Making Ethical Decisions.”

Just how important is character in social media today? Very important, in my opinion. Here are my thoughts about “the six pillars of character” and how each of them pertains to the different ways we carry ourselves in this newfangled world of social media communications…

1. Trusthworthiness. The most successful social media practitioners are those who are trusted by their friends, followers and fans, those who can be counted on for leadership and support, people who are looked up to as the real deal.

And trust doesn’t come overnight, either. Trust comes from having experience and expertise, from being available to others when they need you. Trust comes from sharing plenty of good information on a regular basis. Trust comes to only those who can earn it by demonstrating honesty and loyalty and living up to their word.

2. Respect. Giving respect is as important as getting respect in social media. You can’t have one without the other.

Mind your manners when you tweet. Be courteous, even deferential. The more sensitive and supportive you are of others on Twitter, Facebook and in the blogosphere, the more likely those very same people – and their respective networks – will pay attention to you.

As Liana Evans wrote here (Search Engine Watch, “How to Earn Respect in Social Media,” October 26, 2009)…

When delving into social communities, be humble, don’t shoot off your mouth, and don’t announce your arrival with ticker tape parades and bullhorns. No one likes a showoff or know-it-all.

3. Responsibility.  Ideally, a brand’s social media presence is akin to its eyes, ears and voice online. So, needless to say, the people both behind the scenes and on the front lines assume a great deal of responsibility.

Social media practitioners not only need to be accountable for the accuracy and quality of the content they disseminate, they also need to be able to exercise good judgment (often under tight deadline pressure). They need to pause before they post and always be mindful of the consequences — for better or worse — of their social media updates.

4. Fairness. From the get-go, what I’ve especially liked about social media is the fact that it levels the playing field among brands of all shapes and sizes. It’s an equal-opportunity environment in which those who are willing to work above and beyond will invariably come out on top.

It’s true. Whether you’re a sole proprietor or a multi-national conglomerate, the same rules of engagement apply.  It pays to be a good sport.

5. Caring. How can I demonstrate to others how much I care about them in 140 characters or less? What can I do to show my appreciation for my colleagues, contacts and constituents, those who are interested in what I have to say about my area of expertise? To what lengths can I go to provide assistance to those who need it? Those are just some of the questions you should be asking yourself before you dip your toes in the social media waters. After all, anyone who’s only in it for themselves will either get called out for being selfish or simply ignored in social media.

As I wrote here in my post, “The Cure for the Common Social Media Practitioner”…

Those who are most popular in social media are those who have the best “bedside manners,” the most engaging personalities.  They are amiable and congenial, generous and kind, people who are as good at listening as they are teaching, as humble and humorous as they are confident in their abilities.

6. Citizenship. I’ve always felt employees – whatever they do for work – should be encouraged, if not required, to contribute in some way, shape or form to the industries in which they earn their livelihood. To excel on the job is one thing. But, if you ask me, to share some of your time and expertise outside of the office is the real gauge of your character. That’s how you experience exponential growth as a person and professional.

Those who are active in social media are good corporate citizens, people who understand the value of being involved in the business world at large, opinion leaders and community builders who are looked up to and admired by a vast number of peers.

To learn more about “the six pillars of character,”
click here.
To learn more about Michael Josephson,
click here.
To learn more about the Josephson Institute,
click here.

Bob Cargill is a copywriter, creative director and social media marketer who helps brands to strategize, develop and implement successful new marketing programs. He is available for hire (satisfaction guaranteed) — and for speaking engagements — now. To contact Bob, click here.


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7 Responses to The Importance of Character in Social Media

  1. Nick Shin says:

    Great post. Being authentic is something that I consider as the most important characteristic when participating in social media. I guess authenticity can be a branch of trustworthiness. Enjoyed the read.

    Nick (

  2. Pingback: Blog Post on Video: The Importance of Character in Social Media « A New Marketing Commentator

  3. Hank Wasiak says:

    Great Post and advice. The Six Pillars of character is asset-based thinking at its best. It also lends credence to the point of view that I have been espousing that Social Media has morphed into the Fifth Pillar of the marketing mix. People. People is now one of the 5 “Ps” of the marketing mix right up there with Product,Price,Place & Promotion. Here’s a link to that article for anyone interested.

    Keep up the great work

    Hank Wasiak

  4. Excellent job Bob! This is a great post and one that we should keep top of mind now and into the future.

    Thank you for your contribution to this conversation.


  5. Jo Porritt says:

    Fantastic post!

    These six pillars are what underpins and will sustain social media..and I couldn’t agree more with Hank about the fifth “P” in traditional marketing terms.

    I can’t wait to see what 2010 will bring for SMM. Keep up the fantastic work 🙂


  6. i couldn’t agree more. ethical behavior online is the best free advertising over the long term money can buy.

  7. Pingback: Blog Post on Video: The Importance of Content in Social Media « A New Marketing Commentator