Faris Yakob hits the nail on the head in this month's Admap:

Understanding how to behave in social media is easy: be nice or leave.

A succinct, simple truth that applies to social situations, both on and offline. However it’s more than just a catchphrase. As background, Faris explains the interplay of relationships, trust and relevance:

Social media is centred on people talking to each other, one to one and one to many, establishing and reinforcing different kinds of relationships.

Advertising has clung to the idea that communication is about the transmission of messages, but most communication transmits little semantically. The function of the interaction is phatic — it establishes and reinforces relationships. Status updates don't transmit data — they keep relationships alive.

Brands need to find a way to be relevant in social media. Research from Universal McCann has found that people are more likely to believe a random blog post than a TV commercial. As consumers spend more time consuming each other's content, share of mainstream media will erode.

But thinking about social media with a media buying mindset isn’t going to help. As Russell Davies has observed:

Blogging is mostly a social thing, social norms apply, especially between bloggers. But, naturally enough, when brands want to engage with bloggers they act as though market norms apply; to most brands, blogs are just another media choice.

Social media isn’t media, it’s social, and as Faris remarks, people are both emotional and rational:

Economics has espoused the myth of homo economicus — a rational being, who makes cost-benefit analyses in every situation and will respond to a monetary incentive with an increased
propensity to perform an action. This is nonsense. You can test this: next time someone cooks you a meal, to show your appreciation and encourage this behaviour, leave a tip.

Social and commercial behaviour don't mix. Acting commercially in social spaces can seem insulting, which is perhaps why corporations have found it difficult to act socially.

Or, as Russell Davies puts it:

When social exchanges and market exchanges are mixed up people get uncomfortable.

This is “an entirely different behavioural grammar for marketers,” so Faris outlines the approach brands should take, pointing out that “the media may be free, but building relationships takes huge amounts of time and attention” which is crucial advice we agree wholeheartedly with — consider the way you relate to your friends and family as you read Faris' concluding quote from Scott Monty, head of social media at Ford:

It's not about campaigns; it's about commitment.

If you've got the time, you can listen to Faris talking about these issues in his presentation Be nice or leave: A guide to being social.