Everyone loves best practices, including me. After all, we love being told what works and what steps we should take to find success. But one of the things that really resonated at this year’s South by Southwest is the idea that businesses of all sizes need to think more about what’s “right for them,” not just what’s “right” by industry standards.

This, of course, is not breaking news. But it is really important. In the last few years, the world of technology has evolved rapidly, but the world of social media is actually stabilizing. There are tons of case studies. The things that work are being enhanced with innovations, and the ones that don’t are fading away. However, there really are no rules that everyone needs to live by, for better or worse.

For example, during the session “Food Trucks Share Social Media Tips,” the panel was asked whether it’s OK to outsource your social media voice — a topic that is often debated.

For Daniel Shemtob, owner and founder of The Lime Truck, the answer was yes. He has a blogger friend who does nearly all of the posting. But he made it clear that everything posted must be in his voice, and he reads closely all the posts and responses they get.

On the other hand, James DiSabatino, chief cheese griller (best title ever!) and co-owner of Boston’s Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, says he would never outsource his social media presence because he thinks it undermines the authenticity.

So who’s right? They both are, because each is doing what works for them.

Doing What Works for Your Business

Lisa Roundtree, associate professor at the University of Houston, led a great session entitled “Big Social Media Results at Small Organizations,” and she talked about how the established best practices are not always the ones driving success.

She laid out how many successful organizations don’t have a strategy, are not centralized or well trained, and don’t rely on metrics.

One such organization is GirlTrek, a Susan G. Komen–like walk that encourages African-American women to take a more active role in their own health. Girl Trek only posts to its Facebook page four or five times each month, instead of the daily posting best practice. But the community is so vibrant that the members keep the page active with their own stories on a daily basis.

Another great example is the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, Conn. Even though the museum has been closed since June 2010 because of damage from a hurricane, it has managed to keep its social media presence thriving. Because museum staffers can’t run activities that help them reach their normal goal of driving traffic during construction, they show snippets of exhibits and video of the unpacking of new artifacts. They also share anecdotes from whatever data they have available and post it to their Facebook page and Twitter as “factoids.” As a result, they’ve gathered a following even when they have not been open, and increased the number of donors and members. They don’t follow any guidelines and are using their own unique circumstances to derive content.

So, what’s the big take-away?

While companies, experts and industry blogs can give you some great ideas, you know your business and your customers better than anyone else, so you really need to write your own rules. And this is great for small businesses. They are inherently unique and aren’t restricted by corporate regulations and policies that often dictate what bigger businesses say and how they say it. Plus, it’s more fun, and you might just even see some pretty big social media results.

Josh Mendelsohn is senior product marketing manager at Constant Contact. In his role, he is focused on helping small businesses and nonprofits become successful using social media and e-mail marketing. You can follow Mendelsohn on Twitter @MendelJ2.

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One Response to “From #SXSW: Why “best practices” aren’t always best for your business”

  1. Josh,

    Your insight that each organization needs to find their own way is right on. I wrote a blog post on my Treasury Cafe site about this early on, noting that when folks use the term "best practice" they are often speaking of "common practice" or "what everyone else is doing". I included a link below if you are interested.

    Thanks!
    http://treasurycafe.blogspot.com/2011/07/best-pra