What Pub Etiquette Can Teach You About Social Media

    By Joe Wills
    Published: December 18, 2013

For centuries pubs have been the cornerstone of British culture.  

They bring villages and communities together: friendships blossom, some people even fall in love, and it’s a place for all to share stories and tell jokes.

So how does this link up with social media?

According to research carried out by Social Issues Research Centre, drinking-places like pubs all have significant cross-cultural similarities, and rather strangely these ‘constants’ seem to work for social media too.

Here are some key examples from the research:

  • In all cultures, the drinking-place is a special environment, a separate social world with its own customs and values
  • Drinking-places tend to be socially integrative, egalitarian environments
  • The primary function of drinking-places is the facilitation of social bonding

“Pub” is short for public house. And whether you like cask ale, a gin and tonic, or glass of merlot, a public house welcomes everyone. It’s open for most of the day and for many it’s like a second home.

In this post we’ll consider centuries of pub customs and values, and see what lessons we can apply to today’s social media world.

#1 – Be selective in where you hang out


Choosing the right pub is never easy, especially if you’re new in the area.  Personally, I like a cosy country pub with a log fire and vibrant conversation to go with a wheaty Belgian beer. Finding somewhere like this isn’t always easy but that’s half the fun!

In social media, look at the popular platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook, and always try to find relevant places. This will be different for every business. You might, for example, join different Linkedin groups, or perhaps go for a more niche hangout – like Inbound which is popular with web marketers who share useful articles and tips from across the web.

Lesson: Timing matters

Adjust your timing to suit the people you’re trying to reach. The pub might be nearly deserted at 4pm, but buzzing at 6pm. Different social media groups get active at different times. For instance, if you market to individuals rather than businesses, you may find that your core audience is online in the evenings.

#2 – Get to know the regulars


If pubs are about social bonding, then the regulars are the ones that make this happen. They are often handy in hooking you up with other locals, like a trusty plumber or an affordable hairdresser.

In social media, regulars can be thought of as influencers. These are people who have built up their reputation and social status over time in an industry by being helpful and friendly.

Sometimes regulars seem to have their own ‘social microclimate’ way of pub-talk. This ‘banter’ can take time to get to grips with – whether it’s in-house jokes or unwritten rules.

Lesson: Listen and understand first, then speak

Don’t expect to jump into social media and see perfect results instantly. Read blog posts and tweets, listen to podcasts and videos. Absorb the content that your industry and influencers are producing. Listen first and speak when you are ready to add value (and not noise) to the conversation.

#3 – Rounds


If you’re at the stage of doing rounds with the regulars (and they are buying you drinks back!), social bonding is going very well.

You’ve got to know the regulars and conversation is obviously flowing. You are becoming a regular, which is great for your social status but be careful how much time you spend in there. Too much pub or social media time can lead to addiction and seriously damage the health of your liver – or your business.

Lesson: Help out a few people once in while

Don’t expect anyone to buy you a (virtual) drink before you’ve bought one for them! That is, don’t ask for retweets, shares, links, etc until you’ve helped your new buddy out by promoting their content.

#4 – The village idiot


There’s usually at least one, isn’t there? They’re essentially harmless, but after a few ciders they have the habit of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person – and at the wrong time.

We’ve talked about social media fails where big companies mess up and look foolish – but these tend to be isolated events. While the regulars will tolerate some foolish behavior, too much and you’ll be labeled the village idiot.

Sometimes it’s easy to get carried away on Facebook and Twitter – it’s easy to respond hastily or angrily, writing something you’d never say to someone’s face. A tweet may seem less personal than a conversation but it can be just as damaging to your reputation.

Lesson: Ignore the idiots and be careful what you say

If you’ve ever experienced a social media lashing, you’ll know it’s not pleasant. But remember quite often they didn’t really mean what they said, and often it’s from a socially inept person who isn’t a big deal– so don’t sweat it.

Likewise, be careful what you say – unlike in the pub, online conversations stay around for a long time. People have good memories (in the pub and online), and you don’t want to be associated with the village idiot … even if he is a likeable one.

And I’m sure there are lots more lessons that can be learned. Have you learnt any social media lessons from the pub (or perhaps a restaurant or nightclub)? If so, please share your best ones with us in the comments…

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