Dale Carnegie, the esteemed self-improvement guru of the last century, might never have sent a Tweet or started a Facebook page. But in the updated version of his bestseller, How to Win Friends & Influence People, he (and his co-writers) explain how he would do so, were he alive today.
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His classic advice makes a lot of sense when applied to the world of social media. Carnegie recommends expressing interest in other people, avoiding criticizing others in public, admitting mistakes, and smiling and reaching out to people. “The two highest levels of influence are achieved when 1) people follow you because of what you’ve done for them and 2) people follow you because of who you are,” he writes. He might as well have been talking about Twitter itself.
Most importantly, Carnegie emphasizes striving to leave people better off than they were before you met them. “There is no such thing as a neutral exchange,” he says. Today, that applies to Tweets, online comments, Facebook comments, and other brief exchanges, all of which, the book argues, have some effect, either for better or worse. Carnegie and his co-authors want to help us make them feel better, even if the vast majority of those interactions take place behind a computer screen.
Here are seven social media tips from Dale Carnegie:
1. Take your criticism offline. Little good comes from public humiliation, whether it’s by Tweet or blog post. The rise of anonymous message boards and online comments seem to incubate negativity, but Carnegie warns that engaging in that kind of back-and-forth does little good for anybody. (And, in fact, the book points out that some people have even gotten fired for posting negative comments about their work on Facebook.)
2. Commit to self-improvement instead. Instead of telling other people what they could do better, Carnegie’s strategy involves saving the harshest criticism for oneself. “To win friends and influence others in today’s world takes … the understated eloquence of grace and self-deprecation,” states the book.
3. Focus on other people’s interests, not your own. This might be a hard one to follow, given that Twitter asks users to describe “what’s happening” to them and Facebook similarly inquires about one’s status updates, but according to Carnegie’s philosophy, social media users must resist the temptation to talk about themselves. Instead, ask about others, comment and inquire about their own updates, and focus on what interests them, not you.
4. Engage with others. According to the book, bestselling author Ann Rice responds to every piece of fan mail she receives, which further builds her following. (The author currently has close to 30,000 Twitter followers.) Social media, after all, is all about interaction, and people use those platforms with the hope of hearing directly from their favorite author, celebrity, or company. Companies like Zappos take advantage of this fact and use social media to build their brands.
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5. Smile. Dour expressions might be rampant on Twitter profiles and Facebook pages, but Carnegie’s book proposes a more toothy expression. In fact, it cites recent research that analyzed Facebook profiles and found that people who frown in photos tend to be on the outskirts of social networks instead of in the center of them. In other words, smiling gets you more friends (and influence).
6. Spread positivity. On that same note, if you can make other people smile, you’ll also grow your own popularity. Tweeting positive thoughts is far more effective than tweeting negative ones, according to the book. In fact, it recommends skipping negative Tweets and posts altogether.
7. Don’t argue. Has anyone ever won a back-and-forth over Twitter? Or by leaving snarky comments on an online article? Carnegie’s strategy dictates that even if the answer is “yes,” the potential damage to your reputation by such an exchange makes such public arguments bad ideas. “While you in fact might be right and the other person wrong, there is no sense in denting a person’s ego or permanently damaging a relationship,” states the book.
Reading this book, it’s hard not to imagine that Carnegie would have fallen in love with social media and happily Tweeted all of his best ideas.