My agency friend Wendy Blackburn (CORR: Jim Dayton; see comments) cited “an expert in marketing communications and PR strategy” who compared social media with a high school lunchroom in her post, “Social Media: It’s Your Conversation.

“Social media is a lot like a high school cafeteria, each group with their unique interests sitting at their prescribed table discussing what’s relevant to them,” said Blackburn.

When the conversation turns to your product, Wendy advises pharma clients “it is your conversation. Whether you want to own it or not, it’s yours.”

Wendy provides good advice for how to engage in the conversation:

  1. First, listen.
  2. Second, learn.
  3. Finally, answer.

IMHO, Wendy left out one important step: Asking permission to join as in “Mind if I join you?”

That, for example, is how Pfizer joined the Sermo discussion (see”Sermo CEO Talks About Pfizer Collaboration” and “Pfizer has a Gold Mine in Sermo!“).

In the commercial e-mail world we have a rule called “double opt-in” to make sure that the recipient really intends to get bombarded by commercial e-mail. Double opt-in is kind of like asking for permission and making sure we have it.

Asking for permission should also be a rule for marketers wishing to join in social media discussions. Just as in a high school lunchroom, if you do not ask to join THEIR conversation, you might just get YOUR ass kicked!

When I attend industry conferences, for example, I always follow the proper social etiquette at the luncheon and ask “mind if I join you” when I select a table to sit at. Then THEIR conversation can become MINE.

Pharma marketers who wish to make someone else’s conversation theirs should abide by the following rules, which I modified from Wendy’s abridged list:

  1. First, listen.
  2. Second, ask permission to join.
  3. Third, learn.
  4. Finally, join in.

I’m sure Wendy would agree.