Blog Post

10 Things to Avoid In Social Media

Editor’s note: This post is the first in our new “Social Superstar” column. Every Wednesday, Aliza will be writing about social media and providing hints, tips and insight; helping you to make social media work for you.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of social media, and I’m reminded of where we were in the mid-90s with the advent of the web. I lived and worked through Web 1.0, and am feeling a sense of déjà vu as we play out the same routines with Web 2.0 and beyond: social media is getting the same basic adoption patterns, the same reactions and overreactions. It’s just different tools and terminology. We have a long way to go before everyone and their cousin uses social networks more than they email, or tweets more than they call, but nobody can deny the way we communicate has once again been changed forever.

Here’s how I’d illustrate where we are in terms of social media tool adoption and integration into the fabric of our work and lives, as compared to early web adoption:

When I listen to people get all excited about social media as if it were some newfangled discovery, I keep wanting to say “It’s just online community. We’ve had that for over 20 years now. We’re just getting it via new applications with more integrated features. But it’s community!” Friends, fans and followers? We used to call them community members or our online friends.

Despite having been in this same place before, I have to admit I’m still excited about the possibilities. My concern is where things could be headed if we’re not smart about how we use the new tools at our disposal — we could end up repeating many of the mistakes made during the Web 1.0 years. With that in mind, here are my ten things to avoid in social media:

  1. Avoid the fishbowl syndrome. Those of us “in the know” are starting to like the sound of our own voices, but we’re really just preaching to the converted (yes, just like I’m probably doing now). Just because we know about social media doesn’t mean everyone does, or even cares about it. We need to jump out of our fishbowls and smell the air of reality. Get out into the world beyond your tweeps. It will do you good.
  2. Avoid glut and overload. Just because it’s there, it doesn’t mean you have to be on it. It’s our own fault that we are overloaded by every new social network or social tool out there, because we keep joining them. We don’t need them all and neither do our clients. A few strategically and thoughtfully selected networks, applications or tools can go much further than dozens of them. You don’t have to be everywhere.
  3. Avoid knee-jerk reactions. Don’t be so fast to say “yes” to social media, but don’t be so fast to say “no” either. Like with any good business — or life — decision, take your time, weigh the aspects and options, do your homework, turn to trusted friends and advisers, then make a deliberate decision. Don’t get a Facebook Page just because everyone else has one. Understand what you are trying to achieve, research if your audience is not only on Facebook but actually paying attention to anything other than their virtual farm crops, then plan your approach. Planning takes time.
  4. Avoid overreaching and overstating. Just because we feel social media is important doesn’t mean it is to everyone else. Those of us using the tools are doing so for a myriad of reasons, so we can’t lump everyone on a social network or with a blog into one box. Good communications and good customer service are still where it’s at. The delivery methods have changed rapidly, but it still boils down to the Golden Rule: the “Please” and “Thank You,” and the smile.
  5. Avoid the shingle phenomenon. Don’t join the people who add “Social Media” next to their title or company name and suddenly, they’re an expert. Or worse, they shell out a few thousand to someone else who claims to offer Social Media Certification, then they sucker in a bunch of unsuspecting clients and bring them on a reckless ride after only 40 hours of “intensive training.” Just don’t do it.
  6. Avoid the big plunge. I’ve always advised my clients to dip a toe into the water first to see if it’s warm. Don’t just pull out all the stops with social media. Use a phased approach to adopt new tools, technologies and tactics. You need to warm up, work out the kinks. Jumping into the deep end before you can swim only means you’re likely to drown.
  7. Avoid the quick hit. Social media is not a campaign; it’s a commitment. Plan for the long term. Take your time, and be deliberate about your actions. Measure. Evaluate. Improve what you are doing. Listen. Respond. Interact. Connect. Be there for the long haul. Learn and grow with your audience, your customers, your constituents. You now have unprecedented access to your customers. Use wisely.
  8. Avoid the numbers game. Sure you can use automated following tools and maybe get a slew of people following you back. But they’re not listening. They don’t care. I’ve always said that I’d rather have 100 friends, fans or followers who care than 1000 who ignore me.  Social media is not about the big numbers but what you do with the numbers you have — and what they do in return. Devoted actions of a few can have an exponential impact, far greater than inaction by many.
  9. Avoid the silos. Do not relegate social media to an afterthought. Do not get your communications or marketing team together, and then give the social media team the notes. Someone with social media savvy needs to be at the table from the start. Their knowledge and experience can better inform your brainstorming, can open new doors, can enhance old tactics or eliminate them all together.
  10. Avoid one-size-fits-all thinking. What’s good for your neighbor may not be good for you. What is good for one of your clients isn’t necessarily the right thing for all the rest. While it is tempting to squeeze social media into a formula or to make a template and mass produce campaigns, each company or organization or individual deserves a plan customized to their needs, tailored for their distinct audiences, and made to fit their capabilities. Greed drives automation, and automation drives mediocrity at best, expensive failures at worst.

Where do you think social media is right now? And what are you definitely trying to avoid?

Related GigaOM Pro Research: Social Media in the Enterprise

Photo by stock.xchng user surely

49 Responses to “10 Things to Avoid In Social Media”

  1. Good article. I particularly like your comment “I’d rather have 100 friends, fans or followers who care than 1000 who ignore me.” And yet (playing devil’s advocate) if the point is to build reputation and influence, might one argue that numbers do count? And that if you play the automated games, at least a certain proportion of those will, in fact, be people who become genuinely interested?

  2. Great tips Aliza,

    I think social media should be used by everyone from a personal branding perspective – If you utilize social media to become a voice in your hobbies industry then it gives great authority and improves your chances of ultimately working doing what you enjoy.

  3. Wonderful post, thanks for sharing it. Specially the point #7 which really make meaning and it is also very important to know how to judge people claiming to be social media expert. “Social media is not a campaign; it’s a commitment” I ditto this.
    Thanks again :)


  4. Thank you! This is a much needed list. As one of the “early adopters” (golly, that time frame made me laugh!), I really appreciate the ability to point to someone else’s list to make my point to clients and “new-to-this-technology” groups. #7 and #9 can NOT be reiterated and reinforced enough.

  5. “Planning takes time.” “Social media is not a campaign; it’s a commitment.” This touches on strategy, on overload, on everything. SM is here to stay, a journey not a destination. So many make the mistakes of taking on too much, too soon without a solid foundation to get going. And worse, without really investing the time and resource to do it right.

    “Just because we know about social media doesn’t mean everyone does, or even cares about it.” My favorite point because while we may have jobs that require us to be online and engaged all the time, that’s not everyone. I may have more friends NOT on FB, Twitter than I have using SM and social networks. People have jobs and lives and other priorities, other realities like you said.

  6. Great list! I especially like the statement about not being everywhere for every client. It is so true that every company needs to have its own campaign and that only some social media sites are going to be appropriate for that campaign.

  7. 7 is brilliant, and (in my opinion) the key to making social media work. Twitter in particularly can be a “time-suck” if you don’t regulate yourself and keep your priorities in check. It’s been the site that “got” me more work as a composer than anywhere else on the web, but it took 6 months of fine-tuning and interacting before it became profitable. Not all social media networks are created equal; most of them aren’t worth joining in the first place. Make the ones you’re part of count.

  8. Peter – if you are commenting on all those social media links at the bottom of this post as the antithesis of #2, keep in mind that you don’t have to use them all or have accounts with them all. Use only the ones that are relevant to you. They are there for convenience, not to overload anyone! ;)

  9. I greatly appreciate this article. Measuring your actions with the use of social media is indeed compelling. As the media itself has blown itself to a phenomenon with the myriad of choices. I agree that it is important to take time making a decision, weighing the aspects and options, and most especially turning to trusted friends and advisers in order to deliberate a wise decision what social medium to choose. Thanks for this worth-reading article.

  10. Great points! I can really relate to the glut/overload issue. I can’ tell you how many social networks I started participating in and dropped. Plus, there seems to be a new social network, like Google’s Buzz, every day. Plus, the government has their own internal social networks. I’m sticking to a few core social networks for business.

  11. I use Google Reader,, and Twitter all the time. This is about all I can keep up with.
    I am also constantly adding, or deleting, followers depending on whether tweets are relevant to my interests.

  12. A very insightful post..

    I think the difference between now and then is the “reach” could actually be approachable to a larger visible audience and as the platform is user based it becomes a more trusted source than a normal website and to be frank if I see the situation in India I think only about 7 % use Social Media is going to do beyond the internet

    Want to avoid quantity

  13. Great post, thank you for that.

    It is true, social media is now everywhere; too much, everyone is an expert. Therefore I think, that all that buzz around will face a challenge this year: all that does not bring any value is out. Not interesting anymore – this applies especially to the companies. Planning is very important as well as rather start slowlier than create all at once just so that it exists. Especially for corporate SMO.

  14. For the longest time, you needed to pitch the benefits of social media to a client just to get their attention. Thankfully that’s changed, and clients are looking to get involved in social media after having already decided on their own that it has value. Now, the goal is to harness that idea and make sure they don’t think the value lies in a quick hit campaign, and instead realize that the true value lies in an ongoing engagement between brand and consumer that opens doors to a number of unique and valuable opportunities.

  15. Great post and a very interesting question: Where do you think social media is right now? And what are you definitely trying to avoid?

    One thing is for sure, Social media is here to stay. Facebook has revolutionized the way we interact and engage. Twitter is great in knowledge sharing, if you can stop the noise and scam. I think its very important to set your goals right in terms of what you want to achieve from these social tools. Unrealistic goals never help and its not always true that all Social Media works for you. Maybe, its LinkedIn which results in the biggest increase in sales or twitter in terms of traffic.

    Social Media is an experiment, if done right can give proper results or its the other way.

  16. That is one thing about the industry of social media. Although you create all of this content and try to teach, the bulk of the clients who can use something like this are the same exact type of people who were late getting onto the internet. They are going to be late getting into social media. I try my best to get off line presentations and classes going and pull them into my created content.

    AND YES! It is EXTREMELY important to start slow and small in social media. I think this is one of the most important of all.

  17. I love the overreaching and overstating point. As social media ages it becomes harder and harder to avoid making something sound like the greatest thing ever. So we use outlandish statements to make it sound like they are. I’d much rather have someone state the facts instead of blow them up.

  18. This is a really great list. I’d also add something I tell my clients is “Don’t set it and forget it.” People that dip their toe in or not need to see it through far past the ‘newness’ to see if it’s valid. I regiment new clients to six months or don’t do it, and that tiers with each new technology they take on as well.

    Best ~