Social media is a powerful tool for connecting with your audience, be it a close circle of friends or thousands of followers who keep up with your public life. Unfortunately, too many people are misusing the privilege of this powerful medium and taking away from the primary focus of social networking. They’re spamming their followers with self-promotion, taking advantage of charitable causes to boost their follower numbers, name dropping every chance they get, and trying to be something they’re not. This trend can lead to lost opportunity, bad first impressions, and hurt your personal and business brand.
Here are a few ways not to use social media.
Use Charity to Boost Follower Numbers
This has to be one of the lowest of the lows, and it happens more often than I care to think about. A Twitter user that sets themselves up as a social media guru or strategist attempts to increase their own follower count by promising to pay X number of dollars to a charity of their choice in return for X number of followers adding to their account within a certain period of time. Yes, this is honestly what these award winners think is a noble and just method for increasing their viewer count. Wrong.
Using self-promotion methods like this in combination with a charitable cause that you’re holding hostage in exchange for a boost of your online ego is wrong on so many levels. Think about it. Offering to give away an iPad to anyone that follows you, or promising to up the ante by adding in a $50 gift card if you reach a certain number of participants is one thing. Saying that you are considering donating X amount to cancer relief, but only if a certain number of people follow you on Twitter, is something entirely different. Match dollar for dollar, give away something to people that donate, or put together a telethon on a Ustream feed if you want to help charity. Don’t hold a donation hostage in exchange for your own follower numbers.
Spam Self-Promotional Messages 100% of the Time
We all love giveaways. I’ve spent plenty of my own cash on them in the past, and if you have a Web-based business that depends on a significant user base to turn a profit, you may well have, too. It’s never a bad idea to give something away to your online community, but it can backfire if you use your primary business social account to spam about it 90% of the time. You should keep the self-promotion down to a reasonable level. Imagine that you’re carrying on a conversation with everyone in your Twitter, Google+, or Facebook stream. If all you do is speak about yourself and your company, the interest level in you and your brand will undoubtedly begin to plummet. Countless articles have been written on LockerGnome.com about this very principal of social media, and many more will likely follow.
Try to keep the ratios between your content and the content of your community somewhat sane. If four out of five of your social media updates are about things not directly stemming from or in promotion of your online property, then you’re probably on the right track.
Engage in Pointless Arguments
I’m going to write something here that I’m sure may offend some of you reading this. Not everyone in your social circles are living in the same world you are. Some of them enjoy fighting with everyone and anyone they can find. If you’ve got a sizable audience, there’s a good chance more than a few of these people are a part of it. No matter how caring or real you are, there will be drama. Avoid it at all costs, but don’t be afraid to set the record straight when something threatens your business, reputation, or that of your family.
Flame wars have existed since the Internet was founded, and will continue to exist in some capacity long after we’ve moved on to whatever new technology might move in to replace it decades from now. You’re not going to win a single battle with an idiot. Face that simple fact, and your time spent online will be a lot more productive. Block them, remove them from the equation, and move on.
Drop Celebrity Names Constantly or Brag About Your Life
No one likes a braggart. That’s a rule that has been passed down from generation to generation for as long as anyone can remember. Bragging about who you know, where you’ve been, and how many followers you have is a quick way to destroy any chance you have of building a productive community online. This can also damage your chances of being involved in potentially lucrative endeavors in the future.
Think about it: would Brad Pitt want everyone who joins him for barbecue in the back yard to immediately hop on every social network they have an account with and boast about it to the world? Do you think that person would be invited back, or be included in any future business dealings with him or any other person of note that catches wind of it? No.
There are times when it’s absolutely all right to drop a name or share a meeting with the world through social media. When you’ve interviewed them for a podcast or blog post that’s upcoming and you want to let your community know what to expect is one example. Officially announcing a joint venture can also be a good time to hit the send button on a status update. It’s also absolutely OK to drop a name when that person is a member of your community and you’d like to express thanks for something they did or said for which you’re appreciative.
Finally, you’re absolutely free to promote another content creator. Not only will they appreciate the kindness, but your community may benefit from being introduced to a new person of interest. For example, “I just met Wendy from New York at the WordPress party here at SXSW. Check out her blog at BlogName.com. She’ll be speaking at the X panel tomorrow.”
Be Something You’re Not
This rule of thumb goes to the heart of any social media interaction, regardless of your reasons for using the platform. Being yourself is exactly what social media is intended to empower individuals to do. Unlike the anonymous Web of the past where everyone hid behind aliases and handles, modern social media is about being able to express yourself the way you really are. You may find people that you could have never met otherwise through these powerful social tools, and these interactions may lead to real-world opportunities and long-lasting friendships. Don’t squander this once in a lifetime chance by trying to be something that you’re not. You’d be surprised how many people out there are looking for someone like you to connect with.