How to Not Look Clueless on Social Media

Take this quick test:

  • Does the pronunciation of Steve Jobs’s last name rhyme with robes or robs?

  • Is the pronunciation of Lucchese, the Texas boot company, “Lu-cheese-ee” or “Lu-kay-zee”?

  • Is the pronunciation of quay, as in Sydney, Australia’s Circular Quay, “kway” or “key”?

The right answer for each is the second choice. When people make the wrong choices, they look clueless to insiders. We don’t want you to look clueless on social media, so read on to get clued in.

Don’t Be an Orifice

In the words of Thumper’s father in the movie Bambi, “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” Edification is great. Sarcasm is great. Belligerence is lame. Denigration of other points of view is lame. Complaining that a post is not perfect for you is lame. If you don’t like a post, shut up and move on.

Don’t Tell People What to Share

Telling people what to share is not just a sign of cluelessness, it’s a billboard of cluelessness. If you don’t like what a person shares, don’t follow him or her. You’re not paying to read the person’s post, so don’t feel entitled to tell him or her what to share. The sun doesn’t revolve around the earth, and the Internet doesn’t revolve around you.

Don’t Buy Followers, Likes, or +1s

Only losers and charlatans buy followers, likes, and +1s. (Can we tell you how we really feel?) I don’t deny that people think that a large number of followers is social proof of goodness, but buying followers is cheating. Here’s how large companies slide down the slippery slope.

  • The CEO attends a conference or reads Fast Company and decides that her company has to use social media more.

  • She tells the chief marketing officer (CMO) that she wants to see some results, where results mean an increase in the number of followers, likes, and +1s.

  • The CMO realizes there’s no one who understands social media in the company (which is probably not true, but I digress), so the easy, safe, and seemingly logical choice is to hire someone from one of the company’s agencies, since these agencies are full of experts.

  • The first thing the social-media hire does is retain his former agency to achieve the CMO’s objectives.

  • The agency asks for and receives a large budget that includes enough money to buy followers, likes, and +1s to achieve the stated objectives.

The agency spends the budget and, big surprise, achieves the numbers. Victory is declared, and everyone is happy.

Meanwhile, because the followers, likes, and +1s are not “real,” social media fails to deliver meaningful results. Purchased followers, likes, and +1s provide no lasting benefits, since they don’t interact with your content and have no interest in your posts. You may never be caught buying your way into social media, but to do so is pissing on your karma, and karma is a bitch.

There is one exception to our distaste for buying your way in, and that’s paying to promote Facebook posts or Pages. This is simply the way Facebook works—it’s the same as buying advertising on other media. However, that’s where we draw the line.

Don’t Ask People to Follow You

If you want more followers, earn them with the quality of your posts. If Groucho Marx were alive today, he’d amend his famous joke and say that people who ask you to follow them aren’t worth following. Maintain your dignity, don’t grovel for followers, and share good stuff in large quantities.

Don’t confuse asking people to follow you with adding social links on your blog. Social links are a subtle invitation to follow you, which is not the same as tweeting “Please follow me.”

Don’t Ask People to Reshare Your Posts

If your posts are good, this will happen naturally. If you employ all the techniques we’ve explained, people will read your posts. If they’re good, people will reshare them. It’s that simple. The only time it’s acceptable to ask for reshares is when a post is philanthropic in nature.

Don’t Announce Your Unfollows

No one cares if you stopped following someone. This is equivalent to standing up in the middle-school cafeteria and announcing that you’re no longer someone’s friend.

Few people will unfollow someone just because you did, so get over yourself.

Don’t Ask why People Unfollowed You

Changing the mix of those you follow is a continuing process, so don’t panic when people unfollow you. If you ask why, you may lose even more followers by raising doubt: Maybe I should unfollow him or her too. At the very least, people may take you less seriously. Instead, keep sharing, commenting, and responding, and don’t stress over those who leave.

Don’t Be a Pimp

Social media is a great way to promote your product, service, or website—that’s why we’re making all this effort. You’ll look clueless, however, if more than one out of twenty of your posts are promotional. Imagine if NPR ran pledge drives every day.

Don’t Swear

Swearing is bullsh*t. (I’ve waited a long time to write something that clever.) Somewhere along the way, swearing on social media became a sign of openness, sincerity, and authenticity. Go figure. Profanity is a sign that you’re inarticulate, if not clueless, so rarely use it unless, for example, you want to make a strong statement about SEO.

Don’t Call Yourself a Guru or an Expert

If you are a guru or an expert, people will know it. If you aren’t one, no one is going to believe you. In particular, “social-media guru” is an oxymoron because nobody really knows how social media works—including Peg and me!

No matter how smart you are, best practices always change, because the platforms change how their sites work. Therefore, everyone needs to keep experimenting. Also, we’ve noticed that the folks who are least likely to conduct experiments are the self-declared experts who think they know everything.

Don’t Abdicate to an Agency

If you hire a digital agency that puts ten people in a “war room” to “measure sentiment” along your “brand ethos” and then needs forty-five days to compose a tweet, this book has failed you.

Do not abdicate your social media to “experts” who have a hundred followers, tweet once a month, and charge you more than the GNP of a small nation for their services. A good rule of thumb is never to take the advice of someone who has fewer followers than you.

If you practice what we preach, you won’t need an agency. If you practice what we preach and you are an agency, perhaps you can now justify your rates.

Don’t delegate Your Social Media to an Intern

The fact that you found a young person who uses Facebook and will work for a hourly wage lower than a fast-food employee’s doesn’t mean that you should hire him or her to manage your social media. This is like believing that having a penis makes a person a urologist or owning a car makes a person a mechanic.

Don’t get us wrong; we love interns. They bring fresh perspectives and sensibilities to social media. We just want to ensure that you take social media seriously and put qualified people on it. At least require your interns to read this book, and then monitor every post and comment they make for a few weeks.

This post has been excerpted from The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users by Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick, in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Copyright © Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick, 2014.

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