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6 Easy Ways to Kill Your Social Media Reputation

Want to lose followers and alienate people? It's easier to do than you might think.
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I'm continually amazed at how far social networking has progressed since 2011. Back then, when I wrote about how to increase your followers in the September issue, there was still a sense that posting on Twitter and Facebook could be a waste of time. (That's why my editor used that headline.)

Celebrity tweets were fairly common, but social networking had not really gone mainstream. Now, if a company does not have a Twitter account and an active online presence, they are essentially living--and marketing--in the dark ages.

These days, it's much easier to build up your networks. If you post regularly, follow influential people, and maintain your feed you can attract followers. At the same time, it's also easy to give the impression your account is a ghost town, which can hurt your own reputation and the reputation of your company. Here are the prime ways to ignore and alienate your followers.

1. Don't respond to direct messages
We live in an age when not answering a direct message means "no" or "I'm not interested." That needs to change. Lately, I've been trying to respond to most tweets even if it means I explain why I'm not interested. In a few cases, the poster replied with a different idea or request. And, besides, there's really no excuse to ignore people anymore. Worthwhile social media managers like Sprout Social make it easy to mark messages and track followers.

2. Tweet only about your stuff
I'm guilty as charged on this one, but I'm trying to change. We're all self-promoters at heart (some more than others). When you only post company news, personal info, and career highlights, you are creating a stream that is not only a bit dull but is downright narcissistic. The best posters are not posers. My advice: Retweet helpful info, reply as much as you can, and return the favor to your most loyal followers.

3. Swear a lot
It always amazed me that Carol Bartz, the former Yahoo CEO, lasted so long. She dropped the F-bomb during casual conversations, speeches, and live broadcasts. (According to a Forbes report, the board of directors asked her to stop.) I'm not going to tell everyone to hold their tongue--this isn't a school playground, after all. But I will tell you that I'll remove a feed if the person keeps "spicing up" their posts. Often, it just clouds the airwaves and makes me question their communication skills.

4. Skip the imagery
This is another persistent problem for me. Visual networking is not just a passing fad--and I have room to improve. When you only post text and links, you are missing an opportunity to engage with people and catch their attention quickly. There's also something to be said for a more "picturesque" social feed, especially when new start-ups like Twibfy help you curate your content. Plus, images change your demographic. Millennials are often more interested in a visual striking image than text.

5. Post in a blind flurry
I've noticed that a disciplined approach to Twitter and Facebook updates works best. Apps like Hootsuite let you schedule posts to space them apart a bit. When you post a quick succession of links, people feel inundated and the content is lost in the rush. I've also noticed that, when there's a flurry of posts, there is often a long period of inactivity. We know when someone posts several updates in a row that they're too busy. That seems to confuse followers, who like to see a steady stream of informative info.

6. Never post anything too controversial
Here's one I've started working on more. I recently wrote a long feature on how technology makes us less human, which caused a spark. Predictability is a sure way to lose followers--there just isn't anything to hold their attention. Being intentionally edgy just to get attention doesn't work either, but try mixing up your posts. You'd be surprised at how people find you when you post something they don't like and it opens a dialogue. Also, it's rewarding to see followers come to your defense if you do get into a flame war.

IMAGE: Joe Wilcox/Flickr
Last updated: Aug 14, 2013

JOHN BRANDON | Columnist

John Brandon is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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