There’s no shortage of gurus offering up social media advice, which is why I believe there’s room in the market for an anti-guru. 

I’d like to show you how to be the worst practitioner of the social arts that you can possibly be. If you follow these simple rules, you too can suck at social media. 

1. Not listening

The first thing you do when creating a social media strategy, is listen. More and more brands realise the importance of listening, but listening is more than just reading a dashboard.

Proper listening requires extracting insights and value from data and turning it into something actionable.

In 2012, SoDa reported 49% of respondents said creating insights and value from data was a challenge.

Despite all the benefits that you can gain from listening to consumers be themselves there are still some companies that don’t monitor conversations. If you want to distance your brand from consumers and miss out on valuable insight we suggest that you don’t listen at all.

2. False mirroring

Science teaches us that mirroring is an effective flirtation technique. Using similarity as a way into a consumer’s mind can work and marketers use it on a daily basis, but when it’s transparent, or misses the mark, people react negatively.

Not all brands can or should mirror on social as you can have a diverse group of people in the same digital space.  Weetabix’s “Three Types of Mums” Mother’s Day push didn’t go down well on Twitter.

Presumably because there are more than three types of mums.

My favourite respondent on Twitter said, “just because your Weetabix come in a box doesn’t mean that mums do”.

Image credit: Kate Dreyer

3. Asking too much

There’s a simple rule that you should always remember when running a promotion on social media. The more you ask for, the less you’ll get. It’s not rocket science.

Video competitions are probably the worst offenders. You’re essentially asking users to stop what they are doing, plan a video, make a video, edit the video, upload the video, solicit votes and follow up on their progress on a regular basis.

Few people, other than video enthusiasts, will actually take the time. The more simple the ask the wider the pool of people who will take part.

4. Spreading yourself thin

How many social networks is too much? The answer depends on how much time, money and resources you have available. Every network you enter should be backed by a solid objective.

Start where your audience is or where your brand will have the most impact. Only do what you can manage. If you want to suck at social media, try to be great on every channel all the time.

5. Siloed thinking

Social marketing doesn’t work on its own. It works best when paired with other marketing activities.

Social competitions, for example, should be paired with data capture and CRM. Conversations should be paired with brand objectives.

When brands isolate social from other tactics, or think of social media as an afterthought, they weaken the effects. One of the best ways to waste time and money is to treat social as an afterthought or the final piece of a predetermined creative idea.

6. Being slow 

Remember the Harlem Shake? I’m still trying to forget it. Many brands try to jump on the bandwagon, but does anyone remember?

With any “viral” trend the spread has a peak and then it fades. Most brands caught the downside of the trends, so unless they did something to be more memorable than the thousands of other videos, they won’t be remembered.

You have 24-48 hours to react, and sometimes even that’s too long. If you want to become part of the noise, take your time and react to trends at your own pace.

Oreo superbowl

7. Expecting sales by simply being social

Social media as part of an integrated campaign can improve sales. Obviously, results will vary by industry. But if you don’t do anything to ask for the sale or nudge people to buy don’t expect people to empty your shelves.

If you’re simply out there to create conversations don’t expect sales. The main reason people follow your brand is because they want offers and promotions.

If you want to keep your products all to yourself, use social strictly for conversations and don’t do anything to sweeten the deal.

8. Underestimating the power

Good social media turning into a crisis is every marketer’s worst nightmare. A healthy fear of the social gods isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While fear may drive aversion to social, it also fuels careful planning and consideration.

A few years ago, United Airlines underestimated a viral video about a broken Guitar. The company didn’t resolve the issue and stock plummeted, wiping out millions from the market value.

If you want to fail big, don’t worry about a little crisis. What’s the worst that could happen?

9. Thinking that it’s cheap & easy

It’s called earned media for a reason. Social campaigns require investment, just like every other marketing effort. In the early stages, it may even require more investment than expected.

You may need trained staff, tools, content creation and paid media to make it work. This doesn’t even take into account the time required to actually make it happen. The viral benefits of social sharing can often generate a higher than anticipated media value, but this is the exception.

You will rarely hit a home run on day one. Earning media is a marathon, not a sprint.

10.  Good old fashioned stupidity

All ideas are good ideas at the time, most of the time. Other ideas are stupid from the beginning. When the person behind Kenneth Cole’s Twitter account decided to use Egyptian rioting as a brand opportunity alarm bells should have gone off.  

The social media backlash called for a boycott of Kenneth Cole. 

In the same vein, several US retailers tried to make light of Hurricane Sandy by tweeting special offers, but Urban Outfitters' was perhaps the most tasteless.

Not all PR is good PR, especially when you try to use a serious issue to push your collections. 


Published 16 August, 2013 by Luis Carranza

Luis Carranza is Digital Strategy Director at Inferno and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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Comments (6)

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I think the most annoying point is those people that spams self-promoted content all the time. It encourages people to unsubscribe. Some companies likes to blast self-promotion content which leads to negative user experience, associating the negative experience with the product or services.

almost 5 years ago

kenstarr haber

kenstarr haber, co-founder at

I need to get better at social media it's not in my nature to talk to strangers

almost 5 years ago


Bill McCartney

The wrong audience, the wrong post, the wrong time. These are three issues I see people regularly struggling with using social media.

almost 5 years ago


Joana Ferreira

To go with point #1 about not listening, I'd also say that deleting negative feedback is another sign that you shouldn't be on social media until you understand it's purpose. It's instant feedback from your customers and if it happens to be bad feedback, then as part of customer service your job is to respond to that feedback and resolve the problem.

If your followers see that you resolved an issue with an unhappy customer they're much more likely to respect you and recommend you. But if you delete negative comments, it just makes the people who posted the comment much angrier, meaning they're more likely to take it further which could harm your reputation. You wouldn't walk away from an angry customer in a shop, why do it on social?

almost 5 years ago


Chris Mayhew

These are definitely mistakes I see all the time. I think 'not listening' is a really big one. Some people are too busy posting and trying to sell something that they don't listen to what their audience actually want.

I would add 'being social for social's sake' to the list. many companies are only using social media because they have been told it's a good thing and therefore they aren't using the best sites for their industry.

almost 5 years ago


Visakan Veerasamy, Marketing at ReferralCandy

The blatant commoditization of tragedy is just sickening and cringeworthy in the most visceral level. Ugh.

almost 5 years ago

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