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You Really Can’t Afford to Commit These Seven Social Media Sins Anymore

According to the 2016 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, at least 90% of marketers want to know the most effective social tactics to engage their audience. This is awesome news, because it means that the overwhelming majority of marketers know that it’s not enough for them to just “do social”–they have to do it right.

The 2016 State of Social Marketing

Making big mistakes in your social strategy can (over time) completely negate any gains your brand has made by hopping on the hottest, trendiest new platforms. That’s why I’m going to tell you the 7 deadly sins of social media, so you’ll know exactly what to avoid.  

Sin #1: Too Product-Focused

Listen up, brands: It’s not all about your products. Social is by its very nature interactive: it’s a chance for you to get to know your audience, and for your audience to get a sense of your brand’s personality. So when you’re constantly blasting out product-heavy social content, it tells your followers that you’re not interested in building a relationship – you only care about making the sale.

When you’re connecting with consumers online, you should be focused on helping them understand what your brand is all about and building emotional connections with your audience. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples: one brand that gets social media, and a (personal) brand that definitely doesn’t.

Good Example: Nike

No surprise: Nike owns the social media game. Instead of plugging sneakers in every post, they use their social channels to highlight the emotionally powerful stories of the world’s greatest athletes.

Just take a look at this recent Instagram post about Michael Jordan’s first world tour. If you are over 30, you’ll feel nostalgic. If you’re under 30, you’ll still feel inspired.

Shattering expectations. #AJXXXI

A post shared by nike (@nike) on

Bad Example: Kanye

Okay, so he’s a person not a company, but there’s no doubt that Kanye’s got a brand. He’s on his “Saint Pablo” tour, and to capitalize on the opportunity, he opened a temporary fashion store in 21 top destinations across the world.

On August 21st, he tweeted pictures of every location with the name of the city as the text. A few days earlier, he tweeted out an article from his site about the same subject.

Almost 2 dozen tweets within 5 days, all self-promotion. The results? He has over 23 million followers, and the tweets averaged well under a 1% engagement rate.

The Difference: Nike consistently adds substance that their audience both cares about and is moved by. Kanye seems to be motivated to earn a quick buck (or a boost to his ego) and assumes that his followers will just listen and follow.

What about you: Are you moving people, or just expecting them to follow?

Sin #2: Not Being Authentic

In 2017 and beyond, brands on social that are spontaneous and genuine will win out over those that are planned and staged. We’re not saying that your social videos, images, and other content should be lo-fi or slapped together. It’s just that when everything that you publish seems like you’re trying too hard, you probably are.

This sin happens when your social media channels feel too pristine and polished, without being balanced by a bit of personality, authenticity, and even user-generated content. Your followers don’t want to talk to a robot or feel like they are being played! Mostly, folks just want to see you be true to who you are.

Good Example: Charmin

Take a look at this very short (but incredibly brilliant) video.

Awesome, right?

Charmin doesn’t tell you how soft their toilet paper is, or how absorbent it is compared to the competition. Those selling points are necessary and appropriate at times, but a quick, creative retelling of the old “when you gotta go” joke in the context of the Olympic Games was right on point for Charmin, and felt like a natural, authentic extension of their brand identity.

Bad Example: Chick-Fil-A

They make a tasty chicken sandwich, but Chick-Fil-A seriously bombed with a recent set of “funny” videos.

Essentially, the campaign features historical figures doing shameless promotion of Chick-Fil-A’s breakfast menu. It’s hard to watch many of them, and not for lack of production value. Each one screams “We’re trying too hard!!” and comes across as the opposite of authentic. This is not the Chick-Fil-A we know and love.

Don’t take our word for it, though. Here’s Alexander Graham Bell trying to sell you chicken for breakfast.

The brand also featured some social-only videos as part of the #NotThatCrazy campaign, which seemed equally irrelevant and off-putting to fans.

The Difference: Charmin used a natural and simple approach to speak to their audience with a wink and a grin. Chick-Fil-A attempts to disguise a full-blown marketing campaign with a poor attempt at humor that doesn’t fit their brand well.

Sin #3: It’s Irrelevant

As a brand, you have to play by different rules on social media. Unlike your followers, you can’t post pictures of cute babies or puppies on a whim (unless you sell diapers or pet food). You have to talk about and share the things your audience cares about, and the things that are directly related to the core of your brand’s identity. If you are just trying to hop on a bandwagon to gain exposure, it can go bad for you fast, and boy, it can be ugly.

The content you create has to be connected to your core mission, values, and products. Jumping on social media trends, hashtags, and pop-culture events that don’t have anything to do with you will make you an unwelcome attendee–or the unfortunate dad who tries to use millennial slang to connect with his teenage daughter–at the social media ball.

Why? Because you’re just doing it to fill space in a desperate attempt at relevance. Coming up with meaningful content that isn’t just promotion is hard work. Here are our examples to help you see the difference between a genuine cause and a greedy pseudo-pitch.

Good Example: Patagonia

Patagonia’s mission statement is simple and clear:

Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

So it doesn’t come as a surprise when, in between making some of the best quality clothes on the market, the brand uses their social media channels to drive awareness about environmental issues. It’s their passion that spawned the “Vote Our Planet” campaign.

The campaign’s hope is to defend the water, air, and soil of our global home (at least until Elon Musk gets us to Mars, am I right?). Just take a look at their Twitter profile. You come to Patagonia looking for some sweet snowboarding gear, and leave wondering whether you should become an environmental lawyer. That’s a brand mission with power behind it!

Bad Example: NYC4A

Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? You know, the one where your friend or favorite celebrity poured a tub of ice-cold water on their head, then called you out to do the same? It was all designed to create awareness around (and encourage donations for) ALS research. And it caught on like wildfire.

So when New York Collaborates for Autism (NYC4A) announced their “Twizzler Challenge for Autism,” why did it flop? I mean, even Jimmy Kimmel and Rihanna did the challenge together. Quirky challenge, celebrity endorsements…what could go wrong?

NYC4A has a worthy cause, and they were looking for a modern way to raise awareness at a grassroots level. But unlike the organic growth of the Ice Bucket Challenge’s popularity, the Twizzler Challenge just seemed like a random (and seriously awkward) idea, not a natural extension of NYC4A’s core mission.

The Difference: To boil it down, it all goes back to being true to your mission. Use your social platforms to share and create content that sits at the intersection of your brand identity — and your audience’s real interests.

Sin #4: Treating Social Like Broadcast

Commercials and online video ads are hyper-focused, hyper-concentrated doses of brand messaging. You have a minute or less to communicate your brand’s value, so you have to lay it all on the line. After all, you literally don’t have a second to spare.

But social media is a conversation. On social, only posting big product announcements and re-purposing commercials is like interrupting a conversation at a party to hand everyone your resume. No one wants that.  

At the online party, you have to wait for an opening to add value. Broadcast is a sprint; social is a marathon. Brands who sprint on social will be too product-focused and won’t take the time to create those small daily touchpoints with their audience that create real loyalty and brand love over time.

Check out our examples to keep your audience from feeling the wrath of broadcast bombardment.

Good Example: Clorox

If you go to Clorox’s Facebook page, you’ll find a wise and helpful friend. Clorox is constantly sharing articles and offering tips for everyday cleaning problems — and a few seasonal projects to boot!

You’ll also see that Clorox does a great job responding to comments (either positive or negative). They’re like the person at the party who hardly ever talks about themselves, but draws you in with really interesting stories and ideas.

Bad Example: Starbucks

Eeeek! We said it. Before you go starting a pumpkin spiced riot, listen to our concern. Their Twitter account is full of bright, beautiful, fix-inducing…broadcasts. There was only one retweet from a loyal fan in days of content being pumped out. Come on, you know hundreds of people are tweeting about their experience every day.


No off-product content or meaningful public interaction. To be fair, they do directly answer a lot of their followers’ tweets, which is awesome (and which may explain why their account gets plenty of engagement despite their always-be-advertising mentality).

The Difference:

Too many brands treat social media as a one-way broadcast channel, rather than a two-way dialogue through which emotional storytelling can be transferred. — Simon Mainwaring

‘Nuff said.

Sin #5: Letting the Good Times…Stop

Social can be a discouraging place. You see so many examples of companies doing a great job of managing their channels, and still not getting results. Maybe you have a decent conversation going with your audience, but aren’t seeing any kind of ROI for your constant efforts.

You don’t have to be envious; you just have to get better. Brands miss COUNTLESS opportunities to engage with their followers. Social shouldn’t just be a place to garner Likes and shares, but to drive real business results through providing meaningful interaction and unforgettable service.

Good Example: Royal Dutch Airlines

Your customers are going to talk about you via social. You’d do well to not only listen, but to respond — fast. One of the best examples of this is RDA’S Twitter account. They even update their header every five minutes with the expected response time to your Tweet!


Instead of just posting and hoping for some engagement, they’ve turned social media into an extension of their service. This move enhances the value of their brand. Any airline can get you to your destination, but it’s the experience that brings back loyal travelers (or whatever you’re selling).

Bad Example: Bank of America

Bank of America has created automated bot responses to complaints and interactions they receive. The same hatred you have for jumping through hoops via telephone can now be had on social media.

The Difference: Royal Dutch Airlines uses social to bridge the gap between business and one-to-one conversation. Bank of America uses impersonal tech to take the social out of social. Don’t do that.

Sin #6: Trying to Be Everything to Everyone

Let’s be realistic: Your brand will never appeal to everyone at the same time. In fact, there are some people who aren’t ever going to like your brand.

The good news? It’s not your job to win them over. It’s your job to keep on building that small (or large) tribe of brand advocates–the ones you speak to, inspire, and who are going to buy your products and tell their friends. Obviously, you should avoid being downright offensive, and also realize that your mission isn’t going to be attractive to everyone. Just focus on the ones who matter.

Trying to be everything to everyone is costly, time-consuming, and ultimately offers a lower return anyway. When you know whom you are speaking to, it makes it easier to develop a clear, continuous story, and tell it to the right people.

Good Example: Vera Bradley

When this handbag company started the #ItsGoodToBeAGirl campaign, it caused a bit of an uproar. Women would shout out their favorite things about being a woman, and Vera Bradley would repurpose those responses in creative ways.

Maybe this statement makes you cringe a bit, but this is a real-life response from a real Vera Bradley fan. Sure, not every woman responds to notions of old-school chivalry, and statements like the above open up a whole can of cultural worms. But it fits the brand, and the brand’s followers responded positively. If you aren’t a big fan of it, it could be that the brand’s just not for you. And that’s okay.

Bad Example: McDonald’s

If you want a cheap burger, hot fries, and the classic drive-thru experience, look no further than those glorious Golden Arches. But what about a superfood salad?

There have been many times that McD’s has tried to appeal to a broader, healthier audience, and they’ve never been very successful. That’s because McDonald’s isn’t a health-food restaurant, and they shouldn’t try to be!

Take their kale Caesar salad, for example. Not only is this very unlikely to attract your local raw food vegan, it wasn’t even healthy. After all of the ingredients were added, it touted over 700 calories. For a small salad! Lesson learned: stick to what you’re good at.

The Difference: It’s not about making everyone happy or getting new customers. It’s about finding your ideal customer that fits into your company’s story. Serve them, speak to them, and don’t worry about what everyone else thinks.

Sin #7: Not Getting Better

One of the worst sins you can commit in the marketing world is refusing to get better. The good news is that you’re here, so kudos. But how many of these kinds of posts have you read without taking action afterward? Do you keep posting the same old stuff, expecting to magically get better results?

If so, let’s kick the sloth and go over a couple of examples.

Good Example: H&R Block

It’s a tax prep and software company. Pretty boring, but the questions that people have regarding what to pay Uncle Sam are endless. H&R Block not only does a good job of answering those questions, but they are constantly upping their game to get basic financial education out to more people.

A quick search of the company’s Facebook page shows that Block has increased their post engagement over the past several years — this at a time when FB is trying to get fewer people to see corporate posts organically!

Bad Example: Xerox

A company with a similar opportunity (a platform to create interest around a seemingly “boring” topic), Xerox has seemingly stayed put. While the company has over 1.3 million Likes on Facebook, each post gets only a handful of Likes, and very few shares. The comments section is a ghost town.

The Difference: The difference here is perhaps clearer than any other on our list, so we’ll stop talking and let you get to work.

Maybe you’re guilty of one of these seven deadly social sins. Heck, maybe you’re guilty of all of them!

That’s okay. It’s just not okay to stay that way. We’re not telling you about these marketing mistakes to make you feel inadequate; we’re showing you that there’s always room for improvement.

Where do you have the most room to grow? Tweet at us and download the 2017 Social Media Planning Template and Checklist to get the key components for an effective deck.

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2017 Social Media Planning Template and Checklist


Eric Hinson

Eric Hinson is the CEO of Explainify, a small firm that helps you tell better brand stories, win hearts, and convert customers using the power of video.

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