The #SMsceptic: 12 things businesses (and some social media experts) get wrong on Twitter

Twitter Fail Whale - alternative art #1

This is the first of what I am hoping will be a series of posts, attributed to the hashtag #SMsceptic (a.k.a the “Social Media Sceptic”). However, before anything else, an explanation as to why I have taken this seemingly pessimistic, grumpy-old-man angle:

I’m not a social media expert, I’ll happy admit that. I’d much rather say that I’m an SEO expert because I know more about the subject (I don’t even consider myself to be an SEO expert, but I’m sure you get my point – if I had to say I was one of the two). I’ve merely dabbled with Twitter, having slowly but surely learnt the ropes – just like everyone else – and have been trying to figure out how it can benefit me and – in turn – how I can benefit others.

With social media becoming more and more popular as another channel for businesses to use to market and advertise themselves, the thing that truly baffles me is the amount of interest – and the amount of money being spent – on something that seems to provide very little ROI compared to other avenues of marketing. Of course, there are theories that social media should be treated as branding more than anything else, along with the fact that it complements and works alongside other forms of marketing and advertising, rather than simply standalone.

Either way, while you’ll hear many people singing social media’s praises, some have argued that it could be a bubble about to burst, similar to the dot-com crash at the beginning of the millennium. However, that said, I’m not saying that social media doesn’t “work.” I’ve heard some absolutely great case studies and success stories, although only a few so far and not as many as I would like, what with the current and on-going interest and fascination with the medium.

Also, it is still a brave new world, with many businesses only just starting to get acquainted, onboard and get to grips with the various social media sites out there. Although there isn’t anything like a handbook telling someone everything they need to know (then again, maybe there is? – prove me wrong!), but some of the things I’ve seen some businesses do have been annoying, embarrassing, cringe-worthy or all of the above. Hell, I’ve even seen people who call themselves social media “experts” to be guilty of one or two of the following…

1. Thinking a tweet with an @reply at the start is seen by everyone

I once heard someone say that one of their industry leaders had tweeted about something they’d said to their own followers, amounting to the 1,000s. Sounds impressive on the face of it, but it turned out that it wasn’t a retweet, but instead an @reply, in response to having been @mentioned by the individual originally.

The individual in question believed that the industry leader’s tweet would have been seen by everyone, i.e. all of that person’s followers, but of course, if one Twitter user sends another user an @reply (with the @reply at the start of the message), the only people who will see it are: 1) the person they’re sending it to, 2) anyone who happens to visit the sender’s profile at the time, until it’s buried by later tweets, and 3) anyone following both accounts. Therefore, this individual was sad to find out that instead of the possibility of 1,000s of people seeing their tweet, only a handful might have done. Ouch.

Oh by the way, did I mention that the individual was a supposed “social media guru,” who teaches people how to use Twitter? Double-ouch.

2. Sending a tweet with a mid-tweet @reply that’s personal (but is seen by everyone)

Twitter Fail Whale - alternative art #2If somebody were to post a tweet that said…

“Hi @twitter, did you get my email?”

…Is it an @reply that’s only seen by the only three types of people mentioned in #1? No. It’s seen by everyone, i.e. all of the sender’s followers at least. Some people mistakenly believe that because it’s an @reply, it is only properly seen by that individual. However, that is only the case if it appears at the beginning of the tweet. Place it further on and all of your followers will see it as well. Think about an #FF (“Follow Friday”), which contains multiple @replies – it is seen by your followers as a recommendation to your followers, assuming it begins with “#FF” (which they usually do).

So… Want to send an @reply to someone and you also want your followers to see it, say if you want to communicate something to a fellow Twitter user but want to broadcast it as well? Some people do the above (i.e. starting it with “hi”), or use similar alternatives: start the tweet with “dear @so-and-so,” put a full-stop at the start, etc. Otherwise, it’s only seen by the recipient, a profile visitor or a follower of both accounts. Which leads us to the opposite…

3. Sending a tweet with an @reply at the start that’s intended to be a broadcast

Conversely, who sees the following tweet?

“@twitter is my #FF for this week.”

Not your followers. The @reply is at the start, so it’s instead only seen by the people listed above: the recipient, the visitor, the follower of both (sounds like a modern-day version of either “the good, the bad and the ugly” or “the cook, the thief, his wife & her lover,” but I digress…)

4. RTing the same person constantly

Retweeting (or RTing) someone often isn’t necessarily a bad thing – a user might want to retweet a fellow Twitter user that’s important to them: a friend, a colleague, their employer, an industry expert, etc. However, retweeting the same person on a daily basis is more tedious.

After all, if you are simply going to retweet everything a person says, then your follower might as well be following them instead, especially if you spend more time retweeting others than tweeting yourself.

5. RTing EVERYTHING mentioned about themselves

If someone says something positive about a business on Twitter, then that business might be very well inclined to retweet it, and rightly so. However, doing so should be done in moderation. I see some companies retweet absolutely everything spoken about them, which is overkill.

If people do say a lot of complimentary things about you, retweet in moderation – perhaps only the best of the bunch, those that are absolutely glowing testimonials. Spread them out as well, don’t retweet them all in one go.

…In fact, while I mention it…

6. Tweeting too often (or all in one go)

Twitter Fail Whale - alternative art #3The best Twitter usage is natural, regular and spread out. If someone jumps into their Twitter account once a week and shoots off a ton of tweets all in one go, only to disappear again for another week, then it won’t appear to be any of those things.

I had to stop following one business’ account because they tweeted about sixty times in one 30-minute period. Whether it was them themselves or an agency on their behalf, it looked as though someone had some time spare, logged in and tweeted for the sake of it, simply to get the number of tweets up and their presence known. I found it so overwhelming – clogging up my feed at the time – that I just had to unfollow them. I was thinking of following them again at some point later on (thinking that they might have calmed down a bit later on), but if I’m honest, I don’t think I ever got round to it.

Admittedly, it can be difficult jumping in and out of Twitter on a regular basis in order to tweet more regularly, especially if the person managing the social media on behalf of a company has other responsibilities as well. But even popping in once a day for five minutes would be better than going mad for half an hour once a week.

7. Incorrect #hashtag usage (bordering on spam)

I have seen a self-professed social media expert behind this one, and you know what? It bugs the hell out of me.

They are based in London, and at the end of every single tweet that they post, they will throw a #London hashtag at the end. Makes some sort of sense – they’re based in London, so they are hoping that people following the #London hashtag (most likely people native to the city) will see their tweets and take notice of who they are.

The problem? Very, very few of the tweets actually have anything to do with London. Most of them are national – or even international – news stories. What’s London got to do with news taking place in America, even if you yourself – sharing the news – are based in London? Nothing. In my eyes, this is hashtag spam.

Don’t abuse hashtags. There are countless stories of businesses improperly using hashtags, causing more embarrassment and bad press for themselves than enquiries or sales. Only use them when they are relevant to what you are talking about. For example, I recently tweeted the news that Liberty are hiring. They’re #SEO roles, based in #Cardiff, so that’s fine. In hindsight, I probably should have included a #jobs hashtag, too – although arguably, #SEO and #jobs will be global (and therefore extremely fast-moving) Twitter streams, so I would have been impressed if anyone at all had noticed it, let alone anyone in the UK, Wales or Cardiff.

8. #FF legions of people without explanation

I’m pretty sure someone’s already covered this one in a blog post somewhere (sorry, I’ll edit the post and credit you if/when I find it again!)

Doing a #FollowFriday (a.k.a. #FF for short) that basically involves writing a long* list of people and nothing else isn’t exactly ideal. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it is bad etiquette, but what benefit is churning out a long list of names?

The whole point of #FollowFriday is to recommend other Twitter users to your followers, so that they will consider following them, too. Just like with any recommendation or testimonial, you should give a reason why they should be followed. I don’t often tweet them myself, but when I do, it’ll usually be just one or two people, with an explanation as to why they’re worthy of my #FF for the week. Want to include more people? Do multiple tweets, each of them including brief explanations and reasons why.

* Well… “Long” inasmuch as Twitter will allow, anyway!

9. Providing off-topic facts & info

Twitter Fail Whale - alternative art #4I would argue that tweeting random facts is good. Sometimes it can be hard to think about what to tweet about (particularly for some businesses in some industries), so it can help to fill the void between more important tweets in addition to keeping followers interested and hooked.

However, I would argue the importance of keeping it relevant. Tweeting purely random facts – irrespective to your industry – is a bit much and a step too far. If I talk about SEO, chances are that my followers are following me because they are also interested in SEO. Therefore, random facts about SEO will probably be enjoyed by them. Random facts about animals, cars, our planet…? Probably not. It’s just not relevant to them. Instead, those types of things could be tweeted by veterinary surgeries, car showrooms and environmentalists, respectively, whose followers would probably appreciate it.

10. Bad spelling

This may seem like an especially petty one, but bear with me…

I’m not saying I’m a perfect speller. I moaned at myself recently about how I always forget to proofread my tweets before posting them. But my account is a personal account. Admittedly, Twitter is a spur-of-the-moment medium and when people act fast, they tend to make mistakes, regardless of whether it’s personal or business. But sometimes I’ve seen Twitter accounts run by businesses that are consistently lacking in proper spelling and grammar (although it’s fair enough to say that the latter’s especially hard when you’re restricted to 140 characters)!

My point isn’t that a business’ Twitter account should be run by someone who has flawless spelling and grammar skills. My point is that for businesses, Twitter is another form of advertising; of marketing; of media. A business would proofread and/or involve some level of quality control for their TV advertising, promotional literature, webpage copy, blog posts, etc., so surely Twitter should be treated with the same courtesy.

11. Tweeting the same things over and over

One Twitter user I know will say the same thing 5-10 times a day (albeit with slight tweaks to the wording sometimes), spread out throughout the day, each and every day, pushing their product or service. It’s as if they’re hoping someone will do a Twitter search for whatever it is at that exact moment and get in touch and enquire. If only it were that simple, huh?

I won’t do it because I don’t want to upset them, but I am really, really tempted to get in touch and ask if they have ever had an enquiry as a result of any of these tweets. Arguably, they might only take a few seconds to do each time, so it’s hardly a time-consuming effort that’s not paying off, but it doesn’t look very credible – in fact, I’d say it borders on desperation.

Just because you say you provide a product or service, doesn’t mean someone will definitely use you. Therefore, saying it 5-10 times doesn’t mean that someone is 5-10 times more likely to buy from you. Actually, they’re probably 5-10 times more likely to get annoyed and click the “Unfollow” button.

12. Getting lots of followers for the sake of numbers

Twitter Fail Whale - alternative art #5Unfortunately, a lot of marketing is a numbers game: number of impressions; number of clicks; number of visitors; number of page 1 rankings. For Twitter and Facebook, it’s typically the number of followers and “likes,” respectively.  Now it’d be utterly naïve of me to suggest that marketers should ignore the numbers as a benchmark, but oftentimes, quantity will trump quality to the point of silliness.

I believe this to especially be the case with social media, particularly with Twitter. For example, one tactic for increasing one’s follower count is to follow lots of people, some of whom will be obliged to return the favour. You get 1,000s of followers, but in order to get to that level, you also have to follow 1,000s. You can try to gear the followers that you want (e.g. you operate in the finance sector, so you follow other finance-related users, hoping that they’ll reciprocate), but ultimately, many of the people who do follow will probably be doing the same thing. You get 1,000s of followers, but how many of them actually give a damn about what you say? You can show it your client, manager or board or directors, but how many will be truly interested in what you do and – most importantly – what you can do for them or provide to them?

It may not please the client/manager/board because the focus won’t be on the numbers, but surely growing followers organically has to be the best approach in the long run. It may mean you get 100 followers in one month instead of 1,000, but arguably, that 100 are much more likely to be interested in what you have to tweet about. Out of that 1,000 on the other hand, there could very well be less than 100 who do.

It’s sad that sometimes follower count almost represents one’s status. Just because Person A has twice as many followers as Person B, it does not mean that Person A is twice as interesting, twice as important or twice as good at whatever it is they do. Anyone can go out and get a ton of followers – you can even go and buy them for dirt cheap, if that’s your thing (not that I’d ever recommend it, for many reasons). But the end of the day, it doesn’t mean jack. What does? Sharing good content (ideally stuff that you’ve produced yourself), conversing with others, giving tips and advice… All of which – I’m sure you will agree – is the whole point of Twitter and is probably why it became so popular in the first place.

So that’s it! Thanks for reading. But what you think? Have I forgotten anything obvious? Is there something you see businesses do every day that really drives you mad? Let me know via the comments…

[Image credits for the Twitter Fail Whale alternative art, in the order that they appear: first one by Paul Muller, the other four by kun530: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4]

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3 comments


  1. Kelly Davies

    Good blog! Just would add the following:

    13. Never EVER tweet something you wouldn’t want to see in the press…. Would you say it to a journalist? No? Don’t tweet it then.

  2. Pingback: #SMsceptic: A Quick, Simple Guide to Twitter @Mentions | SEOno

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