How NOT to Blow Your Social Media Reputation

We’ve all heard the social media horror stories. Somebody tweets they hate the city where one of their clients works or somebody pokes the wrong person on Facebook.

It would be nice if keeping your social media reputation safe was simply to avoid the obvious mistakes. Unfortunately there are subtle things you may be doing that will harm how people see you online.

Here are some things that you ought to keep in mind.

Do Not Spam Status Updates

When it comes to social media and your reputation, you want your status updates to be meaningful and helpful. That means you have to think about your audience, the people who are following you and the people you want to attract.

What do they like? What do they need? Do they have certain problems you can help solve? Here’s a short list of things you can share:

  • Links to articles – any time you are reading an online article and think somebody in your audience might like it, share it.
  • Links to other bloggers – helping promote other people is a great way to build your reputation.
  • Links to lists – share how-tos and list-like articles that may give steps on how to solve a problem.
  • Jokes – laughter is the buffer against the hardships of life, so sharing jokes is a great way to get people to loosen up and laugh if they’re having a hard day.
  • Quotes – Twitter, Facebook and Google+ are really good for sharing quotes, especially quotes on leadership, success and humor.

Even if you are as famous as Charlie Sheen, you don’t ever want to talk consistently about yourself. Otherwise you’ll come across as a creep.

Even though Sheen gets a lot of attention, it’s not the right kind. Self promotion should be limited to very, very small social share. The rest should be dedicated to helping your audience.

You can occasionally share links to your products, affiliates and website. How many? A good rule of thumb is to use the 80/20 principle, which says 80 percent of what you share online should be for helping other people and 20 percent should be for self promotion.

In other words, one self-promotion share for every four non self-promotion share. If that sounds like too much self-promotion, then shift it to a 1 in 10 ratio, especially if you tweet or post a lot.

Stop Mongering for Friends and Followers

There was a time when a standard strategy for picking up more followers was to simply follow as many people as possible, hoping they follow you back. In fact, a few years ago Twitter allowed you to automatically follow anybody back who followed you.

Some people scrambled to follow all the power users who were doing this. But in the end it hurts what’s truly unique about social media…being social.

I have a lot of followers and follow a lot of people, and let me tell you, it’s hard to be social with that many people. It takes time, but I’m committed to providing a good, social experience with my followers, because quality is always better than quantity.

Lately there has been a lot of talk about high-profile users like Chris Brogan and Michael Hyatt un-following thousands of people. Why? Their Twitter streams were chaotic and it was impossible to engage with users properly. Besides, spam was killing their DM boxes.

Now, Jesse Newhart provided an approach that allows you to interact with tens of thousands of follower using TweetDeck. But if you have to create a short-cut to deal with that many people, shouldn’t you evaluate why you are following that many people to begin with?

What’s the ideal number of people you can follow? In a 2009 report on Twitter, Sysomos suggested that magic number is about 150. Anything over that gets out of hand.

And if you think about it, you don’t want people following you because you followed them. You want people to follow you because you have a reputation for sharing great content.

Avoid Automating Your Social Activities

Automation is the opposite of being social. You are saying “I am too busy to respond to be social.” And before you think I’m throwing stones, I am very busy and do not have the time to respond to every message I have. But I try, even if it’s super short.

Some social media gurus will disagree with me and say that there are no rules on how to use social media, and even if there were, they were meant to be broken. There is also great evidence by’s pre-canned Twitter message campaign that automation can get you attention.

So should you automate? If you are thinking about it, you definitely need to be strategic and think about how you are going to make automated messages authentic, because in the end authenticity is the name of the game.

Never Share Something You Don’t Know

Speaking of automated messages, some social sites like Triberr automatically send out a tweet with a link through your Twitter handle every time someone in your “tribe” publishes a new post on your blog.

If you belong to five tribes and have ten people in each tribe with a total audiences reaching half a million eyeballs, that’s an attractive benefit for joining. It multiplies for sure!

However, you may end up sending some tweets on content that you may not support. Someone in your tribe might go off on someone else whom you support and then you look like you’re supporting the rant, which could hurt the relationship.

Even if you don’t automate but are guilty of simply re-tweeting something you haven’t read, again, you may be supporting something you might not have if you’d read, watched or listened to it carefully. You may be spreading untruth. Don’t do it.

Always Disclose

There’s a legal and moral reason why you should always be open with your relationships when it comes to reviewing products or talking about companies, or sharing anything for that matter.

The legal reason is that on December 1, 2009, the FTC passed a law that stated all bloggers must disclose their relationship to products and advertisers or pay a penalty. This includes statements made on other social sites like Twitter or Facebook.

The moral reason is that, like I mentioned above, social media is all about being authentic. It could be as simple as telling people why you are sharing what you are sharing, even if it’s not a paid endorsement.

Besides, most advertisers will tell you that if you make a statement like “download this ebook for free” people are going to ask “why is it free?” Good copy always explains the “why” behind a “what” and it will go along way to building credibility with people.

Think Before You Share

Social media can encourage bad habits and bring the worst out of us, like flying off the handle when you are mad or self-promoting in bad taste.

One particular case involved a journalist who wrote a story for the New York Times on a court house shooting in Las Vegas where two people were killed. The journalist tracked the story on Google and when it reached the number one spot, he captured the screen and shared the image with this tweet:

The glory screen­shot. Look what’s the top Google News story right now.

For what may be a short-lived shot at fame, that journalist did something very cold, especially when two families were grieving the loss of loved ones.

Even when it comes to commenting on blog posts, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Going off on someone will make you look immature.

Even the very scientist Richard Hawkins is not immune to getting into a flame war, so be careful and control your passions when you are using social media.

Socialize Like a Bartender

Not too long ago a friend of mine told me about a bartender he met who was very cool and very wise. Even though his bar was in a small town where most people liked to drink light beer and fight, he ran it like it was an elegant Manhattan wine house.

After visiting the bar several times, my friend was struck by the lack of fights. Surely with his clientele there would be more fights. So my friend asked and the bartender said, “We never talk about religion, politics, race, gender, nationality or sexuality.”

Good advice for social media. Those topics can be lightening rods for controversy and really get under a lot of people’s skins. The Richard Hawkins case above is a good example.

I’m not suggesting you don’t have any convictions when it comes to these topics, I just think that when it comes to social media you should stay away from them like a good bartender does.

Speaking of bartender, Gini Deitrich compared a good social media brand to a good bartender:

The bartender we go to see because he knows our name, he sincerely seems to care about us, he listens to our stories. He knows all about the neighborhood and can inform us on all sorts of matters. He knows what we drink. He gives us a free one every now and then. He makes us feel welcome.


Social media can help you succeed in gaining attention and building a good reputation. It can help you meet people you may not normally have access to. But like a lot of things in life social media can come back and bite you if you don’t use it right.

What other ways can the wrong use of social media hurt your reputation?

Neil Patel is the co-founder of KISSmetrics, an analytics provider that helps companies make better business decisions.