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(image from The Oatmeal)

There are a number of things that really annoy me sometimes about brands (and people — my ‘friends’ on Facebook and people I follow on Twitter can be just as bad) on social media.

Here are a few of my most hated things — all of which have a place at times, but are so often misused it’s just not funny. I’ve chosen not to provide screencap examples of each given that I don’t want to single out a specific brand.

For some more hilarious examples, you can check out  the Condescending Corporate Brand Page Facebook Page — it’s full of examples that are sometimes “meh, that’s almost acceptable” and other times “how did that get approval?!”.

1. Include “Like this if”, “Like for x, comment for y”, “Share this if” or similar in your posts.

Every time I see these, I feel like we’re falling to a pathetic level where we’re just desperately trying to push consumers to arbitrarily ‘engage’ with our content. Meaningful engagement (for example, discussing a product or service) will always trump the engagement that is meaningless (“Like this if you think that fluffy kitties should get their own homes” from a bank type stuff).

Now don’t get me wrong, there is value in what I like to call ‘soft and fluffy’ content — your presence shouldn’t just be boring, static updates. But some Facebook Pages I follow seem to spend so much time ‘gaming for engagement’ and so little time either engaging consumers in relevant, meaningful conversations or sharing content that is actually relevant to the business/organisation that I really wonder what the purpose is. Ultimately I feel we sometimes forget (as social media managers, as marketers, as social media consultants) that we use social media to meet and achieve defined goals (…or we should be…), and I don’t know any brands whose goals include “get the most Likes on our pictures of kittens” who are not cat breeders. And even then, the link is tenuous.

Just because likes and shares are components of the data available on your Facebook insights, doesn’t mean they indicate actual success. Understand what they mean before you game for them.

And for a hilarious diversion from your day, read this comic on The Oatmeal called “How to get more Likes on Facebook”. Recommended reading for all.

2. Spam the hell out of other people as ‘outreach’.

A big part of distributing content is in outreach and engaging with key influencers — whether they are brands or individuals. I talked about this in the webinar we ran last week, but the focus needs to be on finding partnerships that are mutually beneficial or relevant.

After identifying these influencers, you need to speak to them and get them to (hopefully) share your content. But the solution isn’t to just send them  10 tweets, post 5 things on their Facebook Wall and comment on every blog post they have on their site about how important it is that they share / like / talk about your content or cause. That’s spam. Particularly the horribly obvious copy/paste jobs that we often see.

Outreach to key influencers is much like the age-old practice of media relations. It’s a long term game, not a short term fix to all of your communication problems. And you don’t call the sports editor of The Age to talk about your fantastic event on the weekend and that they should write all about it — just because your target audience are the types of people who read the sports section of The Age.

Far more appropriate (and more appreciated by 99.9999% of community managers out there) is a single tweet, Facebook private message (or post if they are disabled) asking for the contact details of the person managing the presence (email is fine) and then you can send them an email about what you’re doing, and why their participation is useful to them and their audience as well as you. It might be that they say that sadly it’s not appropriate for their community, or that they would prefer you to just post the update on their Wall (without the “organisation xxx, please share this!” portion — an update directed to the audience of the presence) rather than them sharing it. Community managers should have processes in place for what they do (i.e. a consistent approach) for these people.

The better the long-term relationship you have with the community managers and organisations you’re targeting to distribute your content, the more likely they will share. And that means you need to do a bit of ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ activity as well.

I’ll note here that there is a place for some of this kind of content, and it’s predominantly in advocacy. Political advocacy and demonstrating a significant groundswell or public support for an issue can be a place where this is used and forgivable. Additionally, sometimes you don’t have the time to reach out — but that’s no excuse unless you’re responding to an extremely topical or breaking piece of information.

You want these people to get behind your cause, not dismiss you. There is an element of salesmanship required if you want to prompt them into helping out. Asking the simple question of “why would they do this?” and articulating rationale in your pitch will help you a great deal in winning supporters.

3. Advertise really weird stuff.

Now I know this is a bit of a silly thing to complain about — people can waste their money however they want. But as someone working in social media marketing, I look at the ads on Facebook, promoted Tweets on Twitter and web ads that I see while I browse the web, and some of them are plain horrible.

A notable example (I imagine due to a mistake) was an ad about how the brand had commented on a user’s Wall post providing them information about their situation. Why would I care if brand xx commented on yy’s post about the fact that they should call customer service? That isn’t going to make me want to Like your Page or engage with your content.

Similarly, brands often advertise their ‘warm and fluffy’ posts rather than posts that actually communicate what they do, what they stand for, and why I should engage with them through that channel. Sure, you’ll get a higher clickthrough ratio if it’s an image of a kitten, but are you a) getting the right people to actually come to your page (not just those who like the look of a cute kitten) and b) are they actually Liking your Page based on knowing what you do or what benefit/value that you provide to them?

Your advertising on social media should absolutely be about recruiting new people to your presence, encouraging them to visit your website and donate, or whatever goal you’re working toward. That’s the point of advertising. But don’t just automate the process, and test the content that you have up on someone other than you.

Also, I (personally) dislike the ads that say “Like our Page if you love x”. See (1).

Understand how the advertising platforms work, before you automate your ads. It can be the difference between lowering your work load, and wasting your money.