Skip to Content

10+ Surefire Ways Businesses Fail At Social Media And How To Avoid Them

NOTE: I originally wrote this article back in 2012. Obviously, the various social networks have changed over time, but the ways to fail have pretty much remained the same. Since the response to this post has been really good and it has helped quite a few folks out there, I thought I would update it and add more ways to fail. 

I hope you enjoy the updates!


There are a lot of ways to engage in social media, some of them effective…some of them not. Over the last 15 years of working with online platforms, I have witnessed quite a few social media fails.

Some happening on personal accounts like the Facebook Fairy, and others on the corporate level.

Please note: Some of the links in my posts are affiliate links. I get commissions for purchases made through those links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases when you buy something from those links.

If your organization is considering getting active in social or if you’re in the process of assessing your current efforts, take a look at the following list and make sure you’re not undermining the success of your activities.

Each item in the list contains the “fail” behavior, an example of a company that has committed the fail, and a tip to avoid making the same mistake. There are a few social media comics thrown in, as well, to demonstrate the situations.

Want to fail at social media? Consider doing the following:

1) Not Understanding That Social Networks Are Not Purely Advertising and PR Channels

The fact that you can purchase ads on networks like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest does not make them purely marketing platforms and you should not treat them, as such. These social networks are just that…networks of people who are connecting and engaging with each other.

If you are spending a lot of time trying to “segment” or “target” or “profile”, you need to rethink. Yes, you should learn about your community, but you should do that through “listening”, “engaging”, and “collaborating”.

Work on building one-on-one relationships with influencers in your community. Try communicating with individuals and then empowering those individuals to (hopefully) sing the praises of your organization, products, and services to their friends and family.

Successful social media engagement is not about blasting messages to groups of people based on demographic profile. When you build relationships in your personal life, do you “segment” or “target”?

No. You “meet” individuals, “build” relationships, “share” information, and “discuss” common experiences.

Online social networking is no different. You need to think about how real people are going to view your messages and then do your best to understand whether the message is appropriate.


JP Morgan is a perfect example. They decided to start a hashtag campaign where they encouraged the Twitterverse to ask questions of their senior executives.

Their expectations were probably that they would receive professional business questions from their following of financial professionals.

What they got was very, very different.

While they did receive serious questions, they also received a hefty volume of tweets from those who were clearly dissatisfied with JP Morgan services. Also, recognize that a hashtag campaign lasts forever, so even though they thought the campaign would end in 2013, the Internet continues to add to the campaign.

How’s that PR campaign working out, JP Morgan?

How To Avoid This

While Facebook ads and public relations messages do have their place in your marketing ecosystem, make sure you are spending more time building and engaging with your social media audience, rather than just advertising or using your channels for PR spin.

Don’t see these networks as just another advertising opportunity. Treat them like an amazing chance to connect with your customers.

2) Don’t Encourage Commenting And Don’t Respond When Comments Are Left

Did you know that 85% of consumers who use Facebook expect an answer within 6 hours? And Twitter users expect an answer within 1 hour.

While that might not seem reasonable to expect, given your corporate communication approval process…your customers really don’t care.

They are interested in interacting with you (good or bad), and by creating a social media channel or channels, you have sent a message that you are ready to engage.  If you are going to participate in social, be prepared to respond to questions, comments, or concerns.

For positive comments, it’s as simple as clicking the “like” button. For negative feedback, if you can’t solve the problem at least acknowledge that you have received the complaint and then give the customer next steps.

Have them call your customer support number, have them send you a private message, tell them you are researching and will get back to them.

Do something!

If they take the time to give you feedback about a product or issue, take the time to respond to them as quickly as possible. Do NOT use the negative feedback as an opportunity to dismiss or denigrate your customer. Trust me, that will go badly for your brand.


Sprout Social does a great job explaining why brands should be prepared to reply to messages and shares some great examples of brands that respond…and those that don’t.

How To Avoid This

Set up a social media listening process by which someone on your team is checking the channels once per hour. If you can afford it, purchase a social monitoring tool like SproutSocial or Brandwatch that will alert you when someone mentions your username or posts on one of your channels.

Be prepared to respond by setting up response workflows and getting them approved by your leadership. These workflows should empower your social media manager to respond to every post and will indicate when an issue needs to be escalated.

3) Post BORING Promotional Content On Your Social Channels

It is NOT a good idea to simply post your technical manuals, TV commercials, and print ads on your social network. Social networking is not about advertising and social media sites are not the place to post up these kinds of content unless you really think they will be valuable to your community.

If you're going to engage in social media, make sure your content is interesting, educational, or entertaining. Click To Tweet

This doesn’t mean that you can’t post up your ads/commercials, just make sure that they are the minority of your content and the other 80%-90% of your content is conversational, educational, entertaining, or somehow offers value to your visitors.


My favorite company that understands that social media content can be fun is BlendTec. They make blenders…not the most exciting product.

However, rather than consign themselves to a boring corner of the Internet, they created “Will It Blend” an entire marketing ecosystem dedicating to showing whether their blenders are tough enough to take on the blending of an iPhone, super glue, and even an entire pool cue.

Now, that’s entertaining!

How To Avoid This

Find ways to show your audience the more personal side of your company.

Have your leaders create videos of themselves using your products or services. Engage ambassadors in the social space and have them give impartial reviews of your products.

Give some free product to your most passionate customers and see how they respond. Find unique, interesting, and entertaining ways to engage your customer.

4) Write Blog Articles That Read Like Stereo Instructions

No one ever read a blog post and then said “Wow! I really enjoyed that post because it was keyword-dense, used the appropriate meta tags, and was completely search engine optimized!”

Your readers don’t care about SEO! Search engine optimization is, by definition, for search engine spiders. Don’t let your SEO efforts ruin your writing.

Additionally, unless you’re writing to a very specific niche, try to keep industry jargon and acronyms to a minimum.


Sony Mobile’s blog kinda sucks. It’s a good example of a corporate blog that just posts press releases and product information. Each of their posts read like…well…stereo instructions.

No people, no humans, no stories. Just product specifications and details.


How To Avoid This

Tell stories. Share information in a way that engages the reader. Hire actual writers. Read your content out-loud and see if it puts you to sleep. If your content sucks, re-write it.

5) Engage On Every Channel Without Any Specific Purpose

Want to know a quick way to spread your social media resources too thin? Try to engage in every channel out there.

There are a TON of social channels and trying to engage in every one will only end in social media fatigue. Pick the channels that mean the most to your community and start with those.

Before your brand starts communicating via a social channel, make sure you have a plan. Click To Tweet

Then, grow into other channels slowly and only if they make sense.

So, you've registered all your social media channels, do you know what to do with them?


Rather than focus on brands that have poor organizational skills and aren’t using their social media channels in concert with one another, I thought it might be more useful to demonstrate a couple of brands that are doing it right.

Kit Kat – Not only do they do a great job with their advertising activities, but they understand that there audience wants to engage with them when they “Gimme A Break”.

Just a few moments on their Twitter feed and you’ll find engagement with their audience, celebs influencers, fun recipes, and photos of people eating Kit Kat bars.

Barbie – The Barbie brand has done a great job with their Instagram channel showing Barbie in photos that shows women in empowering roles. The channel continues to grow and receive tons of positive feedback from their followers.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Barbie® (@barbiestyle) on

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association – Remember the ALS Ice Bucket challenge? Did you know that it wasn’t a manufactured marketing campaign? Instead, it started with a simple call to action from golfer Charle Kennedy, who wanted to help raise money and awareness for a friend suffering from ALS.

The ALS Association, however, joined in and used their social channels to promote the message, which then kicked off the ice bucket craziness of 2014 and 2015 and saw celebrities like Bill Gates, Conan O-Brien, and LeBron James joining in the challenge.

Sometimes, your audience can be an amazing source of content for your organization. Listen and amplify! Click To Tweet

While most of the content for the challenge wasn’t generated by the ALS Association, they did a great job sharing it and spreading the word of the positive message. As a result, they reaped the rewards of increased donations.

How To Avoid This

Start with one or two channels. Maybe a blog and Facebook. See if they work for your audience. If they do, determine whether adding Pinterest or Twitter to the mix would increase your reach and continue to serve your community. Start slowly. Grow slowly.

If your audience starts using a channel where you aren’t engaging (like YouTube), then either evaluate whether it might benefit you to engage there or use your existing channels to promote the audience content.

Heck, there’s nothing wrong with promoting a YouTube video on Twitter or Facebook or featuring it on your blog.

Remember, “fast and furious sets the pace, slow and steady wins the race.”

6) Expect Everything You Post To “Go Viral”

Unless you’re asking your pharmacist about cold medicine, you should erase the term “viral” from your vocabulary.

Too many folks measure the success of a social media tactic on whether it “went viral”. The reality is that many things go viral for negative reasons, just ask Nestle, Maytag, or United Airlines.

It’s much more reasonable to ask “did our community find that content to be valuable?”. If your community liked the content and they think others might like it, they will share it.

How do you measure whether something goes viral on social networks?


Remember that time that Dove wanted to create a viral video that showed an African-American woman morphing into a white woman? Seemed like a good idea to someone in their marketing department, but the Internet disagreed and the viral result was backlash against the company.

How To Avoid This

Just stop expecting things to go viral. Create helpful, useful, entertaining, and informative content. Instead of trying to manufacture a viral scenario, build trust with your audience.

Learn what they want and need and then provide it.

7) Don’t Measure Your Activities And Outcomes

If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never end up where you want to be.

Developing a social media plan is critical and it’s important to measure whether you’re activities are actually meeting the goals of that plan. Without measurement, you’ll never know whether you are succeeding and never be able to justify continued involvement and additional budget requests.

Every social media strategy should have measurable targets. Otherwise, you won't know if/when you are succeeding or failing. Click To Tweet

Learn about metrics like sessions, bounce rate, shares, likes, time-on-site, etc…Determine which metrics are right for your audience and your content. Set goals against those metrics and then measure how your activities help you accomplish those goals.

Engaging in social media isn't easy. Before jumping in and building channels, think through what you want to accomplish and what your customers


A while back I was really concerned with the bounce rate on my blog. Other bloggers were telling me how they were lowering their bounce rate and mine continued to increase. This caused a lot of anxiety and was impacting my mood toward blogging.

Instead of being satisfied with an increasing bounce rate, I dug in and evaluated why it was happening. In the end…I embraced my high bounce rate.

You can read about why I’m not concerned about a high bounce rate here. You can also read about what metrics I do monitor closely here.

How To Avoid This

Take some time to learn about the various metrics that are available for each channel. Pick 2-3 measurable metrics that will help you understand whether your activities are positively impacting your community.

Track them. Form goals. Measure your progress toward those goals.

Keep in mind that your measurable analytics might need to evolve over time. They aren’t written in stone, so don’t be afraid to adapt them as you learn more about your community.

8 ) Don’t Listen To Your Community

Do you know who you want to read your blog posts, tweets, and engage with you on Facebook?

Do you understand how and where your customers are engaging?

Have you taken time to analyze what the sentiment is about your products and services?

How about how the community feels about your competition?

If you  haven’t done this analysis yet, you’re likely not going to hit the mark when it comes to providing value to the community. Send some time just listening. See who your most active community members are and read their posts and tweets.

If they have a blog, read it.

Learning about your community can be done by learning about your community members.

Learning about your community will help your brand engage more effectively via social networks. Click To Tweet


Sometimes your customers are actually listening to your social media accounts and when you say something nasty, they will respond. Just ask the DoubleShot – an ironically-named coffee bar in Oklahoma that tweeted their ban on breastfeeding at their bar. Read this post to see the full details on how it went down.

The Doubleshot bar made a serious social media mistake when they banned breastfeeding in their bar

How To Avoid This

Identify 10-12 influencers in your target community. These are the people that other community members look to for advice. Follow them, read their content, understand where their concerns might be.

Create content that would help them resolve problems or answer questions.

Help them help your community.

9) Don’t Allocate Appropriate Resources

Social media is time consuming and engaging isn’t just about posting or tweeting. It’s about planning, listening, analyzing, engaging, writing, communicating, evolving. If you don’t allocate the appropriate people and budget, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Just because the networks might be “free”, doesn’t mean that people, tools, and resources aren’t necessary to create content, identify opportunities to engage, and be successful in your community development.

The unfortunately reality of how social media budget planning goes


The best example of not allocating the appropriate resources to social media can be found in the volumes of interns committing social media fails. Putting your intern in charge of your publicly-facing social media channels is just a really, really bad idea.

Putting your intern in charge of your social media channels is just an overall bad idea. No offense to interns out there... Click To Tweet

To demonstrate how bad it can be, I’ll just leave this right here…a tweet from a social media intern. They thought they were posting to their personal channel:

Chrysler intern tweets negative message Twitter

How To Avoid This

Plan. Include social media as a line item in both your marketing AND customer support budgets. Ensure that you clearly understand the purpose of your social media communication and dedicate the appropriate level of resources, headcount, and tools toward those goals.

10) Start A Social Media Flame War With A Competitor

Nothing screams professionalism like getting into an online argument with one of your competitors. It never really goes well for either brand. Every marketing professional should take the time to learn Thumper’s Rule and apply it to their online engagement – with both customers and competitors.


When two Kansas City-based brands went to town, it just got nasty. Check out this review of what can happen when two brands decide to get heated via their social media channels.

Did BabyCakes Bakery Step Over The Line By Calling Out Their Business Partner On Twitter?

How To Avoid This

Snarky is OK, if it fits with your branded messaging. Wendy’s does a good job on Twitter and they appear to have hired trained professionals on the art of snark. If your brand doesn’t include a health serving of snark, then go ahead and get snarky.

If not, just do your best to shake off the negative criticism, even if it is from another brand or competitor and focus on helping your community. Remember, there are plenty of haters on the Internet just waiting to bait you into an argument.

Avoid the temptation. Stay away from flame wars. Stay positive.

11) Scheduling Your Posts And Not Reviewing Them

Social media scheduling tools are great. They can help your team plan and execute more efficiently. Issues, however, can arise when you “set it and forget it”. If you’re going to use scheduling tools, you need to review them before the posts go live.


Remember that time that the NRA scheduled a tweet to go out asking a benign question of their followers? Only to have the tweet cause a massive uproar due to the fact that a shooting had occurred in a theater in a Denver suburb?

This tweet is the perfect example of how scheduling social media content can go wrong

Obviously, the organization removed the tweet, but a check of the scheduled content might have avoided this all-together.

How To Avoid This

I would never advocate against using social media scheduling tools. They are very helpful and can take an immense load off your team. However, use them cautiously. Check your scheduled content each day to ensure that it is still appropriate.

12) Not Properly Securing Your Social Media Accounts

Weak passwords are a big problem in social media and choosing a weak password for your social accounts is just asking to be hacked. But there are additional security problems beyond just weak passwords. Issues that include:

  • Neglecting to change your social passwords when someone leaves your company
  • Employees using public Wi-Fi without also using a VPN tool to secure their network connection
  • Employees leaving their browsers open and walking away from their unlocked computers
  • Allowing applications to have access to your social channels without periodically reviewing their security levels.

Social Media Security Fail - When Computers And Mobile Devices Are Left Unlocked


Look, if McDonald’s can be hacked, then it’s likely your brand can be hacked. Remember this example of the McDonald’s channel tweeting a political message berating Donald Trump?

McDonald's reported that their Twitter account was hacked and this anti-Trump message was posted

How To Avoid This

Protect your social media passwords and access. Review the access to your channels quarterly and be sure to remove people when they leave your organization.

Take social media security seriously.

There you have it! 10+ surefire ways for organizations to fail at social media. Have other suggestions to add to the list? Feel free to leave them in a comment!



Share This Post With A Pin!

10 Ways To Fail At Social Media