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The Seven Deadly Sins of Social Media

In this excerpt from his new book UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging. author Scott Stratten shows the profane acts users of Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn commit. How many are you guilty of?

UnmarketingSocial Media is so new that most people are making it up as they go,1 but most people seem to make the same mistakes. Or dare I say sins. . . . We look at the biggest players online for business—Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn—but the same concepts can be applied to any social media site.


Greed is quite a popular sin. Twitter by default is a self-centered tool. It's about us. But it's 100 times better if used as a conversational tool versus a dictation. I see people using Twitter as a glorified RSS feed for their blog or an ad-puker. So absent of personality, I wonder why they even try. Yes, they are in business, but if they believe that business is built on relationships, they need to make building them their business.

This sin holds a special place for the people who only retweet compliments about themselves. I was talking to a colleague of mine and she was asking how I have built such a large amount of followers. I mentioned that I get retweeted a lot and I retweet others. Her reply was "I retweet others all the time!" When I checked out her page, the only time she ever retweeted anyone was if it was a compliment about her or a #FollowFriday2 mention with her in it. You may as well tweet while looking in a mirror telling yourself you're good enough, you're smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like you.

Facebook is in a world of its own. Posting on someone's wall with a seven-line signature, mass-inviting people to every event (even if the event is local and the person is not even in the same country), to tagging people in articles that they are not even mentioned in just to get them to read it. There is a special vein in my forehead that you can clearly see when these things occur.

Someone didn't become your friend on Facebook to give you business or to allow you to use his or her wall as a billboard. Even the term "friend" means a relationship, and you are not building one when you invite me to your Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) event in San Diego and I live in Toronto. Instead, use Facebook to engage, and to comment on people's posts and status updates and to share links with them that they may like, not ones you have written to promote yourself but ones you have found that may help them.

LinkedIn falls under the same issues that Facebook does. The group's function has so much great potential because the site is fully business-oriented, yet the majority of the groups and posts that I have seen during my research were either outright spam or drive-by articles. Drive-by articles are those that are posted in multiple groups and sites, which are mostly a thinly veiled pitch for the author's services. Some gurus also teach this method, but you will notice that the original authors are never around when someone has a follow-up question. I hope that the LinkedIn discussion groups become just that, groups that have great discussion.


Get followers fast!!!! Most people on Twitter have seen tweets like this or thought of using a site that helps kick-start things for you. Seems innocent, right? Let's just have a look-see at this logic. Imagine a guy just followed you. Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy that a new person is along for the Twitter journey with you, makes up for your lack of popularity in high school, and the day is getting better. Then you go to his profile and you see a bunch of tweets that say:

"I have found a way to get thousands of followers fast and automated!! Go to this site!"

How does that make you feel now? Still warm and fuzzy? Still getting tingles? Didn't think so. When you tweet out "follower system" tweets it says one thing: You're in it for the numbers. I'll bet the 3 cents I still have after my latest trip to Vegas that one of the next tweets will be about an "amazing business." Everything you tweet is an extension of your biz and your brand. If you want to scream about "getting thousands of followers," be my guest, but the funniest part about the above tweet? The actual guy has 149 followers. Seriously.

On Facebook, gluttony takes a different turn for me. While actually writing this book a service provider that I am "friends" with sent me an invite to a Facebook event called "Freedom from the Fat Trap!!!" Really? One of two things happened here. She either sent the invitation, which wasn't even for her own event, to her entire friend list or specifically chose to invite me to the event. I am going to go ahead and guess that it is the former and that I also do not have to tell you how badly somebody could take this. It is about as bad as inviting somebody to an event called "You're Ugly and Here Is How You Can Look a Little Less Ugly." Remember that everything you do impacts your business image, including inviting people to fat camp.


Twitter is a conversation. It's truly what I love about it. But imagine having a conversation in person with someone where that person takes an hour to reply to you, face-to-face. How awkward would that be: "Hey, how's business?" and they blankly stare off for an hour, then reply "Good thanks!" That's how it feels if someone takes a week to reply to a tweet. I once had someone who took 79 days to reply to a question that I asked her on Twitter. Seventy-nine days! If it takes you longer to reply than it would to walk over a handwritten reply to my home, you're doing it wrong. I know, not everyone is a tweetaholic like me, and not everyone can devote a good chunk of their day to Twitter. So if you have a limited amount of resources or time, let's say five hours a week, it's better to spend 45 minutes a day for the entire week, than five hours once a week. Consistency breeds familiarity, which creates relationships.


1 - Nothing proves this more than the increase of social media experts from 5,000 in May 2009 to almost 16,000 listed on Twitter in December 2009) (source:

2 - #FollowFriday is a tradition on Twitter where you suggest people to others to follow.

Here we can combine Facebook and LinkedIn; if you are not going to be responsive on either site then you probably shouldn't have a presence. There is a difference between being present and having a presence. You need to be active and responsive to people's requests, whether that is accepting people as contacts on LinkedIn or as friends on Facebook. I was guilty of this last year on LinkedIn when I recently went back to ramp things up and realized I had connection requests from eight months ago. How do you think it made those people feel?


Ya, I'm kind of a big deal on Twitter in my own mind, which at the end of the day means nothing to the majority of the world, but every day I get DMs3 asking me to change my picture to add a "cause" or tweet about this or that. I'm all for causes, I'm a big charity guy, but mostly I'm a fan of choice. Meaning it's your choice to support anything you want but every once in a while people try to get others, through guilt, to change their avatar. When everyone changed their Twitter profile pictures to a shade of green to support some cause I got asked daily why I hadn't changed mine yet. My answer to them? It's none of your damn business why. My lack of participation in your cause does not infer lack of support, just like changing my avatar does not make me a better person by default. Same goes for people who think you should be obligated to follow them back if they follow you. Things on Twitter, just like most things in life, are choices. We should follow people based on interest, not out of courtesy.

Same goes for causes and groups on Facebook. You will see a popular cause of the month go around with plenty of invitations that you will usually ignore. Recently I had the pleasure of choosing to not join a cause just to be reinvited back multiple times by the same person. I admire their dedication, but despise their persistence that has turned to annoyance.

One of LinkedIn's greatest functions is the endorsement, where people can give testimonials about your skills at a particular job. The system allows you to request endorsements from anyone in your contact list. This is okay if they actually worked with you or were customers; however, I frequently am requested to give endorsements for people who I barely know anything about; or they write in the request "if you endorse me then I will endorse you." Which negates the very point of the system.


One of the worst things about social media is the reactionary nature of it. Especially on Twitter, most of us don't think before tweeting and for the most part it's okay because most tweets are harmless, boring, and innocent by nature. But once in a while we react or lash out above our better judgment. It takes a thousand tweets to build a reputation and one to change it all. Twitter feels intimate sometimes, like you're on an episode of Friends, having a conversation with a few, except there are thousands "lurking" around. It's like having a harem of stalkers, without the creepiness.4

Being the object of someone's wrath is also common. For a full explanation on how to deal with trolls check out the section about them later in the book. But in a nutshell: Don't feed them. They aren't owed a reply, your time, or your emotions. You're better than that.

Wrath can be even worse when it is cloaked in the disguise of being helpful. This is usually done by the spelling freaks or grammar police. I admit that I do not always proofread what I tweet—I barely proofread a blog post and then usually only after I have posted it. Posting on my public comments and implying that I am a moron because I spelled something wrong isn't in anybody's best interest. It makes me feel stupid and it makes you look bad. I was taught back in my human resource days that there was one rule: Praise in public and reprimand in private. So I would say praise in public and assist in private. If I asked for help or feedback in a public forum, then fire away, but if the spell check is unsolicited, drop me a note privately. It is actually appreciated and makes you look even better. But beware of those who ask for feedback in public as well—they are usually looking for praise.


Social media sites are filled with humans. And when you throw a bunch of humans into an environment, a few things are sure to be present: 20 percent of people will have bad breath, 30 percent will wonder how their hair looks, 60 percent like peanut butter and cheese sandwiches but are scared to say something (or maybe I'm the only one), and 100 percent will have hormones. 5 It happens. We can pretend they don't exist, but they're always there. It's one of the reasons to have a flattering picture as part of your social media profile; it catches the eye. The problem is when people turn creepy or obnoxious (and by people I mean guys). I'm truly blessed to know many incredible women on Twitter who are not only brilliant in business but attractive as well. The stories they tell me about direct messages or replies they get from some men make me shake my head. Seriously, folks, I'm not sure what book told you the line "Your lips look tasty" works, but it makes me picture Silence of the Lambs, and not for the cool stuff. Every tweet, every DM, represents your company, and more specifically you as a person.

It is even worse on Facebook, where the laid-back attitude can make you look even worse. People post pictures of their vacations on the beach only to have them ruined by some guy making a comment that totally ruins the entire thing. And I repeat that you are always marketing your business—every comment, every post, is an extension of your brand.


You know what? Screw it. I have no problem with your being proud of something. I mean true pride. Something you accomplished, your kids, whatever. Scream it from the top of the mountains, good for you. Just do it in moderation. Don't just talk about yourself, spread pride of others, too. Retweet, comment, and share their accomplishments. One sin out of seven ain't so bad.


3 - DM is a Direct Message, which is a private message on Twitter that you can only send to someone who is following you.

4 - Okay, maybe a little creepiness . . .

5 - By the way, I know that this doesn't equal 100 percent, so feel free to shoot me an e-mail to correct me.


Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc.( from UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging. by Scott Stratten Copyright (c) 2010 by Scott Stratten.

Add New Comment


  • OptioneerJM

    This was so GREAT. I found it tweeted via (retweeted by AMANet) ... the humour entertained the message, but the message was bang on. Being a relative "newbie" I'm open to understand what its all about, and really the reason I signed up. I will definitely bookmark this article to remind myself. The best thing to remember is to "ENGAGE" not market. I think you're right, the majority think its just another avenue to promote themselves or their business. Yet, people buy from people, so why would they think that would change. Building brand awareness is fine, as long as its not annoying. Thanks Scott!

  • Lisa Rouissi

    Facebook actually automates the requests to friends while most of us don't realize it is happening.

  • Kim Kennedy

    This article is a great tutorial -- or refresher, for some -- on the etiquette of social media. All too often, we as executives talk "at," not "to," our varied and endless audiences. This choice of style, then, shows up in the tone and direction of our statuses, tweets, blogs and community content, harming the social networking relationships we're working to cultivate. This is a great read. Even if you think you've mastered the "how-to's," this reminds us that good manners and decorum never get old, online or off.
    Thad Martin, president, ONEsite

  • Dean Wright

    Scott - I'm simply impressed with your well written article. It's spot on, gives examples, good insight, and truly ties back to the particular sin. The article made me want to go buy your book. Hopefully your article is to your book NOT like movie trailers are to the actual movie: already showing the good spots! :-)

  • Stephanie Peckham

    Scott - thank you! You've perfectly put together and argued the case against some of the things that drive me nuts! Now I can calmly refer people to your article and book instead of sounding like a grumpy old woman!

  • Scott Eggert -

    You cover some important and seldomly practiced aspects of social media. Too many business owner act carelessly to clutter the web with useless spam, which spawns more and better filters for the rest of us to ignore them.

    Thanks for returning the conversation back to one of etiquette and professionalism. Like anything else, it takes work.

  • Jun Mhoon

    Makes sense to me. That's why I signed on to most of these networks. To have conversations. Let's start all over again please.

  • Diana Broomfield

    Mr Scott Stratten, this is a great article that gets right at the main things I dislike at social media networking. I am going to link to this article in my network. Thanks for this timely enlighten article.

  • Stephanie Moewe

    I can think of one other sin, though I'm not sure exactly which sin category it would fall under...perhaps Gluttony or Pride. It is the sin of tweeting about every time you do ANYTHING. Do we really need to hear that you just ate tacos, went to the store to buy milk and are now sitting in your living room talking to your dog? While its important to be personal in your tweets in order to build relationships, there is a limit to how often we need to be apprised as to one's next move. Three tweets every hour about one's menial tasks or encounters is TMI! C'mon, are you really THAT important??

  • Yuvarajah

    I second that, all the way. It's the greatest abuse of social media networking. I can't believe people are actually doing this.

  • Juan Ortiz

    Great article that reflects many things that I am doing wrong. I may not be creepy or super proud, but I tend to forget at times that everything written on my social media sites is an extension of my brand (me).

    Thanks for taking time to write this post, I will definitely be looking for this book.

  • helen

    This makes a great deal of sense.. until I read the sexist part concerning words to the effect that men only are basically lustful on social web sites and not women. Nothing could be further from the truth. Women do it in more subtle (yet not so sutble ways) to feed their low self-esteem. Placing pictures of oneself at the beach, in swimsuits, bikins, posing with breasts showing, snesuous pics etc etc etc, doesnt exactly give "I am an intelligent woman with a high self esteem who values myself" kind of an impression." Deserving of the kind of men who prey on and attract those kind of females in my opinion. I have a great body too but dont spread it on social web sites!!

  • Bobbie Garner

    I love this list. Grateful that the witty footnotes were included as well.