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How To Lose Friends And Alienate Twitter Followers: 5 Stupid Social Media Mistakes

When I interviewed entrepreneur and author Guy Kawasaki recently, I chatted with him at great lengths about his Twitter publishing habits. Take a look at his feed, and every few minutes you'll see a new post, from why videos go viral to Playboy's plans for a strip club. With so much tweeting, I asked him if he lost followers. In true Guy style, he admitted that yes, he had lost followers—but not nearly as many as he gained. Incidentally, in the time I wrote this post, Guy Kawasaki tweeted five times and gained 41 new followers, debunking the theory that too many tweets is bad for your presence.

While Guy's follow/loss philosophy make sense, for most people it's unsettling to see our numbers on social media sites take a hit, even temporarily. However, we rarely talk about what actions will hurt your friend and follower count in the social space. With that in mind, here are five ways to drop your network numbers in a flash.

1.  The self-congratulatory retweet.  While a little self-promotion is good for personal branding, you can take things a step too far. I'll be the first person to admit that every now and again I'll retweet a compliment from a follower, immediately realizing that I forgot to retweet with comment or a "thanks." Yes, this itsy bitsy RT with comment feature is your friend. If someone tweets about something you do or why they think you're great, make sure that you thank them in a retweet with comment, but avoid retweeting without any humbling context or word of gratitude.

2.  Bad tweet timing.  About a year ago Kenneth Cole pushed "send" on an unfortunate tweet that caused a digital uproar. The fashion designer said "Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online." Ouch. Timing was everything (wrong) with this message, which was sent during the dawn of the Arab Spring; it came off as crass rather than triumphant. While online users love humor, this tweet deserved the hashtag #toosoon. Don't make this mistake.

3.  Too much automation.  Services such as HootSuite make it easy to cross-post to multiple social networks. Scott Stratten, author of UnMarketing, recently shared a tweet from a company called Von Zipper (@VonZipperUSA).  The message read, "You think this post can get a thousand likes??? Let's see if we can get there!!!" This is a perfect example of automation gone wrong. If you are using a social media dashboard, you most likely have the option to select which networks receive a tweet. Try to avoid cross-pollinating language. In other words, avoid the @s if you're sending a message to Facebook and the "likes" if you're posting to Twitter.

4.  Offensive comments.  When you're participating in the social media space, you always need to remember that in one fast click you're defriended, blocked, or uncircled. According to a December 2011 Nielsen McKinsey survey, the number one reason Facebook users, for example, remove friends is due to offensive comments. While the digital space welcomes healthy debate, it's not so kind to rudeness.

5.  The silent treatment.  If I follow someone but eventually notice that they don't follow anyone or they fail to reply to tweets, I often unfollow. Twitter is about good dialogue, having a conversation. Unless you're the Dalai Lama (he follows no one, which somehow seems apropos), chances are that your followers will expect more engagement. Don't sweat it if you can't reply to every single person all the time, but at least try.

Want more tips from the pros on personal branding and working smarter? Check out Amber Mac's Work Flow series. 

[Image: Flickr user Kapungo]


Add New Comment


  • FeliciaCorrine

    As you said it is utmost necessary to give a message like
    thanking the person while retweeting them. otherwise it will sound to be very rude
    on our part. Similarly the offensive comments can be viewed by people from all
    over the world and so they should be polite and in kind words.

  • Brian Shope

    Number 6: Posting only your own accomplishments or products/services. No dialogue is a downer, and Twitter and Facebook aren't TV commercials. How about a conversation with something you found that can be of value, and isn't about you?

  • Simon Turton

    I agree that self-congratulatory or offensive tweets should be avoided at all costs, but as for not following people I follow no one -- not a soul -- and yet I have no desire to emulate the Dalai Lama. It is just that I am not really interested in following everyone that follows me. As far as I am aware I have not lost any followers as a result of my non-following behaviour and if I did lose followers, who really cares? It's not life or death, it's just social media. From a very practical point of view I simply do not want to receive any more alerts advising that someone has just made a tweet. 

  • Ric A Ohge

    I see twitter (I'm a "late to the party" tweeter-I just signed on a few weeks past) as a Social Evolution relating to Pattern emergence and evolution. Our perceptions have always been honed by the community. However, Twitter, perhaps more than any other Social Network, could be dynamically refining those perceptions more radically, than any other human experience has in history. Where I chose to start, was to tweet News, Events, Discoveries, and Arts that struck me as emerging shifts in our planetary social order, and read the tweets that pop up on my home page looking for the same kind of emergence. No doubt, as time goes on, relationships will form, but Pattern Analysis and Recognition are something I've done for years. It never seemed likely, until Twitter, that a Global Dialog could come into being wherein the Science fit.

  • Joe

    #6 Assuming that a personal aside on Twitter will stay between you and the intended party. It's a public forum, and a simple retweet or hashtag will make it instantly viewable to all.
    I learned this the hard way, when on the Twitter feed  at a 3,000 person convention,  I made an off-feed back and forth with another Tweeter about the choice of speakers. She chose to hashtag one of her responses to me, effectively humiliating me on the official meeting feed. Luckily, as Guy Kawasaki, a later speaker at the same meeting, said, a Tweet only lasts about 3 hours. The lesson, however, endures.

  • David Trahan

    I agree with all of these, except #5. I strongly disagree that you are obligated in any way to follow-back someone who follows you. Follow me because you want to hear what I have to say/share and interact with me, not because you want me to follow you back. People who follow this rule are to egotistical. 

  • Ashley Lynn Olson

    Great tips.  Another thing to avoid is thanking every new follower that starts to follow you in a public message.  This fills up your timeline and can lead to many unfollows. 

  • Steven Pofcher

    The Kenneth Cole example in #2 is not due to bad timing.  They planned and timed this perfectly, it was just in VERY bad taste and is an example of #5

  • Carole Di Tosti

    Twitter is an excellent device for promotion, maybe better than FB. Thanks for tips. Good ones.

  • Vincent Wright

    I agree with each of your 5 points however, this statement of yours isn't quite as true as it may at first appear: "Twitter is about good dialogue, having a conversation. "

    That's only ONE of the things Twitter is about.

    There are lots of other, non-Twitter places where good dialogue, good conversation is going on and, yet, they don't have the full power of Twitter...

    Think about it: we can have a good dialogue|conversation right here on ... probably even BETTER conversation right here on ... because we can immediately expand our dialogue far beyond the restriction of 140 characters per tweet.

    Thus, for me, the real power of Twitter is as much about *MESSAGE AMPLIFICATION* as it is about "good dialogue" and "having a conversation..."

    Indeed, Twitter is an exquisite spite of its conversational limitations...

  • Jon Adams

    No to #5... .the irony in decrying "Me Me Me" while curating only self-referencing followers seems lost. Why the need to be followed at all?  that's all about 'me'. Twitter is more than measuring & gathering followers or waiting for respect through reciprocation -- Twitter can a conversation yes, but also discourse, a broadcast of ideas..I vote quality over quantity.

  • Jennifer Bongar

    I unfollow those who just echo (auto RT) the tweets of popular Twitterers like Mashable, TechCrunch, or Guy Kawasaki without adding a commentary. These accounts are already followed by many in our industry so it's pointless to RT them 2 seconds after they tweet IMHO.

    Thanks, Amber!

  • Laurie Greer

    Thanks, good points.  I too used to follow Guy but he did not follow these points either.  Too many posts and too many 'I am awesome comments' He says he still get's followers but maybe if he toned it down a bit he wouldn't lose current followers.

    I am still working on the dialogue piece.  You have to make sure you come across as a follower and not a stalker.

  • Rodger Banister

    Good points Amber. 

    Re: Guy Kawasaki, I used to follow him on Twitter until I got tired of him (and his team) filling up my timeline with so many random tweets. 

    I also couldn't agree more with point #5 - something I call the "Me Me Me Me - Look at Me!" complex. I get it that J-Lo probably isn't going to reply to me unless I send her a new Furla handbag, but I expect that she won't. She doesn't need to (full disclosure: I do not work for Furla).

    But for ordinary people to just blather out content and never RT or reply to anyone is just plain shortsighted. If you would like engaged followers (and you're not a celebrity) you need to treat the medium like a conversation. Much like we don't enjoy being part of real one-sided conversations, so too it goes for Twitter.