Breaking All The Rules on Social Media

Sarah Mason
May 16, 2013 · 5 min read

The conventional wisdom surrounding social media can be summed up in one sentence:

He who has the most followers wins.

Unfortunately, we all fall victim to believing this. Social proof — the idea that we are positively influenced by people who we assume possess more knowledge about a situation — has evolved to a numbers game in social media. We are wired to immediately trust the person with thousands (or millions) of followers believing they *must* have something important to say.

But numbers (alone) mean nothing when:

  • You can buy 35,000 “Real” Twitter followers overnight for $20.
  • Your follower has little to nothing invested in clicking that “Like” or “Follow” button for the first time.
  • People follow you simply to be followed back.

Breaking the Rules

It’s time to slay the sacred cows of social media and do things differently. Start here:

Don’t Focus on Numbers.

This, of course, is the biggest rule to break since numbers — Twitter Followers, Facebook Likes, Klout Scores — have become the most important measurement of social success.

Do you know what happens when you obsess over the numbers? EVERYTHING becomes about increasing the number.

Here’s how to do that:
Concentrate solely on creating “optimized” content. Or don’t create anything at all but spend all your time on social media “connecting” with people.

The alternative is this:

Create something great and share it with your audience. (Then get back to creating something else.)

Make it so good (think cage-fighting nuns and tanks) that they will be compelled to share it online because it would be a crime against their fellow man not to pass along something that good.

That’s it.

[Side note: What happens when the numbers aren’t there? Is your self-worth and emotional well-being tied to that?]

For the record, this isn’t abandoning metrics. It’s putting metrics in the right place, not making the numbers the ultimate goal.

Focus on connecting with your customers in a way that resonates with them and influences them to take action on your message. Be helpful, be personal, be relevant.

Bonus — Here’s one number you should always focus on:
The number of people who email, tweet or comment to thank you for helping them in some way.

Don’t Overshare.

There are two types of over sharing, equally as annoying and self-serving for different reasons. The constant broadcast of “Hey! Look at me! I’m awesome!” (most often accompanied by “Please RT how Awesome I am!”) and the endless stream of nonsense polluting Newsfeeds and Twitter streams — both are cheap grabs for attention.

No one “Likes” you that much.

This, Seth Godin says, is dancing on the edge of spam — where “the number of those you offend or turn off forever keep increasing”. And over sharing is the perfect way to do that.

It’s a race to the bottom when you’re competing to provide the MOST (instead of the BEST) because the more noise people encounter, the weaker the signal becomes. The result? We filter even the good stuff out. (Just watch a few hours of any cable news network to see this in action.)

Use social media the way it was originally intended — not as a broadcast platform — but as a way to personally connect with people in an unprecedented way.

Relentlessly filter what you share with your audience. Reduce the noise. That’s how you stand out in a sea of sameness online.

You Don’t Have to Be Everywhere.

You don’t HAVE to be on every social network. That includes Facebook and Twitter. (And with that last sentence, I just lost any chance of earning my Social Media Expert Badge.)

Before you jump in to any social network, ask yourself these questions:
*Will being here help me meet my overall objective of ____________? Remember social networks are the tools, not the strategy.
*Are my customers already here? Knowing basic social demographics will help you determine this quickly.
*Do I have time to devote to making this work? You can’t do everything. The more spread out you are, the less you can really personally connect with your audience.

Focus your time and energy — each undervalued commodities — on what works. For a lot of businesses, that will be the big social networks. For others, it may be email marketing or referrals. There is no one-size-fits-all marketing strategy.


There are a lot of people online who do this well. They are constant creators, share relevant & helpful information online and use social media the way it was originally intended — to personally connect with their audience.

Here are a few of them:

Laura Click (@lauraclick) runs Blue Kite Marketing and has been an online friend of mine since 2010. She is easily one of the most encouraging and helpful people on the web. Her passion for helping people is evident in everything she does online and she’s developed a loyal following because of that.

Tyler Tervooren (@tylertervooren) is an entrepreneur and writer at Advanced Riskology and is a great model for building an audience online without using shady tactics (or even Tweeting more than 1-2 times a day). Tyler’s been a personal mentor of mine the past several months as I’ve worked to build something great here at

Paul Jarvis (@pjrvs) is a web designer and a great writer. What I appreciate about Paul is that he deliberately writes articles for his audience of small business owners instead of the design industry he’s worked in for over 15 years. In the online world, this is called taking the road less travelled.

Remember This:

As long as there are self-proclaimed social media “gurus” crowding the Internet, there will be a long list of rules to break. This is just a start.

So whenever you feel drawn into the trap of following those rules, do this instead:

  • Focus on personally connecting with your audience.
  • Relentlessly filter what you share online.
  • Spend your time & energy on what works.

We’ll all be better for it.

I’m a designer/marketer on a quest to make the online world a more human place. Something we all could benefit from, don’t you think? If that resonates with you, you can follow along by joining my email list.

And say hello on Twitter. I’m a real person there too.

    Sarah Mason

    Written by

    Social Media + Design Strategist for Remarkable Small Businesses. Injecting humanity into a digital world at @sarahsmason

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