10 Terrible Tweet Types Killing Your Twitter Strategy


[This is a guest post from Rohin Guha of Blue Phoenix Media. I met up with Rohin a few months back while in town for SES New York where we discussed pop culture, the days of Live Journal and the grammar mistakes that make our skin crawl.   We are now linked for life. Today, Rohin stops by to talk about some dangerous tweet types killing your marketing strategy.]

Once upon a time, we all failed at Twitter. And I’m not talking about failing to get influencers to retweet us. Though, most of us failed at that to.  But what I mean is that we all initially failed at using Twitter properly as a brand-building tool.

Like mankind is known to do, we learned to make lemonade. We learned that with the onset of Twitter, branding had become a didactic process. Through handpicked tweets, the impetus had now fallen on companies to teach prospective clients and customers how to regard them. Useful links, smart engagement, and genuine conversation taught end users that you were a steady, reliable, intriguing brand worthy of their business. In managing @bluephoenixnyc for Blue Phoenix Media, my approach focuses on engaging the affiliate marketing community while building bridges out to broader segments of internet culture. But my approach also considers this: There are no wrong leads. It’s an ambitious goal, but ultimately rewarding.

For those companies (be they SMBs or big Bs) not too well-versed with social media awareness, or who simply don’t have the manpower to oversee it, such ambition can lead to bad habits that, over time, can grow into brand-killers. So the onus is on you to protect your brand.

Below are ten such brand-killers and ways how beef up your own Twitter strategy.

1. Talking-Heads Tweets.

Whether we’re going to conferences or just partaking in a universal event (the Royal Wedding comes to mind!), hashtags are a way for tweeters of a feather to stick together. But many well-intentioned hashtag-driven sub-communities frequently become a gallery of talking-heads. Have you read George Saunders’ “Braindead Megaphone”? If not, please do. Because that’s what hashtag-driven sub-communities become when everybody is talking at once–and to nobody in particular. It’s a brand development dead end.

Fix: Stop shouting. Have a conversation and engage. Talk about the conference you’re at, the Royal Wedding livestream, the American Idol results show. Branding does not have to be in-your-face self-promotion. It just has to be humanizing.

2. Auto-Tweets.

Automated tweets are worse than spambots. They’re instant brand killers. It’s the Twitter version of receiving a form letter for users who have just recently followed you: “Hi @USER! Thanks for following me! Check out http://dumblink.com/barf.html!” More importantly, it’s a shoddy way to try to convert new followers into leads. By generating auto-DMs, you risk losing followers. Scheduled tweets, alternately, aren’t so universally terrible, but still require awareness and discretion. Case in point: When the world learned about Osama bin Laden’s death from the President, many big brands—like Lady Gaga—had scheduled tweets go live, to unintentional comic effect. Another unfortunate deployment of a scheduled tweet? The PATH train’s Mother’s Day well-wishes that went live about an hour after one of its trains had crashed and injured over 30 passengers.

Fix: Keep it real. Disable the automator. Deploy scheduled tweets with discretion. Go the extra mile when necessary and delete them if the context becomes irrelevant.

3. Sandwich Tweets.

We all hate Sandwich Tweets. A Sandwich Tweet is exactly as it sounds. It’s a tweet a user contributes to the effect of, “Eatin’ a sandwich!” It’s devoid of substance. From a personal perspective, it provides no opportunity for further chatter; from a professional perspective, it provides many opportunities to be reviled and mocked.

Fix: If it’s the best sandwich of your entire life, by all means, tweet so. Then tell us what it is. Then tell us where we can get it. In other words: Give us the delicious details. Then give your favorite deli some props by driving some more business to them.

4. Troll Tweets.

This isn’t about gnarled old men tweeting aggressively from underneath bridges. It’s about people who pollute the Twitter ecosystem by lobbing nasty messages into the ether. It’s not that Twitter should become a beacon of the “new niceness” that has suddenly become web chic. But it should remain a productive place to socialize, both personally and professionally. Troll tweets do neither. However, they do one thing remarkably well: Shut down all productive conversation. Let’s look at one of Twitter’s best-known trolls in its short history: Chris Brown. With his angry tweets, Brown has quickly become a bête noire of Twitter. And while he can still sell records with such an indelible mark on his brand, the rest of us can’t—sell records or anything really. The answer here is simple…

Fix: Be nice or become a B2B bête noire.

5. Copycat Tweets.

There are users who perhaps haven’t mapped out their branding strategy. Or they don’t want to. Whatever their reasoning, they’ve decided that instead of original content, they’ll just clog up the ecosystem by retweeting everything an industry or thought leader says, no matter how banal. The problem with this approach? It never amounts into anything more than a watered-down aggregator. You’re existing in the shadows of industry towers instead of standing out.

Fix: Stand out. Be opinionated and original. Don’t be afraid to be wrong. If someone calls you out on it, you can civilly discuss your perspective and hey! you may even earn a few followers in the process.

6. NSFW Tweets.

The evolution of business palaver is curious at best. We’re suddenly in the era of too-casual oversharing—and it’s a bewildering era. Kenneth Cole can insensitively seize a tragedy and still enjoy steady revenue! But we’re not all up-scale peddlers of khaki pants and button-ups. Also bear in mind that there is such a thing as too far: Remember when Chrysler fired that guy for accidentally insulting a broad swath of its market share? We might be too-casual, but we’re still professionals. That means: Watch your language, demonstrate a modicum of respect, and if you want to share dirty jokes, do it off-the-record and off-the-clock, so you don’t implicate your brand. Unlike a personal brand, a corporate brand is much slower to recover from colossal social media failures. Chrysler is probably still recoiling from its Twitter debacle.

Fix: Decency and discretion.

7. Billboard Tweets.

If you’re a SMB and you’re not cut from the same fashionable cloth that fancy start-ups in Silicon Valley (or its petite East Coast sister Silicon Alley) are, awareness is going to be a very up-hill battle. But don’t mistake that challenge for an opportunity to use Twitter as another channel to spin out alternating advertisements. Unlike TV or most websites that rely on display ads, Twitter’s opt-in engagement makes it so about 101% of the burden falls on the brand to entice users, not the other way around. 101% because the best and successful brands are already putting in 100%.

Fix: Just like blogging has made SMBs responsible to establish themselves as original thought leaders, Twitter now challenges SMBs to do the same…in a lot less space. It’s about content, people.

8. Tone-deaf Tweets.

An important thing about Twitter is tone. Don’t use one that would have other companies regard you as one of the millions of #Beliebers. While cutesy tones might work for Kim Kardashian or my personal favorite, The Office star Mindy Kaling, they’re both showbiz personalities. You’re an internet marketer and even Kim Kardashian sticks to what she knows best on Twitter: Shilling shady products. And if she were to go off-message and suddenly talk about keyword densities, her brand value would depreciate astronomically. By the same virtue, don’t forgo tone entirely—that’s worse. No one will notice you if your tweets lack flair and have all the appeal of slowly-peeling paint.

Fix: Know your limits. Stick to a smart, consistent tone.

9. Vacuum Tweets.

Questions are a great way to perk up your Twitter mix. They show that you’re looking to solicit feedback from your followers and anyone else listening in. But in abundance, it just kills your strategy. An abundance (as in 95% of your tweets) of questions waves a flag to the effect of: “Oh! We know nothing! We don’t know what to say! Do our job for us!” Inexperienced is a word that no brand wants stalking them like a stray cat. That’s exactly what a company too-frequently posing broad questions in a bid for user engagement risks.

Fix: Don’t suck up the conversation. Instead, create it. Engage users not by baiting them, but by inspiring them to react.

10. Eavesdropping Tweets.

So you know how you hate it when you and a friend are talking about how awesome something—like chess sets—are? Both of you are like, “Man! Wooden chess sets rule!” Then a third person mysteriously appears and says, “Wooden chess sets are endangering forests. Forests are essential and I’m about  explain why even though the way both of you are furrowing your brows indicate waning interest. “Well, Twitter users hate it when your brand becomes that third person. You could argue that they should DM one another if such a conversation was truly private. But it’s not up to you to dictate the terms of the conversation between two other people. It is up to you to mind your boundaries. Just because they’re high-profile tweeters doesn’t give third parties carte blanche to interrupt—unless it’s for a very good reason. As Jenna Maroney once said on 30 Rock: “Respect celebrity privacy.”

Fix: Boundaries. Never cavalierly break into a conversation between two other people on Twitter—unless there’s a gem truly worth sharing.

Mind you, this is by no means a Twitter gospel to brand development. These are merely basic rules worth learning. Because Twitter’s  like (is?) life: You have to learn the rules before you learn how to break them.  Remember: Baby steps before big kid strides.

Your Comments

  • clo

    Hey, good article.
    I just had to point these out though:
    “…..we discussed ….. the grammar mistakes that make our skin crawl.” “Though, most of us failed at that to.” Then later, “These are merely basic rules Worth learning.”


  • Jerry McCarthy

    Twitter is a world I’m just beginning to delve into. I see the vision of how it adds intrinsic value to your brand but am still learning as I go. One thing I’ve noticed is how Tweeting can be an ego’s worst enemy. People (celebrities in particular) never cease to amaze me when they get a case of T.W.E. (Tweeting While Emotional). Of course we’re all emotional by nature but one false Tweet can create a whirlwind of backlash (Take Rashard Mendenhall for instance). Voicing your opinion is one thing but if it’s an extension of anything related to your brand-theres one cardinal rule. Never discuss religion or politics. It’s a recipe for irreparable damage because regardless of your stance, it always brings out the worst in people.

    • Lisa Barone

      Hey, Jerry. If you caught Monday’s post I spoke a bit about you really need to determine WHY you’re tweeting and make sure that your tweets match up to that. I think keeping a game plan in mind can be a good way to walk you off that emotional tweeting ledge. Because, you’re right. Those emotional tweets that we send off in the heat of the moment really can come back to bite us. :)

      • Jerry McCarthy

        Hey. Lisa,
        Every time a celebrity sends out some random, maniacal Tweet, I bet the publicists of the world are licking their chops and rubbing their fingers. Can you say “cut the check?”:-) I did read Monday’s post and enjoyed it. I love how you took Hugo’s perspective and put your spin on it. That’s so an area where I need to improve in moving forward. I’m still getting the hang of this but loving every minute of it. Thanks Lisa!!

    • Rohin Guha

      I think some celebrities enjoy a bump in brand equity when they get a case of T.W.E.–at least when it comes to reacting to international spectacles that most people are already frustrated about (think: BP oil spill).

      But for the rest of us, Jerry, you’re totally right. Twitter’s no place to have feelings–especially if you’re looking to build relationships.

      • Jerry McCarthy

        I couldn’t agree more. Celebrities are held to a different standard. It’s now become ‘politically correct’ for celebrities to be controversial. Their brand equity stock rises amongst their fan base and it becomes a win/win for them. The rest of us don’t have that luxury so we have to go above and beyond to protect what we say. Thanks Rohin. Great post!!

  • Michael Dorausch

    Gotta disagree on the “Sandwich Tweets” and “NSFW Tweets”, whether it’s wrong or right.

    Eating a sandwich, drinking a beer, grabbing a coffee type tweets tell me people are real (they are just like me) and I can relate to those people. I could care less if it’s professional or not, it’s part of life, and there’s actually great value in those tweets (if you are paying attention).

    In the NSFW category, someone has to have the balls to break the status quo , I’d buy a Chrysler (already have) in a heartbeat, and I’d love to just once hear them say, “sorry, but our cars are made in fucking Detroit, and we’re damn proud of it.”

    I have developed a great distrust for those on twitter who are in fear being politically incorrect, or are afraid to share what they really are doing, we’ve got the mainstream media for that.

    • Rohin Guha

      Those are excellent points. In the case of the Chrysler Twitter scandal, it’s not necessarily that he dropped an f-bomb; it’s that he made fun of an entire city’s population.

      It’s not necessarily about political correctness as it is about crafting tweets that are engaging and interesting–the worst thing a brand can do on a medium like Twitter is be not-interesting.

    • Nathan King

      Michael – I agree with your comment on the sandwich tweets. When I look at the recent tweets of a new follower to see if I want to follow back, I don’t mind the random sandwich tweet in between more useful content and @ replies.

    • Lisa Barone

      I’m with you on the sandwich tweets and I’m definitely guilty of twitpicing my food, my beer, and other questionably inappropriate things. In the case of the NSFW tweets, I think it depends again on that naked superhero you’re trying to be. For some, tweeting that they “fucking love Detroit” is going to alienate them from the people they’re going after. You have to find your groove and what works for you AND your audience. There’s a middle ground there, I think.

      • Scott Golembiewski

        I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to say I fucking love Detroit, and I’m fucking moving back there for good.

        And my 2 year old likes the pickles with her grilled cheese BTW, so what if you think she’s a little to young to like that kind of stuff. She likes em.

  • M_Roberts82

    Great… its as though the Outspoken Media blog is a portent of my doom and Lisa is my Cassandra. After Monday’s “Myth” blog and now this guest post, its as though you all somehow knew that my job would be giving me access to the company twitter account. ::grumble:: I feel as though I deserve a crash course in proper twitter etiquette now… oh wait, you did that blog already didn’t you Lisa? If only someone had warned me I’d be at the social media front line for my company… dammit, you already did! Guess I’ll just have to find examples on how to avoid accidental tweets…. not again… :P

  • Naomi Tapia

    This is great! Twitter has kind of been a mystery to me, and I like the way you gave examples of what NOT to do! Thank you so much :)

    • Rohin Guha

      Thanks for reading! So many new people are joining Twitter (whether as brand ambassadors for companies or personal use) that I think the occasional primer’s always handy.

  • Tola

    Interesting! And generally, I agree with most of the points, except for the eavesdropping tweets which I think is a bit of a grey area…
    IMO, Tweeting is an open conversation so its going to be quite hard to say when one should chip in or not. Now that said maybe its cos I’m looking at it from a personal account profile POV as opposed to a brand account.
    But really, isn’t that what Twitter is about? Having open conversations with everyone and anyone? Including a brand? So not sure why someone should be upset about a tweet being eavesdropped… like you said, if its that important than DM it!

  • Andrew @ Blogging Guide

    It is always nice to learn something new. You’re ideas are great help. I am looking forward for another work of yours.

  • Jill

    Great blog! It’s refreshing to see straight forward information that is truly relevant for today’s marketer. The internet has changed how businesses access consumers – on a personal level. Yet it is important for any business to maintain objectives and professionalism with their marketing. You do a great job of reminding us of these basics.

  • Sergey Rusak

    Normally I don’t even follow people who use Auto-Tweets. It’s the worst of the worst.

  • Antown

    Well, Twitter is more one-way communication than a dialogue. I’d be the focus attention on marketing with the help of the social network. Given the fact that every user should not only be for one person. And to stand out from the crowd you will have done a lot of work.

  • Yuhong Bao

    do it off-the-record and off-the-clock, so you don’t implicate your brand.

    Or at least use your personal account if it is appropriate. FYI, the error in case of Chrysler is that they accidentally used the corporate account due to texting while driving.

  • Kerrie Setiawan

    Excellent tips. I am new to the use of Twitter but can appreciate its increasing importance in social marketing.