5 Ways We Could Improve Social Media Together


It’s time, folks. It’s time to start demanding more from social media and working toward improving this thing together. Because right now we’re all floating in a boring sea of mediocrity and “look at me!”, and it’s really not pretty.  It’s not also not particularly effective.

Eighteen months ago it was okay to keep on with the social media auto-pilot. It was the norm. We were all getting adjusted and trying to figure out “what works”. But at some point that has to come to an end. We have to grow up. We have to grow up because not only does the same old crap not work anymore, but now it (and you) is just annoying. You are annoying people with what you’re doing.  The shiny phase of social media is over and it’s now simply one of the many tools that we have available to spread our message, to connect with our core and to promote what we do to the people who may be inclined to care. And the effectiveness and our ability to actually do that is diminishing because we’re not evolving with it. People trust ‘people like them’ less (maybe) because we’ve changed what that term means. We need to change with it. We need to improve upon how we’re using social media.

Here are some ways I think we could improve social media today if we’d be brave enough to demand more.

[hit play, then read post aloud.]


If we stopped automating social media

Scott Stratten wrote a fantastic post last week about why Twitter automation is bad and in that post he absolutely nails my issue with it. He does so, in part, because of lines like this:

There is no such thing as programmed authenticity.

Absent tweeting is dictation, not engagement. Lecturing, not listening.

That, for me, is the crux. When users decide to follow the New York Times, they’re doing it to be lectured at. They want the automated headlines. That’s why they’re following that account. However, you have a huge competitive advantage over the New York Times. You don’t have to tweet like that. As a small business, you can be a real person. You can offer more. Why would you want to throw automation in and ruin it? I’ll tolerate light automation in my feed. If you want to tweet a blog post out while you’re still in dreamland, I’ll live with it. But when you’re using automation to consistently fake a presence and make it look like you’re there when you’re not, that bothers me.  Relationship-building takes time and if you don’t want to invest that time, don’t invest in social media. Go do something else. It’s that simple. The more you automate your participation in social media, the more you take yourself out of it. And the more obvious it is that you’re not there for me. Evolve beyond that.

If we only shared things we actually liked

Dear God, imagine the freedom if you only promoted and shared content that you really liked instead of everything you felt pressured to? Imagine how much the noise/signal ratio would improve if we were only passing around content that we genuinely thought deserved it? Imagine how much less of a shill you’d feel like every day? And what it might feel like to set the bar higher and encourage people to be better than they currently are? It’d be our own little utopia.

This is one area where I think, collectively, we need to improve. Social media gives you license to express who you are, what you like and what you stand for. And we should be reflecting that in the content that we share with others. Promote the stuff you love and that you think others could learn from. Stop promoting crap just so that other people will promote your crap. No one gets anywhere by praising the mediocre or when we’re all awarded trophies regardless of where we place. Legitimately compete for attention.

If we looked at social media like a tool

Have you ever spoken to a business owner right before they enter social media? They start talking about it and their eyes light up and their speech patterns resemble someone who’s had a dozen too many Red Bulls. They get themselves high on the concept and the opportunity. But I have a feeling if you asked them, in that moment, to define social media that their answers would look something like this:


Social media is not magic. Social media is a tool. And when you look at it like a tool rather than all of these “other things” you put more attention on how you’re using it, what you’re getting from it and how you could be increasing your ROI from it. When you look at it like a tool, you treat it like one and put metrics on what you’re doing. Creating a social media plan and putting accountability to actions is the next step in the social media evolution.

[you probably have to hit play again]

If we learned how to disagree

I’ve already blogged about this, but there’s way too much agreement going on in social media. It’s simply not natural. No one is right all the time. We are not all gurus or experts or whatever it is we feel like calling ourselves these days. And we don’t have to throw mud at one another in order to share a dissenting opinion. Sometimes we can just disagree. Like adults. And have a healthy debate where people come away smarter.

I miss that in my life online. Hell, I miss it in my life offline. To offer a contradicting opinion or to question someone often results in hurt feelings or defensiveness. We all need to stop being babies and embrace public criticism because that’s how we move the conversation and improve our businesses. Just try it. Next time someone disagrees with you, engage instead of getting defensive. And really engage, just don’t break out the corporate speak.  And next time you disagree with someone, tell them, respectfully. Explain your line of thought. It doesn’t make you a bully. It shows you’re listening.

If we paid more attention to the local tie-in

The full strength of social media comes when it’s being used to connect you with people in your neighborhood. Whether your neighborhood relates to a geographic radius or a community on the Web, that’s where it’s uniquely powerful. Instead of chasing follower or friend numbers, chase the localness that social media offers. Don’t get yourself robbed, but look for local tie-ins with platforms like FourSquare and Gowalla to identify and reward active customers. Use tools like Advanced Twitter Search, Twellow or TwitterGrader to pinpoint the people in your neighborhood and create incentives for them to visit you. In today’s world even celebrities are using Twitter and creating Facebook pages. But just because the whole world is there doesn’t mean the whole world is now your audience. In most cases, your audience hasn’t changed. You just have new tools to reach out to them. Don’t forget about your core now that the whole world is watching.  Use the new tools to get even more personal with the person living down the street.

There are a lot of ways I think we could combine to improve social media for everyone. Above are simply five things we could all start doing right now if we wanted to. What’s bugging you and how do you think we could change it?

Your Comments

  • Melissa - SEO Aware

    I agree, there is so much crap going on. I started unfollowing today and it has been a great relief! I try to only follow people that offer good info, but there are those that get turned on by the idea of having thousands of followers…irritating.

    With Facebook I have connected with local businesses, but that is about to end because they just spam me with recommends, events and pillow fights…it is ruining the whole thing for me.

    • Lisa Barone

      I tidied up my Facebook account last week after lots of people were complaining about getting spammed and I’m already pretty vigilant about clearing people out on Twitter. There’s just so much crap. But there’s crap because we support the crap. Maybe if we didn’t, we’d do a better job of finding the signal. As you said, all the “extra” pillow fights and things can really ruin the experience.

  • Brian Hancock

    Nice article Lisa. After reading, I find myself thinking about how this isn’t something specific to social media, more it’s a reflection of the way most people look at networking in general. They’re not looking to build relationships, they’re looking for the quickest way they can get what they want from the other person.

    Look out for robots attending trade conferences that have canned conversations with each other while beaming company contact info back and forth! =)

  • Stephen Eugene Adams

    Boy, this post hit home in so many ways. First, who can keep up with all the Twitter posts when you start following more than a couple hundred people. It starts to all look the same. Maybe since I follow a lot of SEO/Marketing types, I get a little more volume than the average person. Second, why do I feel that I am wasting my time with people all over the country and can’t seem to find the people to follow at my customers and prospects in my local markets. (Great tips for solving that for me). And lastly on your main point. I have avoided automating my social media posting because I want to control what goes out in my name. It takes a little time, but I feel that the message is coming from me and not some computer.

  • Graywolf

    Automation isn’t a bad thing, it’s how you automate that’s good or bad. I’ll breeze thru my feeds and emails early in the morning and set up some scheduled tweets to occur over a dozen accounts throughout the day, does that make me bad or evil … hardly it makes me efficient.

    However if you @ any of those accounts and it requires a response I’ll respond to you within a few hours on one of my 2-3 daily sweep thru’s .

    Why do you need to have a deep and meaningful personal relationship with a business? I don’t expect my dentist to wake up at o-dark-hundred and drive me to to the airport … that’s a burden for someone who is REALLY your friend or family, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Let’s not confuse the customer relationship with a friendship. I could give my friends a hug and it wouldn’t matter … if I did that to my landscaper I’m not so sure he’d show up next week.

    The problem with a lot of social media is it tries to build fake relationships that don’t exist and shouldn’t really exist. I may say hi to you online, or even if I see you at a conference or other industry event. We’re acquaintances or contacts not necessarily friends. That doesn’t mean I wan’t you to know where I live or to show up on my doorstep for dinner.

    • Joe Hall

      About automation: i agree with you Michael. Its all in the way you use it. For example i have a handful of completely automated twitter accounts. In the profile page I clearly explain that the account is automated. Even though its quite clear that a human being isn’t manning the wheel some of these are very popular and have a massive following with in their niche. And they end up making more conversions and direct sales than any other method I have tried. Am I building a strong brand? No. Am I getting to know my followers? No. Am I being transparent? Yes. Am I making money and supplying quality content? Yes.

      About building relationships: Everyone already loves me, as such i do not worry about this. :P

      • Lisa Barone

        I don’t have a problem with automated accounts that are clearly automated. I have a problem when I THINK I’m talking to you and I’m actually in a dark closet talking to myself. Because…that happens when to often as it is IRL!

    • Lisa Barone

      Why are we bringing “good” and “evil” into this? I didn’t say it was evil or that even that light automation was bad. But when your Twitter account becomes you pretending to have a conversation with someone over and over again, that’s not real either. That’s bordering on the line of tricking people and I don’t think we need to have fake conversations in social media. We can use other marketing channels for that. Email me your bullshit, don’t tweet it.

      Maybe I don’t need to have a deep and meaningful conversation with a business. But I’d at least like to know what kind of relationship we DO have. Why does Barack Obama need a Twitter account? He doesn’t. But people sure were pissed when they found out it wasn’t him tweeting. Why? Because it’s deception. He pretended he was talking to us when he wasn’t. It’s not about whether I need something or not, it’s about whether you’re giving me what you say you’re giving me or if you’re faking it.

      And you totally want me to show up on your doorstep for dinner.

      • Brian

        “tricking people.. fake conversations..”

        hmm sounds like your describing sponsored tweets and every other twitter ad platform

        I followed John Chow to learn some blogging tips, not to read his forced ad tweets that hes making $2,000 a pop from… #pissesmeoff

  • Tyler Adams

    @Graywolf, landscapers need hugs too :)

    Lisa, you are dead on when you say there needs to be more disagreement. There is definitely way too much patting on the back and not enough healthy debate. Often, my favorite blog posts and are the ones that are the most controversial. Not because I like controversy (granted, it is entertaining) but because this is where folks let loose; they open up, share opinions. The end result being that we learn something, anything. We come away thinking about something in a different way whether or not we agree. This is what it’s all about. Now, if only we could do that more often without the controversy…

  • Dave Snyder

    This is a robot

    • Lisa Barone

      You’re lucky I love you.

      • Dave Snyder

        Ha –

        Really good post, and something you and I have discussed before. Social Media is not on size fits all, and I think Twitter is one of the best examples of that. NYT can run their feed 100% automated with news, because that is what people expect and its what they opted in to, in a completely transparent manner. The opposite can be said of some Social Media Guru who blasts automated nonsense everyday, and blasts DM spam. I think intent is key. Are you trying to trick me, or are you being transparent? That is the real discussion here.

  • Alice Seba

    Well Graywolf, at least Lisa got her wish on #4. I tend to agree with you, but see the point Lisa is trying to make and that is the competitive advantage she mentioned. I guess what each individual business needs to decide is if taking the time to exploit that advantage is worthwhile. My guess is that it won’t be for every business, but it will be for some.

  • Hulbert

    Nice post Lisa. This was one of the reasons why I deleted my AIM when I was in college; it was hard to build relationships through it because a lot of people were fake. Also, it wasted a lot of my time and I felt like I was getting nowhere in terms of productivity.

    One of the things I like doing is visiting different blogs and people suggesting good articles to read. I think doing this helps improve the society. But when people spam mediocre stuff, whether it’s in social media or in blogs, it is very frustrating for the reader and trust is also lost.

    I felt this way when I was submitting and reading articles at EzineArticles. Later I left the area because it no longer felt like the articles were written by real people. Anyway, thanks for sharing your 5 tips here. I think they would do a good job to improve social media.

    • Lisa Barone

      I agree. I love link posts (which is why we started doing them on Saturdays) and it stinks when you find mediocre stuff mixed in with the gems because then you question everything…which sort of ruins the feel of the post. I don’t like having to question why something’s there. Do you really like it? Or do you like the person who wrote it? Or do you want the person who wrote it to like you?

  • Norcross

    More than anything, I keep running into people that I have formed a relationship with, but are guilty of some of the things you mention, especially the inability to take criticism. I get enough happy bullshit in my life that I don’t want to be bombarded with motivational quotes and other garbage that has no value whatsoever. It’s one thing if I want that, but to RT it? Hardly.

  • Alec Perkins

    This post by Venessa Miemis about social capital and the properties of social media as a way to improve networks as a tool for innovation is worth a read: http://emergentbydesign.com/2010/02/21/tapping-the-network-to-facilitate-innovation/ . In particular, part of the discussion is about business taking advantage of the social capital of its workers, with social media as the tool.

    As for automation, the advantage of Twitter for users is that they only have to follow the automation they want to follow. You can only dictate at me if I want you to. Combined with local, automation can be pretty useful. I mean, who doesn’t want to know what the pizza of the day is? Engagement is more valuable from a social capital standpoint, of course, but automation definitely has its place.

  • Kieran Hawe

    Good ideas but knowing the amount of Social Media douche-lords out there it is wishful thinking.

    I see Social Media as a means to an end – getting to know people, finding info, promoting my own products, etc. I have no issue with anyone on any social outlet, regardless of their purpose or intent, based on the fact I control who and what I see. What we need is more widespread usage (and better) Social Media tools that can take things like Twitter Lists across all channels. Would love to see something like an email client where you can filter, save and of course mark as spam.

    • Lisa Barone

      Yes but if we can SHAME people when they drop crappy stuff then maybe they’ll stop? Yeah? Yeah?

      No, I don’t think so either.

      I definitely think we need more tools to help us filter out what we’re seeing, but even that requires people to be responsible about it…which they won’t be.

  • Cecelia

    I think that social media can serve more than one purpose, and not necessarily always be about relationship building.

    For example, I follow certain businesses or users that tweet coupons, sales and promo codes. I also follow certain news websites or publications, not because I’m interested in getting to know the reporter/web manager better, but because I don’t feel like checking every local news site individually.

    That said, you are totally right on about viewing social media as a tool. It’s like what they say about gastric bypass surgery — it’s a tool to help you lose weight, not a miracle. You can still gain it back if you don’t adopt healthy habits. (Weird comparison, I know.)

    • Lisa Barone

      Heh. Interesting comparison, for sure. :)

      I agree in that I also follow certain businesses for the coupons/info, not necessarily to get info about them. And that’s totally fine. It’s when businesses are pretending to be there chatting but really botting it that I think I just give up on the whole thing altogether. It’s all about intent and whether or not you’re doing things honestly.

  • Phil Powdrill


    I think you’ve made 5 excellent suggestions.

    Personally I see no benefit in following thousands of people, when the consequence is that you receive so much rubbish that you’re more than likely to miss any important content that’s hidden away in the mass of messages. One real relationship is worth a hundred fake ones.

    It is possible to kid yourself that the whole world is now waiting to act on your every missive, and consequently forget to connect to your true followers. Therefore, think your comment on paying attention to the local tie-in is spot on.

    I also agree with your thinking that social media is nothing more than a tool, but we’re not thinking about the way we use this tool. If we carry on the way we are then this will be no more than a passing fad.

    Thanks for the post.

  • mikehartcxo

    For those of us that have been using social medial for a while we probably concur it needs to be cleaned up. Today, Twitter passed 50 million tweets/day. Three months from now it will be close to what, 80 million? Generating part of that increase will be the millions of new users who are just signing on “to see what works”. Social media is just too new to too many to make any real progress in this area for a while. You better get Dunkin Donuts to deliver…FAST! Good suggestions though.

  • Ross Hudgens

    The automation part is basically a semantics argument but I think your basic thought process, and what you clarified in the comments, is correct. Overall a very good post and something I try to be conscious of on all fronts when tweeting it up.

  • Kevin M.

    Great post! You are right in that it is going to the whole social media community to band together to improve social media for everyone. You have presented five great places to start!

  • john andrews

    I’m happy to disagree and contradict, and try to do it nicely. Oh, and since you like Frisbee dogs, http://www.bellinghamtoday.com/frisbee-disc-dogs/images/_B4F4642.CR2.jpg

  • Alysson

    Many of those who are perpetually unable to respectfully disagree, or even respectfully agree to disagree, do so because even they aren’t confident in their positions. When arguments aren’t supported by facts, logic, evidence or reason, all that’s left is blind conviction. Engaging in a meaningful debate isn’t in their best interest, as doing so might not only expose them as a fraud, but force them to admit they’re not the super secret expert guru they’d like everyone to believe.

    The only way for them to mask that inherent lack of confidence is by vehemently flaming anyone who doesn’t hold the same position. It is a feigned attempt to call attention away from the curtain being pulled back, exposing the deceptive and inept wizard hiding behind it. This isn’t an issue that plagues only the social web. From marketing departments to the Senate floor, he who shouts loudest, drowns out all dissenting viewpoints and listens least wins the battle to gain the attention of the target audience.

  • Heather Villa

    I have a number of social media accounts, some for my businesses, and of course my personal accounts. For my personal accounts, I interact and maintain them myself. For may company accounts, I do some automation and then I allow my staff to interact if they want. So, I agree with Dave, that one size does not fit all in social media. It all depends on what you’re trying to convey and the presence you’re portraying.

  • Justin Kownacki

    You and I need to stop sharing the same brain stem.

    But as my own commenters have reminded me this week: demanding more from social media practitioners may be asking for too much. It’s a field where anyone is supposed to be able to do anything without risk of being told they’re “doing it wrong,” so isn’t it hypocritical of us to tell them they’re “doing it badly”?

    I’m starting to realize that we need to circulate some industry standard-type “good” examples (and “bad” ones, too), so that people have a solid point of reference. We could also use more successes that transcend the “hey, I boosted my blog traffic by 20%” genre.

    We who think we know what we’re doing need to think bigger, act courageously and lead by example.

    • Lisa Barone

      Spot on.

      It’s a hard line to walk between the “YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG” and “Hey, maybe you could do that better, here’s how”. Examples of successes and flops are surely helpful, but by exposing the ones that didn’t work you run the same risk of being told you think you’re a know-it-all. It’s hard. :) I think I’d love more debate and communication, in general, about who’s doing what and WHY they’re doing it that way. It’s not about pretending to be an expert or calling out crappy campaigns, it’s about helping everyone to do what we do better.

  • Suzanne Vara

    Social media reminds me sometimes of “yes” men. Comment after comment in some blogs of “I so agree” happen but each and every day to see the same people over and over agreeing is good all American ass kissin. The person who actually does come out and say No, I do not agree and supports their position is practically stoned to death. The notion that if I agree with you every day will make you notice me and want to be my friend is creepy. Have a mind of your own and speak it. If you agree with a few posts, then ok that happens but every post and every word that comes out of a person’s mouth you agree with? Really? Smells to me like I want you to notice me as I want you to talk to me and promote my articles too.

    Your comment to Justin above should be what is being done, but it is not. People talk over and over about building relationships and a part of this is being helpful. If we shared experiences and wrongs but how to make it right it would have a bigger impact on social media and drive more conversation as we know when it comes to advertising and marketing, people tend to have no problem with sharing their ideas on what they would do (this of course after someone else has shared theirs; no-one wants to be first and give away secrets).

    I will do my part but it takes a whole lotta people to be willing to make change.