9 Social Media Rules You Should Break

7 min

You’ve heard the metaphor about how social media is like being at a party, right? It’s a good framework to understand a medium that’s both new and completely tied up with human foibles, judgments, and egos. Many social media etiquette rules immediately make more sense when you use the party metaphor, like:

  • Don’t talk only about yourself.
  • Don’t take over conversations.
  • Say something nice or don’t say anything at all.
  • Ask the people you know to introduce you to people you don’t know.

That last one is a nice segway into what we’ll cover in this post. As you know, sometimes there’s someone you want to meet, but you have no mutual friends. You either have to break a rule or you’ll never meet that person. So you probably decide to break (bend?) the friends-introduce-friends rule, and you devise a non-creepy way to introduce yourself and get to know that interesting person.

Sometimes you have to bend certain social rules. Sometimes you have to actually break them. And sometimes you have to break a lot of them. This is especially true in the murky world of human engagement. And that’s exactly what social media is – human engagement. So, just to give you some confidence and to hopefully expand your social influence, here are a few social media rules you just might want to break.

1) Don’t repost old posts.

At least some of you have heard this one already, either that it’s a rule not to be broken, or that it is a rule that is actually okay to break. If you were concerned that you shouldn’t re-use posts, I’m here to tell you to change your ways: It’s okay to repost things.

It’s okay because your followers are not seeing everything you post. Even beyond Facebook, your social reach for the posts you publish is probably in the single digits. So go ahead and repost things every so often.

You could probably re-post up to 10% of your content before you started seeing any bad results. Just make sure your re-posts are evergreen content. Make sure they’re great content, too. And don’t reshare anything to exhaustion (like more than 30 times). Reshare it about 5-7 times, then let it rest a bit.

Buffer actually has a feature where you can see your most popular posts. With the click of a button, you can “rebuffer” those posts. I’ve been cheating (?) and reposting this way for awhile on Twitter. It has actually increased my engagement rates, because I only reshare the tweets my followers liked the most.

2) Don’t be negative on social media.

I don’t recommend you take this too far, but a sprinkling of negativity here and there has actually been known to work. It’s especially good if you add a hearty dose of humor to it. Like “10 Things I Hate About Dating”, or “10 Reasons Why the Zombie Apocalypse Will Be a Relief”.

Don’t publish more than one negative update a week, but you don’t have to always be Sally Sunshine. Sometimes a little venom has its place. Just be really, really careful and make sure your negativity won’t be caught out of context. If you’re a complete newbie to social media, consider skipping this advice altogether. The successful use of negativity on social media requires a skilled hand.

But it’s still a worthy play. Mocked venom can be particularly effective, as ninja social media accounts like Old Spice and Taco Bell have proven in the exchange below:


3) You have to be on Facebook.

If there was ever any doubt about “having” to be on the biggest social network, Copyblogger laid it to rest last year when they killed their Facebook page. Sure, there was a lot of blowback and even some condemnations, but Copyblogger continues. It thrives. They probably have a lot more free time, too.

The moral of the story there is you don’t have to be anywhere on social media that isn’t working for you. If there’s no ROI, and you’ve been following best practices, and you’ve given it your very best shot, it’s okay to move on.

Do what works. Skip the rest.

4) Automation is bad.

Here’s a graph showing why people unfollow other people on Twitter:


Now, “automated content” is on that chart, but it’s tied for the fifth most common reason people unfollow other people. “Bursts”, by the way, are when you tweet in a burst – like every 30 seconds. Definitely don’t burst your tweets – space social updates out at least 30 minutes apart, and hopefully 1-3 hours apart, if not more. But use automation without fear.

Just don’t automate your posts in a sloppy way. Having 30-40% of your posts be automated is not going to annoy your followers. It means you’ll have more time to find and create better content. Just balance the automation by dipping into your accounts from time to time, engaging as much as you can, and then letting the automation fill in the rest. It’s almost impossible to publish regularly on social media without automation, especially if you’re not a full-time manager.

5) A bigger audience is a better audience.

There are more and more voices dissing the practice of chasing after Facebook likes. The same could be said of Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections, or people in your Google+ circles.

Of course, you would never buy followers or likes or anything like that. But even if you avoided that faux pas and just tried to get as many followers as possible – with no regard to who they were – you could still end up feeling lonely, despite being amongst a crowd of “friends”.

6) You have to be on every social network.

This is a recipe for poor ROI, and for misery. And almost every social media expert will tell you it’s bunk. Pick a small handful of social media networks and actually work those. Pick them strategically, based on where your audience is.

If there’s only one person doing your social media, and doing it part-time, you probably won’t be able to be active on more than three social media platforms. Got someone working full-time on social media? They could have a toe-hold in up to seven networks, but they may only be able to really be active on 3-5.

Be strategic with your social media work. To use our old party metaphor, think of your social media time like you’re at the party, but you’ve got a cab waiting for you. Its meter is running while you schmooze.

7) Respond to all comments.

Not if you’re dealing with trolls or crazy people. Responding to them is exactly what they want. Don’t give it to them. Let it go.

In fact, go find something nice to do for somebody, just so you have something else to focus on. The sooner you can stop thinking about what that nasty person said, the better. Go endorse a bunch of people on LinkedIn who deserve it. Go tell a blogger or two you loved their post and why. Heck, go call your mother. Just don’t reply to those comments.

Actually, this brings up a great social media practice. Every day, do something nice for someone. Want extra credit? Go do something nice for someone and don’t expect or even hope for them to do something nice back. Like the bumper sticker says, practice random acts of kindness.


8) Share 20% your stuff and 80% other people’s stuff.

It is definitely important to share other people’s content more than your own, but that 80/20 split is flexible. It’s a rule you can bend. Some very successful people on social media share about half their own stuff and half others. The trick to this is, of course, that their “stuff” is great content and a lot of it, like 7 blog posts, 2 webinars, 5 videos, and 3 ebooks. They’re not just promoting the same blog post over and over and over again.

9) Include personal shares for a business account.

This is suggested as a way to “humanize a brand” or make yourself more approachable. Handled correctly, it can be a good idea, but it can also backfire badly. This is another good example of a tactic that’s social media 501, not 101. If you’re in doubt about whether or not it’s a good idea to share a picture of your night out or to tweet about how funny your boss is when she’s angry, skip it.

There’s a similar situation for leaving comments on blogs, even blogs that aren’t work related. Because of Disqus and other comment apps, every comment you leave anywhere is just a click away from peering eyes. It’s disappointing to lose this much privacy, but that’s the reality of social media. Our lives online are completely transparent and are often impossible to erase. Think very carefully about what you post, whether it’s for business or personal use.

What do you think about these rules and my thoughts on breaking (or bending) them? Which social media rules have you broken? Did your decision end up being a good idea or a bad idea? Tell us about it in the comments!

Pam Neely
Pam Neely
Pam Neely has been marketing online for 15 years. She's a serial entrepreneur and an avid email and content marketing enthusiast with a background in publishing and journalism, including a New York Press Award. Her book "50 Ways to Build Your Email Marketing List" is available on Amazon.com. Pam holds a Master's Degree in Direct and Interactive Marketing from New York University. Follow her on Twitter @pamellaneely.