What would your Twitter feed look like if you were fined $1 every time you said something irrelevant?

In his 2004 memoir, “The Know-It-All,” A.J. Jacobs decides to read the Encyclopedia Britannica — and quickly finds himself so brimming with information that he starts peppering all his conversations with little known factoids. Desperate for a respite from his prattling, his wife begins to fine him $1 every time he tells her something she doesn’t need to know. Not surprisingly, he learns to control himself a little better — at least around her.

Of course, no one’s actually going to fine you for an off-topic status update — but too many tangents can have a cost.

Relevance is essential to any successful social media campaign. Consistency of tone, purpose and content is how you let people know who you are and why they should follow you. Whenever you post something online, you’re adding to a body of work that becomes your brand.

But what about authenticity? Aren’t we all supposed to be authentic now that we’re on social networks? Sure, but it’s important to consider what that term really means in this context. All brands (personal and organizational) have purposes. There are reasons why we do what we do — even if we’re not always aware of our motivations. Authenticity, simply put, is having a constant commitment to your purpose. It’s your ability to follow your “why” without pause that lets people know who you really are (as a person or as an organization) and why they should connect with you. Because people don’t care about what you’re doing, they care about why you do it.

Too often we use authenticity as a cover for talking about whatever we’re excited by at the moment — whether that’s what we had for dinner or the retirement of an important board member. We think that because we care about something, it’s authentic to talk about it. It becomes a cover for passing along dime-store aphorisms, off-topic gripes and ego-stoking humblebrags, to name just a few kinds of violations.

But before you hit send on that update, think about how it looks to someone who doesn’t know you, doesn’t know your brand. Does that update convey you are? If that communication was your one shot at connecting with someone, would they look at what you’re about to send and want to know more?

Now think about the people who already follow you. What made them connect? Is what you’re about to say going to enhance your dialogue with those people who came to this relationship with certain expectations, or is it going to confuse them? Is your update really a thoughtful extension of the conversation you’ve established with your followers, or is it self-indulgent.

Think about why you care about that update. Is there a way to align what you’re going to say with what you stand for? Maybe you can talk about what the board member meant for your organization’s mission. Maybe you can talk about dinner in relationship to your brand’s underlying purpose. And if you can’t, maybe you need to rethink sending that update at all.

Don’t bore people. Be bigger than that. Be the brand you’ve worked so hard to build.

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12 Responses to “How you're secretly driving away your followers — and what you can do to stop it”

  1. Ron Weinberg says:

    Are brands really making off-topic updates and irrelevant tweets on a consistent basis? No evidence or examples are presented.

    • jstanchak says:

      Ron,

      I don't think I needed to call anyone out to make my point. If you'd like a couple of examples, you can DM me on Twitter (@sbosm) and I we can talk more.

  2. Ben says:

    No, Jesse's shi^^ing the bed here a little bit. Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. You need variety in your FB posts. Your followers are not homogenous. 100% of your posts don't need to be relevant to your brand. Nothing wrong with every once in a while throwing in a joke or something. People are on FB primarily for fun, not to interact w/ brands.

    • jstanchak says:

      Ben,

      I appreciate the Emerson line, but I think you may have misinterpreted me. I'm not saying you can't have variety or humor in your presence. I just think it's all too easy to forget that every update is a chance to reinforce or muddle your point of view. I think too many people view authenticity and relevancy as foes, when they're really two sides of the same coin — it's how people know who you are.

  3. Doug Lampi says:

    Keeping on theme for your niche social media profile is vital – if I'm following your twitter account about fishing reports, I really am expecting only fishing related updates.

    However, your personal social media is a completely different thing.
    My recent post I’ve Become Obsessed With Increasing My Klout Score

  4. [...] full article……via How you’re secretly driving away your followers. From SmartBlog on Social Media Share [...]

  5. Doni says:

    hmmm. I agree that brand consistency is important — but I also get tired of brands that are always "selling." I will quickly tune out. Personally, I like seeing off-topic tweets. Seems more human to me.

  6. Kate says:

    This post made me laugh, because even without having slogged through the Encyclopedia Britannica, spending an hour with me is like clicking the "random article" button on Wikipedia a few times. But I do see your point, not everyone is into the randomness that can collect through a Twitter stream.

    Could I ever fine myself for $1 whenever I brought up Napoleon's army, Ancient Greek vocabulary, or international economic theory over dinner? Forget it. I have enough student loan debt to begin with!
    My recent post IMBO: Being a Feminist

  7. Find freedom says:

    I found this very interesting. I pretty much stick with business related topics. Now I will put personality into my post on social media but I always remain true to the niche. My followers are following me because they want information on my niche, they are not interested in my jokes or comments about the wheather.

  8. Derek DeVries says:

    The problem with logic like this is that it's operating under the assumption that bigger is better. It's the sort of logic that has made network TV unwatchable by aiming for the "least objectionable program" (LOP) standard developed in the 1960s for television audiences. While that's okay for some people for whom that is their appeal (say a milquetoast like Ryan Seacrest) but for the vast majority that's not how social media operates most effectively.

    Virtually every social media expert agrees that a small number of active followers is far better than a large group of apathetic followers. When you start censoring yourself to retain followers, you increase the liklihood that the followership you're developing is less engaged and thusly less valuable in terms of taking action on your behalf when you need it.

    If someone unfollows me because I post a Foursquare update I think is important, I don't care because that means that they're not interested in the same things I am (so they shouldn't be following me). I don't need the eyeballs of people who are that fickle.
    My recent post Because We’ve Always Done it That Way: Why Newsletters Must Die

  9. [...] Jesse Stanchak at Smartblog on Social Media recently posted a blog entry giving advice on how to retain followers on social media (“How you’re secretly driving away your followers — and what you can do to stop it”). [...]

  10. I really have no problems with off-tangent discussions or posts, as I consider them a breath of fresh air. Sometimes being provided with a lot of business-centric information is taxing and brain draining. But yes, there must be a limit since too much diverts followers and potential target market to your main objective. Worse, they may just find no sense in following you.
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