The 7 Deadly Sins of Social Media

Lust. Greed. Gluttony. Sloth. Wrath. Envy. Pride. The 7 deadly sins take on more than the Biblical meaning when referring to brands behaving badly in online public forums. Read on to get the skinny on how to avoid social media mayhem.


With new users joining popular social media platforms every day, the competition for having your voice heard in a crowded space is becoming increasingly stiff. A brand’s seemingly innocuous bid for more “likes,” “follows” and “shares” can quickly turn into lustful, unflattering social media practices.

These questionable tactics typically take on the form of poaching—one brand directly targeting its competitors’ consumers. And in many cases, the poacher capitalizes on its competitors’ weakest moments. The practice can be useful in some cases, but many brands that blatantly attempt to poach users on social media wind up in hot water themselves.

Take DIRECTV for example. A DIRECTV representative on Twitter attempted to poach business from Time Warner Cable by responding to a dissatisfied customer. This unwelcome engagement resulted in the customer becoming hostile toward DIRECTV for inserting themselves into a conversation they weren’t invited to. Talk about awkward.


So is the potential for serious backlash—the risk of repelling their own loyalists or alienating would-be customers—worth it? Some marketing experts believe that “conquesting” (their more flattering term for poaching) is fair game, and it can be quite effective when done tactfully. The key is to approach users as people and not dollar signs by keeping genuine customer service at the forefront of social media interactions.

Greed and Gluttony

Which would you rather have: 15K social media users who know and use your products and are interested in new and exciting things your brand is doing or 100K followers who couldn’t distinguish your products from your competitors’? We think the answer should be simple, but so often we see brands spending money to artificially grow their social media followings.

As Dan Evon stated in an article about buying Twitter followers, “You cannot buy Twitter followers. You can only buy numbers.” And the same is true for every other social network out there.

According to Adweek, 27 million pieces of content are shared on social media every day. Content is king, and to stay in power you have to focus on developing high-quality content and meaningful engagements rather than an impressive, but unengaged following. Instead of spending money on followers who won’t engage with your brand, spend your money on content that will encourage your current followers to start a conversation. The best way to get the most bang for your buck? Repurpose content and tailor the voice for each social media channel, maximizing your brand’s exposure online. 


Speaking of tailoring content, a sure-fire way to drop the ball is to post the same version of your content on all of your social channels without tailoring that content to fit the voice of the platform you’re using. This practice is uninspired and, quite honestly, lazy (as popular as sloths may be on the Internet you do not want to emulate them on social media).

Avoid social media sloth by posting bits and pieces of content on various channels. Link from your content on one platform to related content on another to eventually push people to your site. Do the work. Tell your story. Give users a reason to follow your brand on a number of platforms rather than just one.

MTV mastered the concept of tailored content in its promotional campaign for the Best Hero award at the MTV Movie Awards. The campaign spans Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr, but rather than simply dumping the same content onto each platform, the brand successfully used each channel to weave together pieces of a collective story.

SlothCollage (1)


Everyone gets angry, but the anonymity (or at least partial anonymity) that social media provides makes it easy for consumers to pitch digital fits, which usually end up splashed all over your social media feeds. Unfortunately, brands don’t have the same luxury and must be very careful in dealing with naysayers, critics and angry customers.

One need only look at the complete disaster that was Amy’s Baking Company to see the negative effects of lashing out at people through social media. But it doesn’t have to be that extreme. It could be as simple as refusing to engage a customer’s complaints or deleting negative social media posts altogether to avoid a poor image. Instead of managing your social media persona with the wrath of a tyrant, interact with your social media audience in times of praise and criticism.

Criticism itself is not a bad thing—it keeps your brand honest and on target with what your consumers want, and it’s not something you can control. What you can control is how you choose to react. Head & Shoulders for Men demonstrates the best way to respond to a minor complaint with grace, humor and a little bit of sass. The brand’s response shows the value of listening and responding to your audience. By addressing the complaint using the same tone the customer spoke in, Head & Shoulders was able to turn a gripe into a grin.


Envy and Pride

Ever since Oreo’s famous Super Bowl blackout tweet, brands have been trying to ride the pop culture wave on social media. Some have had more success than others. There’s no harm in staying on top of current events. But overdoing it or trying to join a conversation about a trending topic that has no relation to your brand is where the potential for a social media sin comes in. Just look at the now-infamous tweets from Epicurious following the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 to see how it can go wrong.


It can be easy to envy the success of a brand that really nails the pop culture references and trending topics. But don’t let your pride cloud your judgment and launch into a haphazard attempt to latch on to a current social trend. Instead, weigh the pros and cons. See if the trend is the right fit for your brand. When the best you can hope for is a lot of retweets and the worst is a massive PR disaster, it might be wise to step away from the keyboard and realize your pop culture moment in the sun will come another day.

Keeping an eye on what other brands are doing can be helpful, but keeping up with the Joneses never ends well. Instead, commit to strengthening your brand voice, developing your audience and staying true to both, no matter what topics are trending at the moment. And when you do finally find the perfect trend to fit your brand, knock it out of the park. Your target audience will notice and you may just find that other brands will envy you.

To Sin or Not to Sin

Shakespeare (yes, I’ve mentioned Shakespeare and sloths in the same blog post) said, “Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall.” Ultimately, the decision to sin or to be virtuous on social media is up to you. If you’ve contemplated some of the aforementioned sins or fallen into a gray area, don’t worry. Stick to your guns and stay authentic. The best way to determine whether something is a good idea is to think about how it feels. If it feels sneaky, lazy, shady, unethical or [insert other questionable feeling here], then it probably is.

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Has your brand successfully maintained its social media virtue? Or have you sinned? Tell us your story below.

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