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How you’re secretly driving away your followers — and what you can do to stop it

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.