Why Big Companies Suck at Social Media & How You Can Avoid Doing the Same

Photography Credit: Amber Anderson for Elle France by Simon Burstall via Fashion Gone Rogue

Last week I had an email from my Dad asking how many followers on Twitter and ‘likes’ on Facebook I had. I told him (cos you know, he could have just taken 3 seconds to look himself!) but then asked why he wanted to know. Apparantly the company he works for – don’t ask me what they do…it’s something to do with software I think – want to increase their social media presence and therefore wanted a benchmark as to what some ‘good follower numbers’ would be.

While flattered, I was confused at what relevance my social networking had to do with a massive multi-national corporation like this – one with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of staff turning over millions of £/$/€ a year. But then I realised that I shouldn’t be so damn self deprecating and that in all reality, it’s the small businesses that rock at using social media and the big boys that (I’m sorry but generally) suck at it.

FYI when I say ‘big companies’, I’m not really talking about giants like Starbucks, McDonalds and Coca-Cola. Companies that are household names will always have hundreds of thousands of followers – maybe it’s the thought of seeing a tweet with a discount code for a free coffee/burger/fizzy drink. If I thought about it a bit more I’m sure I could come up with a much more concise reason why, but that’s not really what this article is about anyway…

In my opinion, the biggest failing of large companies who use social media is this:

♥ People go on social media sites to connect with real people (Twitter) to be entertained (Facebook) or to procrastinate (Pinterest). Big companies often fail to notice all these things. Instead of thinking about the people that will actually read the updates, they simply use their outlets to promote themselves or just to post links to their own websites. This is neither genuine, entertaining or worth your valuable procrastination time.

However here’s a few things you can do to make sure you rock social media like a small time pro:

♥ Be yourself – this is the most important thing! If you are a one-man/woman band then celebrate this. Be personable and genuine.

♥ Post exclusive content – maybe run competitions or share things that are exclusively for your Twitter followers or Facebook fans – its not all about driving traffic to your website, it’s about extending your brand and making people want to follow you.

♥ Balance promoting yourself with being entertaining (i.e. posting random non-work related status updates). Again, this makes you seem like a real person and enables people to connect with you on a genuine level. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve met people who follow me on Twitter and the first thing they ask is how my cats are!

♥ Promote other people. Share links to things you think you readers will like – not just links to your own site. This will not only carry favour with the people whose links you are sharing, but it will make you a valuable person to follow. Everyone likes to discover new things – be a source of new things for your followers.

♥ Engage with your followers. Ask questions and actually take the time to reply to the people that respond.

♥ Don’t stress about the numbers. The question I always get asked is ‘how did you get so many followers?’ and the simple answer is that I don’t really know (!) but that I can only imagine it’s because I’m entertaining (I ain’t afraid to poke fun of myself and ‘tell it like it is’), because I take the time to reply to people and because I talk about a topic people are interested in.

I’d love to know your thoughts on social media. Are you finding it a struggle and if so can us GreenRoom-ers help? Do you have any tips that I’ve missed out? Let’s get social people…


  1. Fantastic post! Completely agree with not stressing about the numbers. I really don’t see the point of having 1,000/2,000/5,000/10,000 irrelevant followers. That’s just a vanity thing. Better to have a smaller number of relevant followers that might actually be interested in what you have to say.

  2. Great post! I used to have to do the social networking for a chain of restaurants and I was really restricted to what I was allowed to say and who I was allowed to promote/retweet, i basically just had to tweet the latest offers and that was it! The tweets were so impersonal and faceless. Big companies just don’t understand how it actually works – it’s about making friends and helping others, not selling!

  3. A great post. These days it’s so easy to loose that personal touch if you are indeed running your own business (and using all social media sites). It’s something that I myself am trying to get back to doing. Your post was fab and put into words alot of the little things that we tend to forget! Thanx again 😉

  4. Coincidentally, I received an email request from a Research company yesterday asking if they could Tweet quote me at a conference about this very matter – advising larger brands to use Social Media more effectively. I think a lot of larger companies lose sight of what their customers are actually saying about their product and using Social Media wisely could bridge that gap.

  5. Twitter is definitely my social media venue of choice, but I was just reading an article yesterday about how to make Pinterest work for your business. Think there’s a lot of value there, as I currently just use it for bookmarking pictures of cats, pretty wedding dresses and weird coffee cup cosies.

    One area I could use some tips in is using Facebook for your business.

    Thanks Kat!

  6. ClaireWinners

    I work in marketing for a SME and would definately say that the number of fans, likes, followers etc is totally incidental if they dont actually engage with your brand on any level. It is definately more about quality rather than quantity. You have to be aware of why you want to increase your social networking presenece; if its just to get more web clicks, then there are other ways to do it! However if you want to engage, speak directly to your customers, create brand awareness, a buzz – a voice for your company and promote the industry that you work in as a whole then social media is fantastic.

    It is not a quick fix though. It takes time and a lot of trial and error if you are just starting out. Dont think that as a small business you can solely use a facebook group to create clients… you cant buy friends right!?! Social media has to be part of a bigger strategy.

    Most of all though I think social media should be fun for both you as a marketer and those following you!

  7. Really quality post. I work for a huge company in Marketing and one of the most frustrating parts of my job is trying to get the Board of Directors to understand that using these kinds of tools is not all about the numbers and you can’t measure ROI easily – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worthwhile tools. I am constantly battling to get them to understand that the level of engagement and the depth of relationship you can build is so much deeper than whacking an ad on TV!

  8. Close to my heart, I totally agree. I often get asked to follow people or businesses on Twitter and when I look at the tweets they spout a lot of the time I run a mile. It’s really just a list of faceless links to their site for the latest ‘offers’ or an invitation to ‘like us on facebook’. If I don’t ‘like’ you on twitter I’m sure as hell not going to ‘like’ you on facebook. Who’d want to have their timelines clogged with hat kind of stuff?!

    It is about the people, always about the people, and the interesting and engaging things they have to say. And this is where I’d need help – I can’t imagine anyone would find me very interesting or engaging so, for the most part, don’t blog too much. How sad is that?!

    And I think to myself: ‘All I really have to talk about is other people’s weddings…who’d want to know?’ And then look at you, Kat, who has made a (hugely successful) career out of just that!

    Then there is also still this stigma attached to ‘wedding video’ and even though they are now widely known as ‘wedding films’ and are nothing like their very sad counterparts of decades ago, people still look down their noses at us, we get mostly ignored on wedding blogs (I said ‘mostly’!) and I do feel like the dark ‘closet-child’ of wedding imagery. And I’m back to ‘people won’t want to know’.

    See, I really do need help, inspiring though you are, Kat, I’m still a long way from emulating such success…BUT for now, I really enjoy reading yours! x

  9. Really interesting read! We are still fairly new to twitter and facebook and we have had to find our way around by trail and error. As there have been lots of peeps that have been ready to moan about how and what we are doing but not that many people out there truly wanting to help…Thankfully with articles like this it makes it all alittle clearer. Completely agree that having quality followers is far better than a lot of faceless followers who never interact with you. Also really really agree that social media is just part of the bigger picture. We are wedding and engagement ring specialists, in our work Brides and Groom want to meet you and interact with you before trusting you to design and make their rings, and quite rightly so! So we use social media to support us after before and after exhibiting at shows. We do the leg work first and get out there and meet our clients. Nothing better than a smile, handshake or hug! social media enhances that for us…Amanda – Michael Frank Jewellers

  10. Interesting read, thanks Kat. I used to worry about numbers but can see how this is not really what is important. Thanks for reinforcing what social media for small businesses is about.

  11. RachyLou

    Brilliant post, Kat 🙂 The reason why I follow you on Twitter actually has very little to do with seeing what you’re posting about on the blog next (I check it for myself each day, anyway!) and more to do with getting to know you a little bit more as a person. Tweeting about your cats, things you’ve bought, people you’re meeting etc interests me as I can definitely associate myself with you and your brand, so chances are what you have to say is relevant to me too! And it is a huge smile-boost when you reply back to things I’ve tweeted you, I really value that. xo

  12. This is probably the one thing that Im worst at – I just never know what to write… I just feel like I come across as boring.

  13. Thanks for you tips: I often get questionable with what I post on social media. It so much easier to just post a link but you are so right, being yourself is the best option.

  14. Totally agree with this! The only thing worse than big business social media is ‘little business pretending to be a big business’ social media- both of which are a surefire path to the ‘unsubscribe’ button! Plus figures mean nothing, it’s engaging with your readership that really counts (not that I’d say no to a few more followers….).

    I just want them to tell me that they had weetos for breakfast like me. Now THAT is interesting. :b

  15. Great post, Kat. I have always believed that it is not about the ‘numbers’ – it is about who you connect with and how you connect with them. As I always say, “Always be yourself…unless yourself is an a**hole!”

  16. VictoriaC

    Completely agree with the title of this post – they do suck at it. I was follwoing loads of big companies on Twitter and have gradually started to ‘un’ follow them they completely clogged up my timeline with un-interesting updates.

  17. Great post Kat. Like RachyLou said above, I follow you because you are interesting and you post relevant stuff- wether it’s a link or an opinion, it’s all good. And I’m sure the two of us are not alone. I’m trying to take a leaf out of your book with how I use social media and my blog. Personable, interesting, fun. Keep up the great work.

  18. This is great post! What a good point about companies not getting the connection / procrastination aspects. It’s so true that being social isn’t really about “efficiently” reaching your audience, it’s about *profoundly* reaching your audience. Just like at a cocktail party — if all you do is tout your wares, people find you pretty boring/annoying. Better to [metaphorically] drink too much and risk knocking over the punch bowl — you’ll be more memorable that way.

  19. P.S. I’ve noticed that my “follows” go up on Twitter when I’ve been posting a lot of random snaps on Instagram (links to Twitter) of my daily excursions. As a photographer, daily snapshots of my life are the best way to get to know about me, so your point about making it personal does ring true. Thanks again for this!

  20. Alison

    From the customer perspective (and as an ex-marketeer), when people say to me ‘I can’t see the point of being on Twitter…I can never think of anything to say’, I tell them it’s all about what you’re interested in and who you follow as a result.

    When I tell people I’ve heard about early-bird ticket offers, late openings, pop-up events or a host of other things I would never have heard about otherwise, their eyes light up and the penny drops.

    Same thing works for marketeers in reverse: if you can offer your customers something unique and exclusive that they can’t get anywhere else, they will feel special. It doesn’t need to be money off – it could be an early-bird preview/teaser of an event you’re running, or showing exclusive content which won’t be available anywhere else.


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