12 Most Cool Social Media Practices to Avoid Looking Like a Jerk

12 Most Cool Social Media Practices to Avoid Looking Like a Jerk

Imagine you’re at a party and a smiling person comes over for a chat.

Except, instead of a conversation — you know… where one of you talks and the other responds — this person just starts yelling random bits of information at you. First, he starts yelling about what he had for breakfast, then his gym workout, followed by how much he hates his boss, and a quote from Buddha.

Before you can even get a word in, he gets up and walks away, headed toward the next person in the room. Well, what if everyone at the party was doing this?

I’m sure you wouldn’t stay long. Unfortunately, this is exactly the way most people (and businesses) treat social media. Instead of using it as a forum to be, well… social, much of what we see in the space is anything but good conversation. That’s probably why, thus far, social media (which if you think about it, is really still in its infancy) has been a good conduit for disseminating information to people who already like you, but a poor tool for building brand new connections.

And that makes sense. Good relationships are built on trust, and it’s pretty difficult to trust someone who just wants to use you as a sounding board for their random ideas.

So, whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, blogs, podcasts, or real-life events, follow these guidelines for making social media a thriving social place.

1. Call people by name

Legendary sales coach Dale Carnegie famously said that the sweetest sound to anyone is hearing their name. Simply put, when you say (or type) a person’s name, you make them feel special — a feeling we are all seeking in the landscape of anonymity that often defines the Internet.

2. Be nice

There’s a lot of snark online. So much so, that being polite and kind can really stick out and attract attention. It’s not that you have to be a suck-up, just follow the golden rule and treat people like you want to be treated. You’ll be amazed how well others will respond.

3. Ask questions

Another way to make people feel special is to ask them questions. Now, I don’t mean being a critical meanie about stuff. Nor do I mean asking the kinds of questions that are intended to show how smart you are (c’mon, we’ve all been guilty of that). While these approaches may give us a temporary satisfaction of know-it-allness, they ultimately just put people on the defensive and end up getting you nowhere.

Instead, try starting your questions with the phrase, “have you thought of…” and then offer a constructive point of view that helps the person strengthen their idea.

4. Compliment people

Surprise, surprise… people like it (a lot!) when you say nice things about them. Many of the people online are looking for validation — about their business, their ideas, or their life’s general direction. This can be a scary proposition to say the least. Providing some encouragement helps them know they are on the right track. But don’t just say “nice post” — pick something specific out that you think is unique about them or that you learned from a piece of content they created.

5. Arouse emotions

In his awesome book Contagious, Wharton professor Jonah Berger showed us that one of the key reasons people share content online is because it arouses them emotionally.
Take the time to figure out what kind of emotions move your audience.

But in doing so, it’s also important to remember that not all emotion is created equal. In his research, Berger identifies that certain kinds of emotions — those that get people “aroused” like awe, passion, and anger — are much more likely to drive shares than those that make people feel toned down — like sadness, relaxation, or contentment.

6. Use video and sound

One thing that keeps people from connecting is the general, impersonal nature of it all. Human beings like to connect with other human beings — not with text on a screen. That’s why sounds, images, and the look in a person’s eye go a long way to building connections that last. Try using Google Hangouts, Skype, GoToMeeting, or similar platforms to add a human touch. Get beyond the basic webinar and make it a conversation by featuring other people in your online presentations, instead of just making yourself a talking head.

7. Don’t take yourself too seriously

Nobody wants to be friends with the guy who has a stick up his you-know-what. You don’t need to be a clown, but a bit of humor and levity will break up the monotony of the many corporate-clean folks found on the Internet, allowing you to stand out and get noticed.

8. Don’t chirp

“Chirps” are the random posts people put up, thinking themselves profound, but which generally come off as seeming random and out of context. Just because a thought crosses your mind does not mean you have to share it with the world. Instead, focus on finding ways to provide real value to your audience. Before you produce a piece of content, whether it’s a long blog post or a simple tweet — ask yourself how it solves a specific problem your audience is facing.

9. Don’t be a robot

First off, it’s time to cool it with the automated tweets. It’s fine to schedule a tweet or two during the day, but there are some Twitter accounts that seem to throw up a post every five minutes or so, no matter what time of day or night it is.

Secondly, it’s important to go beyond the retweet. Instead, repackage content from other sites by putting your own unique twist on it. Try rewriting the headline or simply letting your followers know why you think it’s helpful.

10. Don’t be presumptuous about relationships

Just because someone follows you, retweets you, or even lets you guest post, it does not mean that their world suddenly revolves around making sure you are successful. Acting that way just makes people think you want to take advantage of them. This is especially true for influential people, who are skeptical by nature because they really do have lots of people asking them for favors.

11. Take a break every once in a while

I’m not sure who decided that to be successful on social media you have to be a constant presence. The reality is that a lot of the constant activity comes off as noise and people just tune it out. People will interact a lot more with you when you pop up unexpectedly, rather than if you are just in their feed every time they log on.

12. Always give more than you take

There’s perhaps no more valuable rule for social media than to always offer more value to people than you ask of them. In other words, by keeping yourself on the lookout for problems to solve for people, you are going to make yourself a lot more friends than if you are always trying to figure out what you can get from them.

In order to truly harness the power of social media — especially if you’re trying to make money with it — you have to make it a more social place. Follow these guidelines and you won’t be left shouting while your competition is enjoying a great conversation.

Photo credit: Big Stock Photos

Jake Parent


Jake Parent has been building communities for more than a decade. His blog, Learn To Be Heard, teaches marketers and entrepreneurs how to use blogging and other social media to transform an audience of static listeners into a dynamic group of engaged participants.

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This post deserves a longer engagement. :) I agree, when creating online presence you have to make it sound 'human' and make them feel that you're someone they could talk and ask for advice and not just an answering machine or automated tool. What drives clickers are feelings that triggers their interest.


HI Jake,

I enjoyed this post. Usinmg people's names in addition to their handle is a new one I'll take away from this.

On #11, I guess I fall into the "take a break" camp. I can imagine if you are Guy Kawasaki, people will miss you when you don't show up as expected.  For the rest of us, I'm not sure the same applies. I find that on twitter, I'm more likely to notice someone when I haven't heard from them in a while. 

On the other end of the spectrum, when someone sends out 10 tweets at the same time, I'll scroll past every one of them. If you are using automation, please spread them out. If I find you have some good ones, I'll look at your whole stream!


Hey Jake, 

Thanks for an entertaining, informative post. I agree with all but #9. In fact, one of the best in the business, Guy Kawasaki, also disagrees. If you want to engage a large audience, it's important to share content around the clock. I have followers who are awake when I'm sleeping. Since I can't tweet at 3 AM, I use Buffer to share my content. The content is insightful and I try to add my own spin or hashtag to it. It does go out 24/7, though.

Sandra Sallin
Sandra Sallin

So much good information. Yes, I thought you had to be on google+, Facebook and Twitter everyday. Thanks for giving me a day or two off. When you say mention a person's name do you mean @JakeParent a person? Many times one cannot add any words to a tweet  because you'll go over the limit. I'm also alway concerned about editing others words. 

Bottom line this was an excellent 12Most. Thanks.


A much needed article - thank you!  It covered this topic very thoroughly!  I think these skills are especially important because often I see people using the same communication style from social media in live conversations, which seems abrupt and impersonal.  As with a real conversation, I'd rather have a dialogue than hold up a thumbs-up.  


@markbarnes19 I can agree with automation :) It is a great way to engage audience on the other side of time and it is also good because in social media timing is everything. If you schedule content you make sure to be there when you need to be there. Years have thought me that reach can increase or not in a matter of minutes.

@Jake The overal post is ok - I can agree with it, although the real complexity of social media mechanisms go far beyond this basic list. 


@markbarnes19 Hey Mark - Thanks for the kind words and the thoughts. I would agree that some people make good use of being a constant presence. But I'm always cautious when people say things like they are going to just do was Guy Kawasaki/Seth Godin/etc. do. Those folks are somewhat special as they are such authorities people will put up with most anything. 

I follow Guy and love a lot of stuff he does, but I also find much of what he posts (especially on G+) to be somewhat irrelevant to the context in which I follow them. 

Ultimately, like everything in marketing though, it comes down to what works with your particular audience!

Since you have found success with this tactic, I'd love to hear how you manage to weave in constant informative posts with the need to develop a narrative about your own self? 


@Sandra Sallin Hi Sandra. Thanks for the kind words! I definitely think you should use the person's actual name (not just their handle), especially when you are addressing them personally (for example, asking them a question about their Tweet). However, when you Retweet someone, I don't think the same rule applies. 

On editing other's words, I actually think there is a lot of value in repackaging links in a way that explains why YOU think it is important. Shows that you actually took the time to read it and process the information. 

Hope that helps... :)


@CharissaKerr Thanks Charissa! And you're totally right. Ultimately, good communication involves the same approach, whether it's online or offline. :-)