3 Things They’ll Never Tell You About Social Media (plus tips for the haters)

Andy Crestodina

I’ve been on social media for about a decade. Now it’s time to reflect…

We all know the wonderful benefits of social media marketing. We’ve read the how-to posts and the tools roundups. We’ve scanned some of the 492 million “social media tips” in Google and the 602,759 social media books on Amazon.

So let’s look at the other side for a minute. This post is about social media marketing’s darker side.

Note: This isn’t about problems for us as social users. This post isn’t about how…


This post is about marketing, written for marketers, including all of you social media ninjas and divas out there. You know who you are. It’s right there in your Twitter bios!


So here are three dark truths about social media. Specifically, Twitter.

Dark Truth #1: People Share Without Reading

Maybe it was obvious. What people read and what people share aren’t the same thing. This was discovered by Chart Beat. In the words of Tony Haile, Chart Beat CEO.

We’ve found effective no correlation between social shares and people actually reading.

That won’t surprise the cynics. Here’s the data. They use attention minutes vs. content length as a proxy for reading.

  • Visitors who read half an article are less likely to share than visitors who read nothing.

  • An article may be read a hundred times and never shared, or shared a hundred times and never read!

sharing-social 1

Tips from the dark side:

How to adapt to a world where people share without reading

  • Focus on the headlines: Articles don’t get shared. Only headlines get shared!

  • Format for skim readers: Lots of images, subhead, bullet lists, bolding and internal links

  • Don’t get caught up in sharing metrics. They don’t correlate to traffic.

Dark Truth #2: A lot of Social Media is Automated

Who has time to build up a big following? It’s a lot of work! Most marketers know that there are big shortcuts.

The main way to pump up a social following is to follow others. The tiny bit of visibility that happens when you follow someone may lead to them following you back. If they don’t follow back in a day or two, just unfollow them and keep going.

But that’s a lot of clicking if you want 50k followers. That’s where software comes in. They automatically follow people that meet the criteria you set. Then unfollow if they don’t follow back.

When you see an account that has a very close following / follower ratio, they’re probably using this trick. They’ve gone over to the dark side.

auto-follow 1

I do not recommend this, but here’s how you can get yourself a big fake following too!

Tips from the dark side:

How to grow a giant fake following

  • Auto Follow Everyone (I’m not going to mention the software that does this. Go find it yourself!)

  • Or manually follow all of the users of another account, using a service like Tweepi.

  • Unfollow the ones that don’t follow back! The same services will help you do this.

  • Put “I follow back” into your Twitter bio

  • Put #followback into your tweets

Now sit back and watch your account grow. No actual social interaction required!

Want more? Read How to Get More Followers (the semi-legit way).

Dark Secret #3: Social Media is Completely Optional

Despite all the guilt and expectation that comes with social, here’s a little secret you’ll almost never hear: you don’t need to do it at all. Social media can be effective, but it is not mandatory.

It’s true.

So you don’t have to be active, but you do need a presence. So if this post has completely turned you off to social media marketing, here’s the proper way to slowly step way.

Tips from the dark side:

How to not use Twitter properly

  • Make sure your LinkedIn profile is complete and up-to-date (this is not optional)

  • Create a Twitter bio that describes what you do in a basic way. Nothing fancy. Use the same profile picture you use in LinkedIn. Add a link to your website.

  • Call forwarding! Write one tweet, notifying people that you’re not active here, and sending them to LinkedIn. It might look like this…

DM 1

If you don’t use LinkedIn either, just link to your website.

  • Repeat for every social network where you are not active.

Social media profiles often rank high in search engines. So claiming a presence in each social network is a way to dominate the first page of Google when people search for your name. This is the key to personal SEO.


Go Into the Light!

I’m glad you made it through that little tour of the dark corners of social media marketing. Now you may want to read the dark side of SEO.

If you’re an optimistic, ethical marketer and you reject every tactic and tip from this post, good for you. Don’t judge the haters.

If you know of other shadows in the social marketing world, feel free to share them below. Your fellow readers appreciate both cranky rants and practical tips…

What are your thoughts?

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Comments (57)
  • HI Andy, I love your ethical and social stance on social media – oh, and the incredibly educational and well-communicated content (- really enjoyable to read). Paul

  • An informative article with whimsy too. Thanks Andy.

  • For me the darkest part of social media is how unsocial it has become. I recently experimented by responding to many of the people who tweeted their links at me, with a comment or question about something in the content they just shared. Not a single person responded or attempted to engage me in conversation. It’s hard not to get jaded sometimes.

    • SImcha, you hit the nail on the head as Social is supposed to be a so-called “conversation” which is hardly ever the case. I think of it like walking into a party and asking someone a question or trying to engage and they pretend as if you don’t exist. Yes, it’s very unsocial which isn’t what my mother taught me. (And yes, I am one of those who respond if someone takes the time to engage in a “conversation.”)

      • I came to social media as a book blogger, where I encountered a very outgoing and interactive community, and is how I developed these expectations of social media engagement. Now that I’m working with social media professionally I see how unique such interactions really area in other communities, especially among social media professionals, which is a shame.

    • It has been never social i guess. The only “social” in social networks is because you are “connected”…. isn’t it?

  • Great stuff as always, Andy. These “truths” are a big reason why I rarely make it to social media. The only one I’m on is Twitter and I’m barely at there anymore. Most of it just seems like a big pile of fake to me.

    One thing I’ve never understood, though, is what possible benefit there is to unfollowing someone on Twitter simply because they don’t follow you. Is there any value at all in doing that? It seems to me to just feed into the vanity and fake-ness of social media, like something a fifth grader would do, i.e., “You won’t be my friend so I won’t be yours! Nah nah nah nah nah!”

    I’m interested in your thoughts on whether there’s actual value in doing it.

    Thanks again!

  • How dare you Andy!
    I mean, it’s true, but do we really want everyone to know it?
    😉 Daniel.

  • Smitten with this post (who doesn’t need a chart of the number divas and gurus on Twitter?). Tip 3 is my favourite: fast and down to earth idea that isn’t talked about enough. Thanks Andy!

  • Read and will share. Another dark truth – there are no shortcuts!

  • I too read the full article and shared it. But alas – I shared it from someone else’s share. Sorry about that. I particularly like the part about not having to do anything at all! Someone I feel quite pressured to be involved on social media. You’re right. I don’t have to if I don’t want to.

  • Read and shared – But that’s cause I read most articles I open, and many of them I share. I think it has a lot more to do with interest. Most of the time I leave a quote in my comment when I share, something that caught my attention, and I’ll ask my friends if they saw the article I posted and they’ll say “Yes!” and we have a discussion.

    People don’t want to dig for the information when it’s something they may not really have an interest in. I think if you really want involvement, you’ll leave a note about why YOU found it interesting… as you your authentic self.

    • Exactly. How can you have a discussion with someone about something if you haven’t read it? How can you spark a personal connection? When two people try to chat about a headline and not an article, the conversation (and personal connection) doesn’t go very far…

      Thanks for reading and for the comment, Stefanie.

  • I felt like saying this for quite a while. Thank you for doing it.

  • Hi Andy,

    I agree with you totally. I liked your first and second point. It happens many times, people who read, don’t share and who share, don’t read a single line of article. I have also shared some articles many times which I didn’t read.

    Thanks for this good article.


  • Creative and catchy title, really interesting topic… This doesn’t just have a great headline but a funny and honest article, too; and therefore must be shared, and more importantly, read in its entirety. But personally, I don’t share posts on my feed without reading them. I mean, why would anyone share anything without checking first if the content is good or bad?

    • You just asked an excellent question. I think the answer comes down to why people share. People share for lots of reasons, only some of which relate to content and quality…

      • Based on the headline, they believe that having this content in their stream will make them look smart or informed
      • They are focused on levels of activity and want to post more than they have time to read
      • They are sharing the content of people they want to connect with, so the share is more about networking and less about the content itself

      I would love to know percentages for these types of sharing, but I can’t imagine a study that would produce accurate or meaningful data…

      • I agree, it would be hard to create a study for that, but these are good points nonetheless. Thanks, Andy!

        • Another dark-side trick is the auto-Fav/Like, a variant of the auto-follow.

          I block every single user that comes to me with those tricks as they waste my time. And time is the only thing on Earth that I cannot get back.

          • I appreciate where you’re coming from, Santiago. I also like your spam-reduction tactic in the email you use when leaving comments…


            I love it!

  • Hi Andy and All-

    This article was weird to me, and difficult for me to understand what to do differently.

    I already sensed that clicks do not equate to reading content. I have a problem with #3– “Social media can be effective, but it is not mandatory.” This seems ambiguous to me. Effective for what? Not mandatory for what? I think you might write another article on #3.

    I was drawn out of retirement and into online marketing when I published my memoir and was introduced to social media. My niche hangs out on forums, so I spend a lot of time there. I do engagement by email.

    Looking forward to future articles that make me think, even if I get confused!

    • Thanks for the comment, Don.

      My purpose here was to say the things that people never (or rarely) say about social media. There are thousands, maybe millions of posts telling readers they “must be on social media.” Here is the other perspective. You really don’t. It is recommended, not mandatory.

      Since we try to focus on practical advice on this blog, I listed some tips for people who don’t want to use Twitter. And if you choose not to use it, I HIGHLY recommend following those steps.

      Again, thanks for the thoughtful comment. And obviously, your comment was in a way, a type of social media. So it was nice to have a genuine exchange here, at the bottom of a post about how genuine is not always the case!


  • Andy this was so good I read it twice! Especially since we were talking this week about readers vs sharers! I think I’ll share it now!

    • Yes, we had that conversation while I was working on this post. Big that conversation was a nice example of high-quality conversation… the phone!

      You read it TWICE before sharing? You’re a rare voice online, Michelle. It’s too bad there aren’t more like you. 🙂

  • Hey Andy,

    Love this article! I’m glad someone said it. While I’ll admit to dwelling in the dark side of Twitter I thought I’d share the quote from the Tao that helps me sleep at night:

    “All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. Humility gives it its power. If you want to govern the people, you must place yourself below them. If you want to lead the people, you must learn how to follow them.”
    ― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

    (of course doesn’t say anything about unfollowing them eh? ha)

    • Best comment ever.

      I love the Tao. A sincere thank you for the perspective, Leigh. You should send this to Mark Schaefer!

      • haha thanks Andy!

  • Andy, Thanks! I look forward to your emails. Read the whole thing – as usual – and learned a lot – as usual!

  • Hi Andy, I live in New Zealand. I watched your interview with Andy Garcia (a few months back) this morning. Loved it!

    Was going to write you a “hand written note” to say thanks 🙂

    BTW Randy and I are good mates. The distance means nothing…even if he’s Canadian 😉 Cheers.

    • Hey Craig! (Totally talented brand designer.) We’re going to have to hold a virtual coffee meetup with Andy some day. What says you Andy?

      • Sounds good to me Randy.

  • I feel that Dark Truths #1 and #2 are both contributing to an artificial “bubble” of content in social media, especially on Twitter. These dark truths aren’t doing us any favors in the industry – I continue to have clients who insist on vanity metrics such as “likes” and “followers” rather than focusing on social media conversions and conversation.

    • A lot of social media marketers struggle with this. What do you do when your clients want you to focus on vanity? I guess we have to go back to the Analytics and show what really matters.

      But you make me think of a point that I didn’t mention here. If something gets shared 1000 times, but rarely clicked or read, isn’t there still some value there? Is there’s some brand reach? I wonder if there’s a sliver of light in that first dark truth…

  • Another excellent article Andy. Fascinating insight into sharing/ length. I’ve found myself doing the same. I was doing some analysis for a client and noticed a very weak correlation between social shares and links to a page. I wonder if people were just sharing based on the concept of the article/ headline, especially if it was an issue close to their heart.

    • One clue I had that this was happening was that I would publish and then share …and see retweets within seconds. Here I am thinking “How could they have read that yet?”

      And now we have the data. But in defense of mindless sharing, it is some kind of brand metric, isn’t it? Do sharing numbers still mean something?

      • I agree Andy. I think people buy into the brand/ story and are willing to spread it as a form of social approval (a re-tweet meaning more than a favourite). Perhaps its something to do with the rules of social media – either share or post something useful. If you trust a brand and like the headline, then sharing a good looking article could bring you kudos. Do sharing numbers mean anything? Perhaps as you’ve implied, they’re an indicator of brand approval and being on message with specific issues, not the article’s strength.

  • Awesome article as always! I am a big fan since I saw you at Web Visions in Chicago last year!

    • Thank you, Maciej! Events are such a great way to connect. Did we meet that day?

      • We met briefly after your presentation but of course you were swarmed by people so I won’t be offended if you don’t remember me :-). I got a copy of your book though, which is an awesome web marketing guide. Thank you so much for everything you do!

  • Good points. However I wouldn’t call them dark. Our society today is overloaded with information that people don’t have time or attention to read everything so good catchphrases are recommended to grab attention and get message. Also automation isn’t meant to be used to “humanize” your sites. It’s a way to post when you can’t. It’s where computers assist us so we can attend a meeting or… However checking your own site manually is always advisable.

    • Thanks for the comment, Carmen. And for looking at the bright side. All of these things are really just consequences of our context. So much information to consume as readers. So hard to rise above the noise as marketers.

      Believe it or not, I may write a how-to article about social media automation next week. Stay tuned!

  • Andy, a great post as always as you provide nice, digestable nuggets along the way. I’ve been working with a group here in the Bay Area and explained that 99% of their thousands of followers in the Social space are NOT real (and certainly not engaged). And like Mark, I read your posts in their entirety. Call me old school but I won’t comment or post unless I’ve taken it all in. Well done my friend. (And your Venn diagram is absolutely killer. Is it an OMS original?)

    • Maybe you are old school, but I love it. Without people like you, people who read before sharing, digest before commenting, listen before following, all of social media would be complete crap!

      On the bright side of social, it has helped people like you and me keep in touch over the years and the miles. I love seeing you here in the comments, John! We met how many years ago? Twelve?

      • Andy, I think it’s the combination and ease of using technology hardware and the software that has kept us connected all these years (and maybe not the “Social” thing). I don’t know if “old school” is the right term or not but I am focused with my attention and quickly weed out the unnecessary pixels in life. Lots of people are “busy” with pixels that mean absolutely nothing in life.

        And it has actually been 14 years since we first met with our offices on Ravenswood and you graciously coded a Flash site for me. I remember it well as you were a rock star even back then!

  • Looks like a great article. I’ll read it as soon as I finishing checking out my 10,000 new Twitter followers from last night. 😉

    • Perfect comment for this post. This one needed a little levity. Thanks, Joel!

      • Jep, Andy, i am still not sure about some parts about this great article – I have to let it act…

  • Andy, you are one of the few people whose posts still make it to my inbox, and more than ever i’m convinced that it was an unconsciously wise decision—meaning, it was a hunch based on just one of your posts found randomly on the net (your “periodic table of content”), not a strategic decision.

    i am one of those people (how many are we?) who spend 99% of their time on social media reading what (some) other people post or share. half of that time i’m shaking my head in disappointment at the mundane nature of that content, and the time it has cost me. i’ve never had a TV, so why am i wasting so much time on a billion-channel tube?

    it’s become a habit i can’t (but eventually will) shake. i’m a digital immigrant who is still trying to find the rime and reason to what’s worth writing, following, reading, and sharing in social media—and what’s definitely not. i’m still in “digital literacy 101,” so to speak, and welcome your insightful contributions.

    the rest of my reading is spent on the 1% of (mostly printed, but increasingly available in digital format) literature that survives past the 50-year mark. and that’s where i get 80% of the content that’s actually useful to me in life and in my identity development work.

    the insights you have shared here (in case you are still reading 😉 follow the logic of why i pick books the way i do: because bestsellers are just the books that sell the most, not the ones that are most read. and there are very good reasons for that.

    somewhere Marshall McLuhan wrote that ultimately all we want is to sit around a campfire and tell each other stories, and that all of communications technology (written words included) and media (my precious books included) are just proxies for that. i’d like to add a detail to that beautiful image: the campfire can be kept alive if you learn how to burn all the garbage that will eventually try to find its way to your ur-inbox: your ears.

    • sorry, folks: that was “rhyme and reason” :-/

  • Thanks for your candor. Not sure anyone else would have been comfortable writing this.

  • Hi Andy, nice to hear from you. Thanks for sharing your insights on an area that is hard to command for the novice.

  • Twitter has rules against automation… There’s no point in auto-following. I must be me of the few who doesn’t even try those games. I work hard to get the followers I do, abd as a result I get to know them. I can literally tell you where at least 100 people in my followers live and what they do.

    On a related note… I hope I’ll live to see a day when people can communicate with each other online in the same way they would in a café or even in a meeting – with respect and patience and with a goal to open the door to communicating rather than closing it.

    Too many people leverage the anonymity of the net to be on their lesser than best behaviour.

    • I feel the same, Randy. I look at my accounts and think “this is what it looks like if you work hard as a marketer and networker WITHOUT the aid of a robot army.” It would look completely different if I unleashed the machines.

      I hope to say we live in a world with real connections today. It’s often not the case here online, but many of us still prefer face-to-face communication and we do meet in those cafes.

      Randy, if you’d ever like to get together for a coffee, just let me know.

      • Ditto Andy

    • hehe, just post a tweet with a #growth or #growthhacking hashtag. You’ll see, there are many automated bots outside still living….

  • Hi Andy, Dark Truth #1, so true, I notice it daily…and btw, I read your entire article AND I’m going to share it.

    • Thank you, Mark. You’re one of the good ones. Thanks for sharing …and more important, thanks for reading!

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