When you’re up to your eyeballs in social media all day, it’s tempting to think everyone is on the same page. Not only is that far from true, there are plenty of people who are using social media on a daily basis who – in my opinion – are doin’ in wrong. I’m a staunch supporter of the notion that there are many ways to utilize social media, but I do think there are some things you shouldn’t do no matter how you’re using it.

There are, in other words, social media sins.

Here are what I consider to be the worst social media sins – and I’m eager to hear what you think are the worst, too, so I hope you’ll leave them in the comments!

Auto-DMs

Creative Commons photo by That Hartford Guy on Flickr

This should not be something that still needs to be said, but since I’m still getting auto-DMs every so often when I follow new people on Twitter, obviously the message hasn’t yet reached everyone.

If you’re not yet a Twitter addict, a DM is a “direct message,” and they’re private missives between two users. In order to DM someone, they must actually be following you, so when Twitter users set up services to automatically send a DM to every new follower it’s an instantaneous abuse of a new (and as-yet-untested) relationship. Most auto-DMs are some variation of “thanks for following!” Sometimes they go so far as to say, as @videozee puts it, “Thanks for following. Follow me here and here and here, too,” begging new Twitter followers to like your Facebook page or subscribe to your newsletter or whatnot.

No matter the text, auto-DMs are unwelcome. As @HeyJerGo says, “I follow you then you immediately spam me?!?” They do not make users feel special. It’s obvious that they’re automatically generated, like so much spam – and how special does receiving spam make you feel? We’ve already chosen to follow you on Twitter, so don’t make us regret that decision by coming on like an over-anxious used car salesman. Let your followers make their own sophisticated decisions to look at your blog or Facebook page or whatever else you’re promoting based on what you put on Twitter, since that’s where they’ve chosen to engage with you.

Bottom line? If you’re currently using an auto-DM service, turn it off. Seriously. And if you’re new to Twitter, don’t sign up for an auto-DM service to begin with.

Hashtag Overuse

While hashtags became popularized on Twitter, they’re now used on lots of social media platforms – including Google+ and Instagram – to help categorize the content of a post. There are plenty of fabulous reasons to hashtag your social media updates. Attendees at a conference can live-tweet sessions with a common hashtag, letting people who want to follow along do so easily – and those who don’t care about the conference can just block that hashtag temporarily. On a grander scale, using a common hashtag for a major event like Superstorm Sandy made it easy for people all over the world to stay on top of what was happening – we got updates faster that way than by watching the TV news.

But some people abuse hashtags to such a degree that it’s irritating to look at anything they post. Ironically, although hashtags really got going first on Twitter, because of the 140-character limit I feel like most Twitterers use a bit more restraint when hashtagging a tweet. The worst offenders tend to be on Instagram, where people leave comments on their own images in order to add even more hashtags.

The Instagram post on the left is acceptable. A few relevant hashtags to identify both the location of the photo and the conference alluded to. But the one on the right? That’s ridiculous. And that’s not even the worst hashtag overuse I’ve seen.

If you make people wade through several lines of hashtagged nonsense to find out what the heck you’re talking about, why are they going to want to stick around?

Before you think I’m going to let hashtag-addicts on Twitter off the hook, let me say this: not every single one of your blog posts needs to be hashtagged with #TBEX. Or #TTOT. Or #travel. Or, really, any one thing. You know the story of the boy who cried wolf, right? The social media version is the blogger who tagged every bloody one of their tweets – especially if it was a link to their site – with #TBEX or #TTOT or some such thing. Just as the villagers eventually ignored the boy when the wolf finally did come, when you post something to your blog that’s really great, something I’ll want to read and re-post from the TBEX accounts, I’m much more likely to ignore it because it’s just another post in a sea of your hashtagged posts.

Be judicious with your hashtags, you guys. This is another case where less is more.

Broadcasting

Creative Commons photo by garryknight on Flickr

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. Bloggers, we are not CNN or the BBC, so there’s absolutely no reason we should treat social media like a one-way megaphone.

News outlets can get away with broadcasting their links and nothing else because they’re an information service – it’s exactly what people expect when they check CNN’s Twitter feed. We don’t expect to get a reply from the CNN account if we ask a question. Bloggers, on the other hand, are accessible to their readers. People contact us via any one of a number of different avenues, and they aren’t shocked when we reply. That’s why I find it so disheartening when some bloggers do nothing but broadcast on social media.

I actually heard someone recently say, “Oh, I don’t follow anyone on Pinterest. I just post things from my site there.” I’m glad that person wants to share their site with the Pinterest community, but how much value are they actually adding? I’d argue that they’re not adding very much at all.

Social media works best when it’s a two-way street, when your usage includes regular interaction with other people in that community as well as contributions of new content. And that new content shouldn’t all be to your URL, either, or you’re the guy at the party who can only talk about himself. I don’t know about you, but I try to get away from that dude as quickly as possible.

If all you’re doing is posting links to your own stuff and you’re rarely interacting with anyone, I think it’s safe to assume you don’t actually want to engage with the community – and that’s going to give me no reason to want to engage with you, either. Real community is only built with real, two-way engagement. So if you want to keep broadcasting, at least be aware that you’ll only get out of social media what you’re willing to put into it.

Buying Followers

Creative Commons photo by Jeremy Weate on Flickr

I may hate auto-DMs on Twitter, but there’s something I hate even more – buying followers or fans.

Lately people are equating buying promoted posts on Facebook with buying fans, but I don’t think they’re even close to the same. The former is essentially buying ad space, and there’s nothing wrong with advertising. The latter is simply lying.

There is no excuse for buying Twitter followers or Facebook fans or the like. None. It’s never okay. I don’t care who told you it was or what you’ve read, it’s a stupid, money-wasting idea. Yes, I’m calling it stupid, and I don’t think highly of anyone who considers it a sound decision. It’s akin to withdrawing your credit card limit and depositing it into your bank account to make it look like you’re rolling in savings. They’re fake numbers, and yet you’re paying real money for them. That has consequences beyond just emptying your wallet. It’s a shady proposition that can sully your reputation, and anyone who says otherwise is selling snake oil.

Social media is about community, and you don’t buy community – you earn community. Period.

Is there absolution?

Creative Commons photo by emilio labrador on Flickr

Social media isn’t exactly the wild west, but it’s still a brave new world for many of us. Not only that, the landscape seems to change every few weeks. So, yes, it’s hard to keep up sometimes. I’ll give you that. And maybe you started committing one of the above-mentioned social media sins long before you knew any better. The good news is that you can change your behaviors for the better right now and begin to rebuild a social reputation. Positive changes can take a little bit longer to stick than negative ones, but since everything on the interwebz moves at just shy of the speed of light, it’s still pretty doggone fast.

Sadly, we don’t really have a system in the travel blogging world for buying indulgences like the Catholic church used to, but I’ll make you a deal. Next time you see me, buy me a drink and confess. I’ll hear your sins, and – as long as you promise never to re-offend – we’ll consider it a wash.

[stextbox id=”info” caption=”Your turn on the soapbox!”]What are the social media sins that irritate you most? Share in the comments below![/stextbox]