Yellow Light Social Media: Use These Tactics With Caution

Smart social media marketers know that some tactics are totally off the table. Spamming that Google Plus community with your off-topic links? That’s a no-no. Auto-DMs to new Twitter followers? No way. Then there are tactics that aren’t inherently bad, but you may not want to use them every day. Like pop-up ads, advertising jingles […]

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Smart social media marketers know that some tactics are totally off the table. Spamming that Google Plus community with your off-topic links? That’s a no-no. Auto-DMs to new Twitter followers? No way.

Then there are tactics that aren’t inherently bad, but you may not want to use them every day. Like pop-up ads, advertising jingles or re-targeting campaigns, these tactics can be just shy of annoying if used incorrectly, but often get the kind of results that make them irresistible to try.

Let’s call these “yellow light” social media tactics.

When you come to a yellow light in traffic, you probably want to keep going. But if you miscalculate, you could inconvenience other drivers or even cause an accident. So, you use the data you have – how fast you’re going and how far you are from the light — to decide whether to speed through or put on the brakes.

The same is true for yellow light social media. You have to gauge your audience’s wants and needs, your relationship with them, and your social media goals before moving forward. Miscalculating could annoy your potential customers and advocates — but the risk just might be worth the reward.

Proceed with caution when using the following yellow light social media tactics.

Listening In On Conversations

Most social media managers are familiar with social media monitoring for basic brand terms. You may also have identified key terms that indicate a conversation relevant to your product or brand.

display advertising spy tools
For example, a health food store may monitor terms like [vegan], [vegetarian], or [gluten-free]. When you see conversations happening around those terms, your instinct may be to jump in and talk about the great solutions your brand provides.

Why It Works:

This approach shows you’re listening and paying attention to the problems and issues of potential customers, which is proactive. And hey, your brand could be exactly what customers are looking for.

Why It’s Caution-Worthy:

Unfortunately, this approach can also look a little creepy and invasive. A recent study showed that although most consumers know brands are listening to them via social media, a majority believe that “companies should only respond to online comments made directly to them.”

How to Proceed:

Given what we know about social media users, your first priority should always be responding to all comments made directly to you. After that’s under control, you can evaluate other conversations based on user intent, rather than what you want. If you do step in, make sure it is to be genuinely useful and not overly “sales-y.”

Asking For Shares

On Twitter, it’s, “please RT.” On Facebook, it’s, “Share if you…” and other variations. But basically, we’re talking about any social media call-to-action that specifically asks users to share content. See this example from Subway:


Why it Works:

People are busy. And distracted. And forgetful. If you want your audience to share your posts, sometimes it helps to offer a gentle reminder.

Why It’s Caution-Worthy:

Using this approach too often can make your brand look desperate or bossy. Your fans want to feel appreciated, not like mules constantly being prodded to smuggle your content across the border.

How to Proceed:

If your social media goal is engagement, use this tactic sparingly for your best, most naturally engaging content – stuff that’s on-topic and that you’ve actually spent time on. Measure your shares over time to determine whether they’re bringing you diminishing returns, and watch your unfollow/unlike numbers on days that you post these.


Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus – whenever you push the same posts to more than one network, that’s known as cross-posting.

Why It Works:

Because there are a lot of social media networks out there, and because most of us are too busy to notice duplicate posts from one to the other.

Why It’s Caution-Worthy:

Basically, this could amount to a punishment for your biggest fans — those who have chosen to follow you on more than one network — because you’re failing to provide them with additional value for following you on multiple networks. And that’s not to mention that different social networks have different user bases, etiquette and customs.

How to Proceed:

If you must cross-post because of the number of accounts you’re handling, make sure to use scheduling tools to appropriately space out your updates, and try to alter the language slightly for different social networks.

Off-Topic Posting

Maybe you have a “boring” brand for which it is hard to create engaging content. Maybe you don’t have the budget to create the kind of photos, videos and blog posts you want to share on social media. Whatever the reason, this tactic involves sharing content that has little or nothing to do with your brand or product.


Courtesy MemeGenerator

Why It Works:

The occasional off-topic post on a holiday or just-for-fun meme share on a slow news day can be forgiven and can even make sense – after all, social media is about putting a real personality to a brand.

Why It’s Caution-Worthy:

Too many off-topic posts can make it look like you’re simply pandering to random users to garner empty likes and shares rather than focusing on meaningful engagement.

How to Proceed:

Do the work of finding the aspects of your brand that customers really care about. (If you can’t find those, maybe social media isn’t the solution for your brand.) Make those aspects the guiding principle of your content creation — and if you have to fall back on cat pictures once in a while, it’ll be fine.

Emailing to Google + Circles

If you’re active on Google+, you’ve seen this one: someone sends you an email notification about their new post because you’re in their Google Plus circles.

Why It Works:

Social media is about making connections, and this feature can be a great way get the right information to specific, like-minded friends.

Why It’s Caution-Worthy:

It’s easy to exploit this feature, making it nothing more than an efficient way to annoy a lot of people at once. Sure, they can go change their settings — but now you’ve ruined it for the rest of us.

How to Proceed:

If there’s someone with whom you have an existing relationship — someone you know will love your new post — then feel free to share it with them via email notification. If you’ve never used this option before, can boast a stellar track record of being a good Google+ citizen, and now have a super-important post that you want to make sure certain groups see, then go ahead and send an email notification. Otherwise, think twice. This tactic should be the exception, not the rule.

Inviting to Pinterest Boards

Public Pinterest boards can be community boards where one user can invite other people to pin items.

Why It Works:

Community Pinterest boards can be a great way to get your fans involved, create community around a common interest, and share resources on a specific topic.

Why It’s Caution-Worthy:

Sending out blanket invitations to people and pages entirely unrelated to your industry or boards is a good way to look spammy and lose followers.

How to Proceed:

Use common sense with community boards — evaluate potential invitees based on your existing connection to them or what you have in common before inviting them to connect.

This concludes my review of yellow light social media tactics and how to proceed when using them. Before signing off, let me ask:

What yellow light social media tactics have you encountered? Did I miss the mark on any of these? Let me know in the comments.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Courtney Seiter
Courtney Seiter is a content crafter at Buffer. She has been an editor and writer at publications including Allure, Time Out New York, Playboy and The Tennessean. She speaks frequently on social media marketing and community management topics.

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