Social Media Growth: The Art of the Throwaway

If you work in social media, there’s a demon that possesses you. It’s the demon of failed engagement, which is an outgrowth of one’s ego (Do they find me engaging?) and one’s fear (If they don’t, then have I lost my mojo?). Personal pronouns apply, even if you represent a brand, because you, me, I–as the brand–are the voices speaking, creating, and engaging. In a sense, you become the brand, extending your voice through the brand and connecting personally as the brand.

As the brand, failure can hurt … personally! Having done this for nearly ten years, I’ve failed miserably on a celestial scale. Currently, like the space trash crowding Earth’s orbit, thousands of my failures float unengaged throughout the social media universe. And with each failure of engagement, there was hurt; there was the little demon–born of ego and fear–whispering intimately that I too had failed in some way. This personal intimacy, the melding of self and brand, is the great sickness of social media management. But after a long journey, I’ve finally discovered a cure.

It’s the Art of the Throwaway.

To Win The War, A Few Battles Lost

Working in social media, I’ve always taken great pride in quality content. Yes, “quality” is a subjective term, but on an actionable level, it’s the practice of deep thought, strategic writing, and long-term planning. Adhere to these social media actions, and you shift–in your favor–the subjective; you move “quality” closer to an external control as opposed to an internal whim.

But despite your best efforts (i.e., thought, strategy, planning), not everything is gonna hit in terms of engagement. A strong action plan will insure social media success holistically, but like some great war, it’s a culmination of battles won (more) and battles lost (less) that leads to permanent victory.

It’s in these losses–the lack of engagement–that you feel the pain. If you’re winning the war, these small losses shouldn’t hurt, but they do. A brand wounded is a personal wound to the social media manager … unless he or she can find value in failure. And one can find value–immense value–in throwing engagement away if it serves the greater good.

The Art Of The Gambit

The Art of the Throwaway isn’t simply “trash.” It’s the conscious and mentally-freeing act of strategically throwing something away. It has value, and this value has precedent in the “gambit”–a sacrifice in chess that produces an advantage–and in football–throwing the ball away to prevent a loss. And in social media, the Art of the Throwaway serves a double advantage: 1) as an active/forward-thinking strategy, and 2) as a retroactive application to “unstick” your ego and fear.

The Art of the Social Media Throwaway is a simple philosophy: one posts and one fails (we’ll define “failure” in a bit), but it all supports a larger goal which is brand life or (for a better visual) brand breath. Because for your brand, each social media post–even the throwaway–constitutes a breath of life, a signal to your audience of participation and engagement.

As a forward-thinking strategy, the Art of the Throwaway is a commitment to social media output … i.e., you win some, you lose some, but to win and lose, you must constantly and consistently play. As a retroactive application, the Art of the Throwaway allows you to look back on failed engagement and find success in the simple act of posting. Because when engagement is lacking, ego and fear subside under the holistic strategy of “life” … that a post thrown away still has singular value as a brand’s breath taken.

A How-To On Throwing Away

As within any art, the Art of the Social Media Throwaway has rules. The act of strategically throwing something away is much more than just wad, release, and forget. That’s called “trash.” To throwaway–like the gambit in chess–isn’t a thing … “trash.” It’s a verb … an active and strategic move that leads to value and (the opposite of “trash”) creationism. But like the gambit, the Art of the Social Media Throwaway is dependent on certain conditions.

First, quality is job one in social media, and through the lens of the social media manager, even the throwaway post is a faithful attempt at quality. Sometimes, your quality isn’t everyone’s quality … it might be a matter of timing or mood or simply this … you missed the mark (it happens). These failures can be justified as throwaways (a brand’s breath), but if they lack quality, they are labored breaths, signals to your audience that the brand doesn’t want to be alive and relational.

Second, the line between “trash” and the throwaway is dependent upon the whole. If the whole is “consistent silence,” that’s apathy. Against this backdrop, “periodic quality” is nothing more than desperation. And apathy and desperation … they’re always trash. The throwaway … it’s an earned luxury, one that’s dependent upon what surrounds it. And this surrounding must be consistent quality and consistent quantity! These consistencies provide a dedicated fanbase, a fanbase that doesn’t flinch when you throw one away.

Lastly, the throwaway is technically a “failure” (in terms of engagement). But (and I said I’d get to this) “failure” is a relative term. In my world, “failure” has a loose relationship to average engagement over three years … it’s purely subjective. Consequently, the throwaway isn’t a hardline theory; there’s no dependency on firm numbers or clear data. It’s a passive validation for “perceived” failure (a salve to the ego and fear); it’s also an active strategy … a gambit … a sacrifice … a rap on the door to remind listeners that your brand’s still (always!) alive. In any sense, it’s not a metric or an analytic. There’s neither a hard trigger (i.e., “failure” as a specific number) nor a measurable outcome (i.e., How does one quantify the value of a single breath?)

“Strategy” … When There’s Nothing To Do

In the movie Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Holmes, over a game of chess, says this:

A winning strategy sometimes necessitates sacrifice.

A winning strategy in social media sometimes necessitates the sacrifice of engagement. This sacrifice can deliver both a moral victory (maintaining your sanity in the chaotic game of “engagement”) and a brand victory (breathing life into your social media). The Art of the Throwaway is a sacrifice, but long-term and holistically, it’s a winning strategy.

Strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do.Chess Grandmaster Savielly Tartakower

Failed engagement is that “nothing to do” moment. An opportunity served that goes ignored by your audience … this is an unfixable tick in time. It’s the one joke that falls flat, the one scene that sparks boredom, the one bad sentence in a long story. Once set in stone … filmed, written, spoken, posted … there is “nothing to do” and thus, only one good strategy: the Art of the Throwaway.

Originally published at

Social media expert, higher education advocate, writer, Founding Fathers fan, lawyer in a past life