Learning from Failing


Social media is the one and only job I’ve ever had where success or failure is measured instantly. Your audience either “likes” it, or they don’t. And that can be a bit of an ego bruiser.

If only creating a successful Facebook post was as easy as making instant rice:

  1. Pour idea into bowl
  2. Add photo
  3. Stir in text
  4. Simmer for 5 minutes
  5. Fluff with fork and serve to audience


Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

Posting to Facebook can be a bit like making rice the old fashioned way. Put all your ingredients into the pot. Turn on the heat. Wait. Sometimes it turns out perfectly fluffy and delicious. Other times it’s burned to the bottom of the pan.

During my career as a graphic designer I’ve done a lot of things: I’ve worked in a print shop, a newspaper, a performing arts center, a media company. Yadda, yadda. The success of my projects – each advertisement, each brochure, each campaign – could eventually be measured (to a degree), but sometimes it was impossible to know for sure just how successful one piece was. And knowing the success of a piece was never immediate. Until now.

Ohhhh social media – you ego booster (or spirit crusher) – you.

This month’s blog is not about tips and tricks. It’s not a list of ways to improve. It’s not a how-to guide for the newest design app. This blog post is a virtual pat on the back, an empathetic hug, an affirmation to let you know that it’s OK to create a post that fails. It’s going to happen. It is not a direct reflection of your skills as a wordsmith, videographer, designer or social media professional.

In the wise words of Oprah, “There are no wrong paths, there are none. There’s no such thing as failure, really. Because failure is just that ‘thing’ trying to move you in another direction. So you get as much from your losses as you do from your victories. Cause the losses are there to wake you up.”

How can you wake up after a loss? How can you move in another direction? Start with paying attention to the lessons learned from the loss. Here are Colorado State University, we have paid attention well enough to know that some things just don’t work very well on our Facebook page.

Facebook Fails

Sharing content from another page – When we share content, reach goes way down. Even if content is good, the post typically does not perform well.

Events are hard – Nearly 82% of our Facebook audience lives outside of Fort Collins, making local events irrelevant to their situation. Twitter is generally a better avenue for promoting events.

Links with bad images – Be sure to customize your link posts on Facebook. If you post a link to a story, remember that you can upload your own art. Do this when the art that’s automatically generated does not meet your standards… or is just not engaging. PS – you can also change the text in links. 


Sometimes annual projects can be successful one year, then fail epically the next. Why does this happen? Is it the content of the project or the way it’s delivered? For example, every February Colorado State University celebrates Founders Day. It’s the day Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act designating CSU as a land grant institution. It’s not a particularly glamorous holiday, but we still need to find creative ways to tell this important piece of CSU’s story.

In 2015, I created a narrated Illustration that gave a pretty simple overview of CSU’s history and the importance of Founders Day. This was a very popular post on our Facebook page. It reached 154,752 people, had 57,000 views, received over 1,400 likes and was shared almost 600 times.



When Founders Day rolled around again in 2016, the pressure was on. I tried to think of a fun, new way to create a video that would tell the story. This time, using a life-size cardboard stand-up of Abraham Lincoln, we placed him in various spots around campus. He narrated the history of Founders Day in a super casual, social voice. Sounds like a great idea, right? Maybe not. This year’s video only reached 36,235 people, was viewed 8,000 times and received a measly 306 likes. Where’s that palm-to-face emoji when you need it? But hold on, why did this video fail?


I believe we over-did it with Abe this year. Earlier that day we posted a ‘Happy Birthday’ graphic with a screen grab from the video. We saw it as a fun little tease, a prelude to the video. The graphic was wildly popular. In fact, it out-performed our typical photo posts by about 200% so we can only deduct that our fans must have been over-exposed by the time we posted the video later that afternoon. Or maybe our fans didn’t realize it was something completely different.

So what what was our take-away? Don’t overdo it. Even when you have a good thing. Sometimes – most times – less is more.



Ok, so your photo / video / graphic / witty text bombed. It happens to the best of us. Now what?

Have grit. Be persistent. Learn from your mistakes. Don’t try too hard. Find a take-away. But most of all, hang in there. Don’t doubt your creative talent and don’t be afraid to try ideas that are out-of-the-box. Just remember the wise words of SNL’s Stuart Smalley, “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.”