You'd better accept it now: your January detox is bound to fail. The British Liver Trust has described short-term New Year abstinence as 'medically futile', but we don't need scientists to tell us that attempting to embrace salads and spinning classes at what is possibly the darkest, coldest and most anticlimactic time of year is dumb. Instead, I recommend you stock the boardroom with biscuits and motivate your team to shed some flabby social media habits in time for spring.

Marketers are always being told what to do in social media, but they're rarely told what to cut loose. So here are three toxic behaviours that commonly clog brands' communication colons, with ideas for how to cut them out.

Old habit # 1: Monitoring without listening. The importance of social media listening has become such a well-worn truism that it can be hard to remember what it really means. It does not mean paying for the most basic Sysmos service, slapping a bunch of graphs into PowerPoint, then sending them round in a monthly email that no-one reads. It does mean drilling down into specific conversations, so that you can understand the motivations and advocates. It does mean listening for what isn't there – such as finding the places where your competitors are being talked about but you are not, and asking why. And it does mean making sure that everyone in the company takes ownership of celebrating, stimulating and learning from your word of mouth.

New habit # 1: Qualitative weekly alerts. In practice, specific human stories inspire colleagues far more than impressive-looking quantitative reports. Assign a different member of your team to create a company-wide, super-short, super-visual social listening alert each week (use Email Monks to make it look easily digestible and appealing). This should contain one concrete example of conversation about your brand, competitors or category; one insight that piece of content demonstrates; and one suggestion for what the company might do in response.

Old habit #2: Relying on vanity metrics. The bullshit triumvirate of likes, followers and fans might look good on paper, but chasing empty social actions leads to meaningless content strategies. Frankly, the most valuable word of mouth – the personal recommendations that spread beyond your control and out of your sight, offline as well as on – will always be the hardest to capture. Nevertheless, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) is currently corralling a heavyweight panel of academics, brands and agencies in an attempt to develop a rigorous model in language marketers understand. Until then, remember that you need to weight your social metrics according to their level of emotional engagement (a passionate blog post matters more than a neutral tweet; a Facebook share with an added recommendation matters more than one without). That way, you know you're starting to measure advocacy.

New habit #2: Integrate conversation metrics with business metrics. Set business (not social) objectives and KPIs, and value your social media activity accordingly. Try to run pilot projects that solely use word of mouth as a marketing tool, so you can compare the results to other programmes. Benchmark your presences and volume of conversation against competitors. Ask advocates what effect their relationship with the brand has had on their purchasing and recommending behaviour. And employ trackable tactics (such as discount codes) to isolate WOM-driven sales and footfall.

Old habit #3: Obsessing over Facebook and Twitter. Social networking, opinion-forming and recommendation-sharing happens everywhere – on photo-sharing sites, in football team forums, at school gates. If your social media strategy is confined to consumer-facing tweets, you've kind of missed the point. Colleagues, partners, suppliers and clients are all potential advocates, and most online sharing is sparked by disruptive, emotional experiences that occur in real life.

New habit #3: Make your out-of-office messages conversational. It's amazing how strongly emotions are roused, and word is spread, when you apply a conversational approach to the least obvious areas of your business. Brainstorm ways in which you can add a touch of personality, wit or unexpected functionality to your invoices, post-meeting takeaways or delivery boxes, for example.

Of course, you shouldn't stop at three. Use this month to examine your social media assumptions, oust unspoken constraints and raise difficult issues around budgets, ethics and skills. You might not yet have all the answers, but even just framing the questions will set you up for a more purposeful and productive year.

This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of Admap. Click here for subscription information.