When I first started working with social media, back in 2008, Twitter was still relatively new. Instagram hadn’t even been launched (suddenly I feel old). Getting as many followers as possible was important – just because you wanted an audience; anything would do. But how important is growing an audience today? Here are some reasons why quantity is not the metric to worry about.
Let’s not pretend we’re not bothered by follower numbers. They are important. After all, without them, your only hope of being seen is by making comments on, or replying to others’, posts. In itself, this is totally fine. Arguably, engaging with others is the default modus operandi of any social media account. But obtaining a following is a way to increase the chance you can talk to people who like what you’re thinking.
In marketing terms, people always talk about ‘audience’. Who is our audience? Who are we talking to? What is their ‘avatar’ and so on.
Yes, people who tend to follow you on a platform are probably more interested in hearing what you are saying than those who know about you and are not.
It’s also true that humans tend to have a herd mentality, following accounts that look popular.
A friend of mine (not in the marketing world) once suddenly increased her Facebook page followers for her business by more than 1,000. I asked her whether she had bought followers, and if she had, why.
Her argument was actually convincing:
‘I know they aren’t real, but if someone looks at the page and sees a reasonable number, then I look as if the business is validated’.
After a bit of huffing and puffing, I thought about the thought process here and the practicalities. It was surprisingly easy to get off my social media high horse. If you think about it, it does make sense -that initial reaction is true, people would look at a number and make a decision on it.
If that initial decision made genuine followers like the page, that initial kick-start would have paid off.
Think about the many ‘gurus’ there are online. Perhaps your favourite PT or influencer on Instagram. If they have more than 10,000 followers and use the swipe-up feature, don’t they just look more credible? You’d follow someone with more than 10,000 followers over someone with 100, right?
When was the last time you checked whether an account’s followers were real?
But this is all a bit like finding a match on Tinder and turning up on the date to realise the person you were speaking to is 20 years older than you thought and is better at conversation via text than in person.
Or worse, the date just doesn’t show up.
What is the point of gaining an audience that doesn’t ever talk to you? That is never going to buy from you?
In fact, this doesn’t just apply to the buying of followers. It also applies to gaining the wrong type of followers.
I’m assuming that there is a purpose to your marketing activities. That, in growing your audience, you’d like them to buy something from you. Or do something with you, even if that’s just talking to you. If not, well, to me, that all seems a bit of a waste of your time.
An audience that matches the typical person/company that purchases from you or, if you’re not at that point yet, the typical person/company that you’d like, seems a much better audience to try to obtain. If you can speak directly to them, in a focused way, where they recognise the topics of discussion, this will help them on their journey to working with you.
If your followers are fairly similar (in the sense they meet your criteria as potential customers) then you can consistently show the value that working with you brings, or the great fit your products are for them.
You don’t need to veer wildly off topic trying to appeal to a wider audience.
Admittedly, the fake followers won’t care what you actually talk about, but many platforms use the level of engagement as representative of the quality of an account which will, in turn, dictate whether your content gets seen by the platform’s users.
Facebook has been clear since early 2018 that it wants ‘meaningful interactions between people’ (Zuckerberg speaking himself here). Your business should want that, too.
When algorithms dictate what users see, users will inevitably see more from pages that have good standing with the platform. Imagine how any algorithm deems a business that has a very low percentage of its followers not engaging with it (eg if you bought followers).
Imagine you have two shops in the district where you live. They pretty much sell similar things. One of them is run by someone who looks grumpy and hardly speaks when he serves you. The other shop owner chats to you about the weather, asks how you are and so on. Which do you prefer?
Which do you gravitate towards the next time you need something?
Every business has the opportunity to talk to the followers it has earned. To ask how they are, to enquire how their business is doing, or to chat about their dog/kids/day. Every business has the opportunity for their genuinely engaged followers to feel more attached to their business and to consider it when they need something.
Weinberg and Berger (paper here) propose that Customer Social Media Value is a multiplier of a customer’s lifetime value. To summarise, a customer who has a higher CLV is more vested in the brand and so social media engagement with such a person will, on average, have greater impact.
“The more engaged a customer is with different social media, the greater is his/her influence on others.”
The study goes on to argue that different social media produce different effects on the depth of engagement dependent on the functionality within it.
The paper is perhaps too old to be as relevant as it could be (for example, it’s written before the story format), but I think the basic premise rings true. Where users feel engaged with an account, they must surely be more top of mind when needing the services or products of that company.
I often cite Innocent Drinks as a great example of a brand that has an engaged audience. Take a look at the tweets & replies section of their Twitter account and the ratio of tweets they initiate and those that are replies to their audience. Highly weighted in favour of replies, the brand encourages dialogue with it. About anything.
5 MOST DRAMATIC MOMENTS IN TV HISTORY:— innocent drinks (@innocent) June 13, 2019
5. End of Breaking Bad Season 4
4. Game of Thrones Red Wedding
I don’t have any metrics on what that has done for sales, but I’d have a pretty good guess they have great brand recognition and that Innocent is the first smoothie their followers choose when they decide they need to quickly increase their fruit/veg content.
The key point here is that Innocent go out and get it. They don’t broadcast.
Without engagement, the reality is that you have no idea if your audience is worth having. You can’t identify loyal customers with a higher customer lifetime value, from those who are bots. You run the risk of spouting ‘information’ at people rather than engaging with those who have the potential to purchase.
Here are some actions you should take with all this in mind:
Finally, have patience. This building of genuine audiences takes time, but it’s worth it.