Gosh, no! It’s not about the numbers!

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Close-up of a rolled up Indian one hundred rupee banknote on a chessboard with chess piecesI’m talking about Twitter here, people. Your follower count does matter. Admit it – it’s addicting and you want more.

In a recent post by Mack Collier titled “The fast food approach to social media,” he stated:

Getting 5,000 fans on a Facebook fan page is NOT a social media strategy. Getting 200 followers on Twitter is NOT a social media strategy. Facebook and Twitter are tactics used to execute a social media strategy, getting on Facebook and Twitter is not a social media strategy.

Mack worries that a shady agency or consultant will take any willing candidate who just wants a lot of followers and wants them now and that many assume follower and friend counts on Twitter and Facebook are the metrics to determine a successful social media strategy.

I completely agree with Mack here. My “XYZ” client having 20,000 followers doesn’t mean a thing if they aren’t the “right followers” (as Mack says: “But unless those 500 followers either do business with you, or have some level of influence over the people that WILL do business with you, then they are all but worthless to you.”).

What Mack’s post did get me thinking about though is how tired I am of hearing the “it’s ok that I only have 800 followers (even though I’ve been on Twitter for 2 years). Numbers don’t mean a thing.”

Whatever.

There is a reason certain people on Twitter have 30,000 + followers! Seems it’s an art form for some! They are obviously doing something right.

Do I believe that at some point people simply follow thinking “well they must be good if they have 30,000 followers…?” Yes – the number is essentially inflated with those half-interested followers. But I, for example, am definitely not the greatest thing since sliced bread. I don’t have 80,000 Twitter followers. But I do have some followers. And yes I want more. Thus, I try to tweet remotely useful (that’s a stretch) and/or semi-funny (at least funny to me and maybe @daniellecyr) information.

:)

Give me your input. I’m expecting “it’s not all about the numbers, Kate.” In the end without engagement and community, 30,000 followers is useless to anyone. But 30,000 trumps 800 when it comes to anyone actually seeing your message.

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  • keegan_shoutz

    I totally agree! Having a large number of followers is GREAT when you want to disseminate a message to a large audience. However, if these audience members or followers aren't going to buy your product or as Mack said “do business” with you, then your message is lost and your efforts were somewhat pointless. I guess it depends on your goal of the message. Are you simply sending it out to inform? If so, then a large number of followers, regardless of who they are, might be okay. If you're trying to inspire action however, which most PR people are, it's better to have an audience that will actually DO something. In the sense of inspiring action with a large number of followers who simply aren't interested, we've lost the connection.

  • http://twitter.com/rebeccadenison Rebecca Denison

    I have to agree with you. I think we all know that no matter what, you need to have engaged followers to get anything done, but there is something to be said for just having 80,000 followers.

    I admit that when I get that e-mail telling me someone new is following me, I judge immediately based on how many followers the person has (or more specifically their follower to following ratio). If someone has say 300 followers as opposed to 45, I'm way more likely to click through to their profile and decide whether I want to follow back.

    Followers do matter. Plain and simple. Perhaps they shouldn't, and they are definitely not the biggest metric you should focus on, but they still matter.

  • http://www.BeyondThePedway.com Tim Jahn

    True to an extent. Depends on your goals.

    For example, if you're a news organization whose goal is to distribute news to as wide a range of people as possible, then having 654,000 Twitter followers is much more useful to you than having 154.

    But if that news organization is concentrated on a local audience, then having 653,000 followers from a city clear across the nation and only 1,000 from their home city isn't very useful.

    At the end of the day, it's simple math. The more followers you have, the more people you reach, the more chance of your content being seen.

    The “who” is a totally different story. But the “who” varies for each person.

  • jeffespo

    Kate – you make some great points here. In terms of a company, 500 followers could be just as good as 20,000. The reason being is that a bot can get you that many followers in a matter of weeks. The real value is in the members of your community and what they bring back to your business in terms of dollars.

    With that said the follower number to a person is also valuable. Now I know that we are all vain and want to get the number as high as possible. You can also call it the value of your audience and pulpit. Don't worry, we all do it so its not bad to admit it.

    That number is also valuable to your company or a future employer. Chances are that if you are being brought in as a SM consultant, advisor or some other concocted position – the employer is going to take a look at your numbers. Like it or not, you'll have to explain why your numbers are low or how you got them so high.

  • kmskala

    I'm not concerned with how many people follow me. I'm not concerned with lists. I'm not online to promote myself or my content. If someone things what I say is intelligent, great. I have no interest in building the “Kasey” brand through Twitter. What I do have an interest in is producing actual results for my clients. I let my work speak for me. A lot of people have a lot of followers, but how many of them are simply saying the right things and not producing offline?

    My work will speak for itself and when it comes time to get new clients, find a new job, or whatever it may be, the fact that I can go and say “I achieved this” will speak volumes over “I have 20, 000 followers so I must be smart.”

    To each their own. It works for the Solis and Brogans, but for the vast majority who aren't focusing on branding themselves, quit looking at numbers and go produce something valuable.

  • http://bittyboop.wordpress.com/ Brittany James

    I totally agree! Friends of mine are always looking to increase their number and I've had to tell them on several occasions that Twitter is not a friendship contest. When it comes to Facebook, I find myself sometimes deleting people. SM should never be a contest to increase your numbers but when it comes to Twitter, there should definitely be some thought into pressing the “Follow” button.

  • http://twitter.com/KOttavio Kate Ottavio

    Absolutely. I like the point you bring up, Brittany – much appreciated. Related to this…In my year on Twitter, I have blocked many people. People who I know are bots, people who just creep me out, or people I know who follow, follow, follow and once you follow them back, they unfollow you (hi, 12,000 followers and 200 following).

  • http://twitter.com/KOttavio Kate Ottavio

    My apologies – I should have said “everyone wants more followers, except Kasey Skala.”

    I understand where you are going with you “producing results for clients,” but in all honesty, when I attend a seminar on social media and the person speaking has 200 followers I do ask myself, “what do they know that I don’t?” I’m a true believer in knowing what you are doing on your own (call it a brand, or not) before you know what you are doing for a client. Every speaking engagement I do on social media, I stress that people mess up in SM. I’m grateful that I experimented on my own for quite some time for free with only my own reputation at stake before diving in to client work for a paycheck.

    Your statement “quit looking at numbers and go produce something valuable” leaves something to be desired as few clients accept anything less than impressive numbers when it comes to SM. What do you deem valuable? How do you measure your SM success? In fact, we should be looking at the numbers.

    At the end of the day, if you can produce qualitative and quantitative results for your clients and deliver that, all the best to you.

  • kmskala

    Seriously, if someone had 200 followers you assume they don't know anything? I know plenty of senior PR folks who have very little followers or aren't on SM that blow most of the people with 20k followers out of the water. Twitter and blogs don't mean knowledge, my friend.

    It's this closed-minded thinking around social that needs to be fixed. We're blinded by these fancy tools that we forget what it is that defines success in the online space. If you're goal is to simply spam and push content, then focus on followers. But you don't need a million followers to increase sales, build a loyal customer base and share your message. Also, keep in mind that it depends on what your goal is. I've yet to meet a client that understands social come to me and say get me 100K followers. It reminds me of those who's only goal was to “get on Oprah” when in fact, that was the wrong placement.

  • mikeschaffer

    Hooray, measurement chat!

    This is a neverending debate – what are you looking for: quality or quantity?

    I'll add two points:

    - More so than MY number of followers, I'm motivated by the number of followers my followers have. This is a more accurate portrayal your potential network reach. Imagine everyone following you re-tweeted your message. If you have 800 followers, but THEY have a combined 1,000,000 followers, it could be more impactful than a larger network of “smaller” accounts.

    - “Following” is an interesting term. It implies long-term, which includes growth. Today's person with 90 followers could one day in the (not too distant) future, be a Twitter rockstar. We all started at 0, remember?

    Some clients/people LOVE the big number and work towards it. Others tend to favor engagement and activation. Neither is wrong, but I will always side with the high-impact strategy over the “consume-mass-quantities” one. (Yes, I threw in a 1970s Saturday Night Live reference. Deal with it.)

  • http://twitter.com/KOttavio Kate Ottavio

    Exactly what I said….<sarcasm>

    I think it and I'm sure many others do as well. I've sat at a table during a summit with people looking the speaker’s follower count and then looking disappointed afterwards. What do you mean by blow them out of the water? With traditional or new media practices?

    Yes – I do agree that spamming and disengagement are no-nos in the SM space. However, I strongly disagree that my statements in this blog post are close-minded and should not be lumped in “with the rest of ‘em.” I might just be one comfortable saying what others might be thinking.

  • kmskala

    Re: close-minded – the social space as a whole is in a bubble. I think those that simply focus on numbers as a means to success are close-minded. Was not directed toward you at all.

    Re: “blow you out of water” – As an integrated and well-rounded professional.

    I simply find it hard to evaluate someone's intellectual value by the number of people who “follow” him/her. There's no real science, in my opinion, in validating someone simply because I don't know why you or anyone else is following someone. Twitter has turned somewhat into a social gathering where we strive to be liked by people – “oh, he's friends with X, so I better follow him.” I'm more interested in the “why” rather than the “how many.”

  • http://twitter.com/davidcrandall David Crandall

    The numbers represent actual people…and it is definitely about the people. So yes, it is about the number of people. It does matter.

    For everyone who says that numbers don't matter, I don't understand you. Even the examples in these comments don't make sense to me. If you have a ton of followers but can't inspire them to action, then you need to listen up. Your followers have told you that they like something you are doing. If you can't call them to action, change how you are making that call! If you are a news organization and have 653,000 follower from across country and only 1000 from home, how on earth is that bad? Those more than half a million people say you're doing something right. Target them instead!

    As someone who has less than 200 followers, I'm amazed at how many valuable things I've learned from the people that have graced me enough to follow me. I can only imagine how much more I would learn from a larger audience.

    And quite frankly…having a few thousand followers would make ME feel like a rockstar. I mean, seriously! Who wouldn't feel awesome if that many people were willing to be your audience! (and no, I'm not talking about an army of bots. Ha!)

    And THAT, is my $.02.

  • @jaykeith

    I have to side with Kate on this.

    Kasey I understand your viewpoint (and agree on some points), but I think you're looking at things through rose colored glasses. Unfortunately, as Kate points out, oftentimes perception is reality. Someone who has a high number of followers and a large audience is going to be held in higher esteem by the vast majority of the SM community than someone with just a few followers. It's a fact, like it or not. Now that's not to say that just because you have 10K followers you're an “expert,” but you certainly have a lot of people want to listen to what you have to say. And in the end, isn't that what SM is all about, building up an audience that wants more of your content and what you're providing? For companies, individuals, and anyone in between that's very much the case I would say. You mentioned Brogan and Solis, do you think they'd be where they are today with 100 followers? You're kidding yourself if the answer is yes. I understand your point about providing value, etc. but the two go hand in hand, and as your content is shared, your numbers grow. But without paying attention to the audience and working to attract more followers, you're only going to plateau, at best. Maybe you don't have to focus solely on numbers, but to Kate's point, most of us want to build up a bigger following as we go along.

    I think that many times there are those that just jump into SM to “be here” and aren't concerned about numbers, etc. That's fine. But for many it's a matter of building up an audience of contacts, friends, leads, customers and at the end of the day, credibility.

  • http://twitter.com/smt504 Sarah Tiambeng

    I agree. I think that the number of followers is a vanity thing. If anything, it is a great gauge of if you are putting out useful content. If people are continuing to follow you regardless of whether or not you follow them in return, it means that you are making an impact somewhere.

    In a practical sense, the number of followers really shouldn't matter as much because even if a person has 4958340598 followers, there is no way anyone can keep track of them and truly engaging with all of them. No matter how many followers a person has, most interact with a consistent few.

  • kmskala

    You touched on a key point – what your goals are. Maybe I'm in the minority, but as someone who's not on Twitter (personally) to get leads or build a following, numbers don't matter. For me, Twitter is simply a place to find like-minded people, share content and learn. I don't think I need a large following to do any of that.

    For someone such as yourself (or Brogan & Solis, since I brought them up) where you're a solo, trying to sell your products/services, then maybe numbers can be valuable. While you mention that Brogan & Solis wouldn't be who they are without numbers, Godin has made a name for himself without these social platforms and numbers to base intelligence off. He did it by producing results.

    For brands, again, it goes back to what Mack had mentioned – do you want 10,000 fans that do nothing or 1000 that are loyal and actually spend $$ on your product and share your story?

    I'm not trying to disagree simple to disagree, and I definitely see some validity in both your points and Kate's, as well. I mentioned to Kate in private that we all have egos and yes, we all strive to be “known” and “accepted.” Does a part of me look at my followers? Absolutely, but for my personal goals and reasons, I shake it off.

    I'll take my <2000 followers and go home now! Thanks for the discussion, you two.

  • http://twitter.com/davidcrandall David Crandall

    The cool thing is if someone has 4958340598 followers, they have almost the entire planet following them!!!

    ;)

  • http://copywriteink.com/ Rich Becker

    Kate,

    Numbers are always part of the equation because it represents reach. But let's face facts. When people become nothing more than numbers, then you've already lost.

    Best,
    Rich

  • http://www.thelacproject.com/ JeromeC

    I like to have a lot of followers in my Twitter account, too, but the bad side is… just some of them is reading my message or commenting to it and sadly, I can label them as strangers than friends… In other words, they're nothing. Point: It's better to have a strong bonds with your friends. They can really help you a lot.

  • http://www.twitter.com/stephdem Stephanie DeMeester

    Great discussion here! I have to agree with most of the other commenters. Think about it as looking at someone's resume. Some employers may only give your resume 15 seconds. I think the same goes for Twitter. You see that someone new is following you, so you take about 15 seconds to check out their profile…including their follower numbers as part of the decision to follow them back.

    That said, I don't think someone's follower or following count is necessarily representative of quality, brand-building relationships. Just because you have 3,000 people following you, doesn't mean all 3,000 will actually see every one of your tweets. We all know Twitter is about engagement. Part of the 15-second scan may also be looking to see how many @ replies someone has. If the person or brand is just pushing information and not engaging or RTing others, then I'm likely not to follow unless it's information I want pushed on me.

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