making sense of social

Followers and fans are just useless numbers

numbersI don’t care that your Twitter profile has thousands of followers or if your Facebook fan page has thousands of fans. Until you can show the value of those users they are just meaningless numbers.

Social media marketing is full of metrics that can impress clients such as follower count, but until they are put in context they mean absolutely nothing. If your Twitter account has 1000 followers that may seem good, but when you some research and find that all of your competitors have at least 3,000 followers, the sheen wears off.

These numbers are used to agencies to show their work as being successful. It’s largely a runoff from the social media industry being co-opted by the PR world, obsessed with hollow figures such as opportunities to see. They see the number of followers a brand has a direct translation to opportunity to see brand messages. They promise that they can get a Facebook fan page X number of followers in X amount of time, and because it’s relatively easy to do so, they can deliver. And so they give the impression they’ve been successful because they’ve delivered what they told you they would. This does not mean that it’s been a successful social media campaign though, far from it.

If they aren’t engaging with users, having conversations, learning what consumers think and want then ultimately it’s a failure. So what if every time you put out a message 1000 people have the opportunity to see it, if no one cares about, understands or wants to see the message, then it’s pointless. Just as pointless (and potentially dangerous) as getting PR coverage about a new burger in a vegetarian magazine would be.

Social media isn’t just about reach, it’s about engagement. Until you start putting follower numbers into context, and showing the value of these followers then they’re just meaningless numbers.


About the author

This post was written by Mike Phillips

Plannery type person with silly side projects. Not to be trusted.

Follow them on twitter: @imjustmike

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  1. Philip Sheldrake |

    Spot on Mike. I’m with you. I think you may have seen my presentation on the matter, so hope you don’t mind me finishing this comment with a link to it so others can start to agree with thee and me and we might get more followers and everything :-)

  2. Deborah Strickland |

    This is my #1 pain point on a daily basis. It is a constant problem planning my projects with real benefits and long-term engagement but at the end of the day – upper mgmt gets all jazzed when they see big numbers (and they have no idea what it means). They are focused on single point executions and not the ongoing daily care/feeding that social media requires to be of any real value. They expect each successive project to be bigger/more/larger than the last (even if they’re not related, or different audience) and only declare success if the numbers grow up and to the right. The reality of appealing to the shiny object syndrome is taking over the real value of what could be done with social media. It’s quite disconcerting.

  3. Sheri Candler |

    my god Mike Phillips, I have found my soul mate! I can’t tell you how many people have sent me a link to the whatthefuckismysocialmediastrategy site in the last few days and then sent me here. How did you get into my head? Now to convince everyone else that numbers aren’t the real deal…

  4. canan |

    I have to say you are absolutely right!!!
    I am now mostly on twitter to see what news are going around and contact to other tweeps is very rare…

  5. Dave |

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Its kinds of funny though depending on what site you are looking at. EX: myspace bands have fans, and really the only point for them is to have a huge number of friends so they look impressive. It doesn’t matter who they are or if they are actually interested in the band.

    Real social media strategy is exhausting. It takes hours of commitment and total engagement with your audience. Check out our twitter and you’ll see what I mean… there are 2 of us going at it basically half the day each.

  6. Rachel K |

    Yes! I agree. I do PR, marketing and promotions for musicians. Agreed, numbers are useless. There are four words I use to describe to my clients what their social media campaign should be. Unique, creative, engaging and fun. In their own voice ENGAGE, ENGAGE, ENGAGE! Otherwise it is all for not. I am just starting a campaign with a musician Erin McKeown if anyone wants to watch and comment feel free!

    She is doing a tour to celebrate the 10th anniversary of her debut album. We are taking a walk down memory lane and encouraging the fans to come with her. I have all her facebook and twitter messages planned out on a calendar, she just needs to post them in her own voice with downloads and video etc. Should be fun! We are opting to do this more aggressively and spend the time here rather than go for press. Word of mouth is the #1 marketing tool. We going to try to create it as big as we can.


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