How are people still evaluating in follower numbers?

By Ben Harwood

This will be a short blog post. It needs to stop after ‘mildly annoyed’ and before ‘ranting’, which leaves a small window. Also, just so you know, I won’t be reading the comment section. Do with that what you will.

I’d like to dedicate the following to the anonymous author of an anonymous report I read last week. In it they gave a great deal of sage advice around ‘social media marketing’, the zenith of which included:

  1. a) guidance on how to ‘drive-up follower numbers’
  2. b) a sample report tracking growth in said numbers
  3. c) a ranking of the most followed accounts

That last one I’ll let go because I love a top-five list, but the other two should never have made it past 2010. In short, if your primary method of evaluation is still follower numbers, then you’re absolutely doing social media wrong. I don’t care if your boss likes it, or it makes a pretty graph, you’re doing it wrong.

You’re posting on social for a reason right? I’m guessing that reason is to communicate a specific thing, to a specific group of people? (If it’s not, see the previous paragraph). So once you know who you’re trying to reach, what the story you’re trying to tell is, and what you want your audience to do when they interact with that story, then you’ll know which channel(s) you’re looking at, how that audience consumes content, timings that might work for you, and so on.

Which then gives you a steer on how you’ll evaluate what you do.

If you’re nervous, go with users reached – it’s broadly consistent across social networks and whilst it’s not a great metric, it’s a big, overarching number that gives you something to compare and at least says something. Like how many people you might be talking to.

If you’re brave, go with the engagement metrics – how far through your video people watched on average, how many people put your content in front of their connections, keyword use over a specific period, link clicks – those that best suit what you wanted your audience to do. Yes, the number will be a lot smaller, you’ll have to do some work to explain that your social strategy hasn’t just fallen off a cliff and you probably won’t win a big award, but you’ll be honest and virtuous and everyone who works in social will (secretly) admire you.

Now, where in that did you see how many people follow you?

I’m sure we’ve all worked on, or with, a) accounts with colossal follower numbers and content that basically nobody engages with, and b) accounts with small, concentrated communities of online folks who passionately spread the social word far beyond the boundaries of their immediate audience.

I’m sure we’ve all worked with bosses who proudly announce follower numbers in meetings, whilst you silently grind your teeth into outraged dust.

I’m sure we’ve all had to explain that whilst follower numbers obviously play a role in content reach, one million users following your page doesn’t mean that one million people are handed every post you write, gift-wrapped and labelled, or anything anywhere near that.

I’m sure we’ve all started to explain the Facebook algorithm and found ourselves trailing-off halfway through.

I’m sure we’re all guilty of boasting about our community size when we were young, carefree and drinking prosecco at a breakfast work thing but it was fine ‘cus it was a Friday and it’d been a hard week.

What I’m really trying to say is, free yourself. If collectively, everyone promises never to evaluate on follower numbers again, or if they really must, to at least write a caveat so blatant it takes up 75% of the email, then we’ll all be able to march towards a bold future of actually working out who’s reading our stuff.

And whilst I’m at it, we can cut out that ‘hashtag impressions’ crap as well.

Subject for another blog piece.

Sorry, that wasn’t so short after all.

Do feel better though.


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