In one sense, social media offers all brands the same blank slate: no one starts off with thousands or millions of followers. Adding another social media account, regardless of the platform, means having to build your audience from the ground up.
Similarly, the factors that tend to influence the number of followers a brand attracts are also pretty standard.
You need to post content that offers genuine value.
You need to show up consistently.
It’s also important to engage with other social media users -- whether they’re following you or not -- in a genuinely conversational way.
As your follower count builds up, it’s pretty normal to equate that number with success. Many marketers will suggest otherwise, however.
If your follower count is big but their degree of engagement is low, for example, there’s not a lot of value.
You might post updates to your blog, but they don’t bother to click through and read them.
You might alert your followers to promotions or discounts, but they don’t seem to convert.
Even if you’re just asking a question to show genuine interest in their challenges and pain points, the response is so low as to be inconsequential.
Engagement -- sometimes referred to as influence -- is obviously an important part of developing an effective social strategy. When followers are engaged, they press the “like” or “heart” button. They share your content with their friends and family. They develop a relationship with your brand that makes them more open to hearing from you when you have something to market and sell.
Other top social media metrics have included click-through rates (CTR), which help show whether you’re gaining any leads through these channels. Service-oriented metrics such as customer satisfaction (CSAT) may also make sense if people are reaching out through these channels with questions or concerns.
This has sometimes led to a tendency to dismiss follower counts as largely irrelevant to brands. They’re not.
While you may continue to prioritize engagement, CTRs and CSAT, the number of people voluntarily joining your audience matters. This is true whether you’re talking about a branded account on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram or even TikTok.
Here are some ways to think about the value you can get by periodically measuring your follower count (which is pretty easy, given it’s usually right there in your profile):
Marketing departments will often invest in other channels because they have a larger group that may be willing to pay attention to their brand’s message. This has been true of linear TV, media like newspapers and magazines more recently podcasts. However your social media following represents an example of your “owned” reach, at least potentially.
When you post something on social, for example, you can get an immediate sense of how far it was disseminated. There are wrinkles to this depending on the platform’s algorithms, but your follower count can at least provide a baseline to contextualize the level of engagement you’re seeing (or not seeing). This can help identify what you need to do differently to maximize your reach across a larger proportion of your followers. After all, they’re presumably following you because they want to have some kind of engagement.
All social media platforms tend to have some kind of offering whereby you can invest in campaigns that send your content across their channels. This can be really helpful when you’re trying to attract new prospects to your products and services, but there are always questions about return on investment.
Having a healthy follower count means you can balance paid social campaigns by running the same content across your own followers. If you see high engagement from your followers -- organic engagement, in other words -- you might not need to spend as much on paid campaigns. If the organic engagement is low, it might be time to spend more on paid campaigns or to at least take a second look at your content.
A subject matter expert database: Your brand might have already developed a sizeable list of email addresses from existing customers, or have ensured your CRM is filled with lists of potential prospects. A strong social media following can augment these databases because they will probably contain some of those names, along with many others.
Look at who’s engaged with you on social and cross-reference to see which ones are already customers. Maybe they’d be willing to act as a case study or testimonial subject.
Maybe there are other followers who have never been your customers (and never will be) because they’re not the right fit. These could be market researchers or journalists who cover your company or industry. Some might be those who will simply influence your customer base. These people can be great gets for virtual events you might host, either on your own site or on the social media platforms themselves.
All brands are up against some kind of rival for their customers’ attention and spending. Beyond knowing who they are, however, finding out their brand affinity and perceptions among your customer base was limited to surveys and focus group studies.
Those are still viable approaches, but a sizable follower count gives you a better sample with which you listen in on what brands they’re mentioning in their posts, what they’re saying about them and -- most importantly -- the sentiment of what they’re saying. You can do the same kind of social listening to evaluate where your own brand stands among your audience, of course. This can inform a host of marketing, sales and even higher-level company strategies.
Much like the number of customers in your CRM, your follower count on social media will fluctuate. People will unfollow your brand because they’re unhappy with their experience, or simply because they are no longer interested in the kinds of products and services you offer. Some might even hit “unfollow” because you’re posting too often, or with content that doesn’t offer value.
In that sense, your follower count is an indicator of the health of your relationship to your brand’s overall addressable market. There are plenty of other metrics to weave in as you evaluate the way your brand uses social media, but it deserves to be part of it.