One of the most common goals for influencers and businesses on social media is to gain as many followers as possible. On paper, more followers should create more engagement, higher reach and perceived authenticity for brand messaging. In practice, focusing primarily on a high follower count doesn’t matter if the right audience isn’t being targeted or producing desired engagement.
As I made my first foray into the digital marketing world, I was constantly reminded of this question: who is the audience that I’m trying to reach? Whether it was connecting with professionals on LinkedIn or writing articles for my blog, the director of the Center for Digital Engagement at Eastern Michigan University would always pose this question during our weekly meetings. While it became a running joke among my peers, the director’s insight is what inspired me to focus on producing content that was focused on digital marketing and create a focal point for my branding efforts on social media.
Once I made this transition, my reach and follower count initially declined, but I received more engagement from followers who were interested in my content. It’s important to consider your target audience and produce content that appeals to them. They may look great, but a high follower count doesn’t matter if its composed of random people or bots.
Earlier I mentioned perceived authenticity, higher reach and engagement as a possible byproduct of having a high follower number on social media accounts. Having more followers should theoretically produce these results, but this isn’t always the case. If an audience is composed of random people, targeted messaging will isolate a large chunk of the audience because they aren’t interested in that specific content, producing limited engagement.
For potential customers or individuals checking out an account it may lend some perceived authenticity if there’s tens of thousands of followers on that social media channel, but any credibility gained will be questioned if posts garner low engagement. I didn’t realize this is a common practice until I started following a few social media groups on Facebook, but people will sell loaded social media accounts that come with tens of thousands of fake followers.
This practice is disingenuous at best and it’s also possible to purchase followers and likes through websites like Fiverr. It never crossed my mind as to how accounts on Instagram had 6,000 followers with only 30 posts until I joined these Facebook groups, but it’s now somewhat easy to see who genuinely earned engagement and who bought followers. Even if an account didn’t purchase followers, it’s easy to follow 20,000 random accounts and gain a few thousand followers overnight through follow-backs.
Gaining followers is a good starting point to measure success in social media, but engagement is the real metric that needs to be analyzed. Engagement can take many forms such as likes, shares and click-throughs, showing that an audience is performing a desired action. Many businesses aim to gain views and impressions, but tweet impressions and Facebook views won’t lead to a desired action if there’s no engagement. This can be viewed as users bouncing on social media to a new page or post, which all websites desperately try to avoid. By maximizing engagement, influencers and businesses can add authenticity to their brand, spread their reach to a larger target audience and drive more conversions.