In much of life you may be judged by the company you keep, but in social media, you are judged by the numbers you keep. The more fans, followers, and friends you have, the more successful you are deemed to be in social media. The more connections you have and circles you are in, the greater number of people you are presumably influencing.
Makes sense, right? Well, maybe.
Sometimes the Numbers Lie
One of the problems with focusing on your social media numbers is sometimes the numbers lie. It’s always possible to manipulate the numbers game. In fact, if you’ve been engaged in social media for any length of time at all, you’ve likely seen it done.
You can buy 1,000 “targeted” Facebook fans for about $100-$200. Non-targeted fans are much cheaper. You can get 5000 Twitter followers for next to nothing. But, there are so many problems with these “too good to be true” answers to the social media numbers game.
First of all, you will almost always be amazed to find that the people offering you these great deals have a couple of hundred fans/followers, at most. Which means they aren’t going to deliver you what they’ve promised either.
Second, even if the promise is fulfilled, the engagement level of these new folks – yes, even the targeted ones – is going to be little to nothing. The payment is merely for following. You’ll be lucky if even a few of these new followers ever see your posts in their stream or news feed.
People who are a fan of buying Facebook fans like to argue that no one will “Like” a page that has just a few fans. The engagement of the purchased fans isn’t really important under this argument, because the purpose of the inflated number is just to look good so you can attract real fans.
Maybe there’s some initial appeal here, but, with Facebook now publishing the “talking about” number next to the number of likes, 50 “likes” with 20 “talking about” is going to impress most people a lot more than 5000 “likes” with 20 “talking about.” A lot of likes (or Twitter followers) with little engagement is a signal that you don’t have much to offer.
But, Here’s Why the Numbers Matter
Even though the numbers can lie, they still do matter, for a couple of reasons. First, if you only have 100 Twitter followers, then you are limited to reaching those 100 people (and their followers if they retweet you). If you have 1000 followers, you have 10 times the potential audience, at least.
And, not all of your fans/followers/connections are going to be a perfect fit for you. Not all of them are going to be engaged. If you are only making a real connection with 1 in 10 of your Facebook fans, you’re going to need to concentrate on higher numbers than you may really need so you can get the kind of engagement you’re looking for.
Second, although big social media numbers don’t always mean you’re an influencer in your market, small numbers do mean you’re not. You can only influence the number of people who listen to you.
The good news is, you don’t have to work on growing a huge presence on every social media network. Go where your audience is and where you have the most success making good connections with people. You can then invite those people to join you on other relevant networks.
And, Here are the Numbers that Really Matter
Finally, your long-term success will depend on the number of people you are engaging with, far more than the number of people who follow, connect with, and “like” you. This means that while you are growing your raw numbers, you need to be confirming that you are also growing the number of people you are engaging with.
On Facebook, this is pretty easy to do with Facebook Insights and the “talking about” number Facebook provides. On Twitter, make sure you are being @ mentioned and retweeted by others. Which means you need to be putting out good content, @ mentioning, and retweeting others. On Google+ you can look at the amount of +1, comments and shares you are getting, and on LinkedIn it seems the best measure of engagement is how involved you are in groups that are relevant to your market.
How do you know if your engaged numbers are high enough? Obviously, the higher the better, but we’ll talk about some specific measurement tools next time. Until then, share with me in the comments how important big social media numbers are to you, and how much relevance you place on them when deciding who to follow.