Social media followers: quantity versus quality

It is no secret that most of retail brands (and companies in general) have become obsessed with the idea of social media and all the profit and “untapped” potential waiting to be harvested and “leveraged”. But what is really the advantage that followers in social media, namely twitter and facebook, can bestow to a company?

A good friend and colleague recently posted on twitter:

Sam Gough on twitter

Social media versus Traditional advertising and communication

So, what’s actually the big difference between advertising on a magazine or a POS (point of sale), or TV for that fact; and a social media network?

  • Social media is about being social, not an one direction communication but a multidirectional dialogue.
    Traditional media allows an one way, wide area non-targeted messaging
  • Social media is about personal opinion and recommendation not statements.
    Traditional media allow companies to make strong statements
  • Social media allow brands to leverage message virality to propagate their offer,
    Traditional media uses mostly the quantity of the receiving audience by catering to a massively larger market

So the clear advantage of social media seems to be that a message is more targeted, it’s multidirectional and can “go viral”, which means that you will never be able to talk to the same number of people you do using Traditional media and that if you want to attain that very specialised following you must have a very concise and clear message, not to mention that dialogue – almost always – requires more resources and time than a statement approach.

The delusion of followers and fan-base

Social media champions (yes this is actually a job description now days) will argue that most of the followers of a brand are actually fans that they would sell their liver for the brand they are following. Well I don’t believe that this is quite as simple as that. There are tens of ways that a brand can gain following. A good example would be a competition which almost in a form of extortion a brand will request you to like their page or follow them on twitter. The truth is that this actually works, very well.

In many ways this is no different than traditional advertising. Effectively you subscribe people to your newsletter. With no specific drive or commitment no matter how many followers you might have the “opening rate” of the brand’s newsletter will go down exponentially as more people join that pool. It’s like using a monkey to do a donkey’s job.

The power of true interaction

As mentioned above the big mistake that brands seem to do is that they approach social media as they would traditional media. Twitter and facebook was designed to promote discussions. Brands that did that (see Dell and their tech support over twitter example) have actually managed to create an exceptional “fan” base. They might now have 3 million users on their twitter account, but anyone who interacted with them (including me) knows that these are real people that want to help out and that they will actually apologise and try to help you. It is this personal interaction that makes them successful. This reinforces the brand and works along the traditional media marketing of the company to create a concise, clean and human approach.

Creating a tribe

Borrowing by Seth Godin’s brilliant work on Tribes, I cannot stress more how important it is to focus your following and talk to them. Making 10 people love what you are doing is not even comparable to having 10,000 “grabbed” followers. The reason behind this is really simple. These 10 people, if they love what you do they will talk about the brand to their friends with passion; which, effectively, means that they are doing the hard work for you (remember what I said above regarding the time that it takes?). Additionally, research has shown that recommendation from peers always carry a much heavier weight from any statement made by a brand. Practically those 10 voices will be heard louder and clearer, a fact, that means that the chances of converting other people to their passion is significantly higher than those 10,000 who will follow you and never think of your brand again.

In conclusion

I believe that followers can actually be extremely beneficial, but the way the marketeer approaches their procurement should aim towards creating well targeted, passionate about what the brand does individuals, of course the more famous and eloquent these people are, the better. There is a point to be made regarding the amount of followers and that it can be beneficial (as a long newsletter list would be), large numbers can still generate traction but this can also be done by using traditional media. Also, we have to consider that A-male prototype which dictates that the more following you have the higher the possibility to convert a new follower.

Do you believe that the quantity of followers on a twitter account makes it better?