Social media is more than a numbers game. Guest post from Ben LaMothe

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[tweetmeme]We’ve not had a guest post for a while. But when Ben approached me with this, I jumped at the chance.

With the world becoming more tuned into social media, it’s sometimes easy to forget that not everyone is as savvy as we think. Clients  often approach outside agencies with their social media and blogging needs not because they have a pre-existing presence in need of finessing. Rather, it’s because they have none at all and need help to raise it from the ground.

Others already have an online presence and following that is just waiting to be tapped. Any major brand that doesn’t have an online presence, will likely find themselves with a considerable following not long after the profiles go live. But for the other brands and organisations without the deep name recognition, building out a ‘successful’ social media presence can be challenging.

I often read about how a social media campaign was deemed ‘unsuccessful’ because it couldn’t gain more than 1,000 fans or followers. Some called it mildly embarrassing. I get why people think that. It’s increasingly becoming a numbers game. You should always strive to reach as many people as possible with this online presence.

But you’re not always going to get 1,000 people to sign up. The smaller the web presence pre-agency, the lower your ROI will be in social right away. It will take time to build those relationships online.

A social media presence with less than 1,000 followers is a good thing. It’s a start in the right direction. An account that is built up over time will be more valuable to you and your brand than one that debuts with 2,000 followers, because a conversation and trust will have been established during that time.

If you look at the analytics of your profile’s growth, you will see that it is adding users every day. It won’t be a lot, but even that incremental growth is valuable. Client demands that their new profiles have thousands of followers in a short amount of time are only helping to tarnish social media, as are the agencies that guarantee it. These expectations cause agencies to use dishonest means to manufacture account growth. As a result the people who are following the account are not engaged and not the client’s target audience. This does the client a disservice.

The best thing us practitioners can do for a client is be honest with them. If their brand isn’t already well known on the web and in social media, their account growth will not be large and fast. It will take time to build the relationships and build the trust.

A successful social media campaign should not be judged by how many followers are added each day. Rather, it should be determined by who is following, what their role is, and if they are part of your client’s target audience.

Seven hundred engaged, brand-relevant followers will always be more useful and valuable than 2,000 random, disengaged followers. It’s up to agencies to help their clients understand that.

Ben is a blog and social media strategist with London-based corporate PR consultancy Glasshouse Partnership and a postgraduate student in ePublishing at City University London.


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  1. Participating in Social Media to build awareness and trust is great and does take time, however ‘success’ should NOT be judged by the number of followers anyone has. I know many tweeters/businesses who boast about having over 4000 followers but when I look at their followings approximately 40% of those are ‘bots’ (bots don’t engage with you and only follow you based on a keyword included within a tweet). So the 4000 now becomes 2400. Now out of those 2400 how many do you actually engage with on a regular basis? How many Retweet your message on a regular basis? Probably 100 or 200 at the most?

    So now 4000 followers have quickly been twittled down to 100 regular engaging followers. Doesn’t look so impressive now does it?

    Agencies MUST reinforce this message with clients “Social media is not about the number of followers” and “Success is not based on the number of followers”

    There are many great posts, tools and metrics available out there to measure success of social media. At the end of the day the agency must educate themselves on what works best for their clients requirements and work up an agreed strategy/plan.

  2. Gemma Went says:

    Absolutely Pritesh, unfortunately the numbers game is a false economy, but people seem to place so much importance on it.

  3. Yes they will do. Why? Because it’s the easiest number to measure. But this does not tell you anything about your performance, engagement levels, sentiment or influence. It doesn’t tell you how much traffic its generated to your site, how social media participation has increased newsletter subscription by X% or lead to X number of new opportunities/quotations etc

    The real goals lie elsewhere, social media is just a platform to leverage those ‘goals’ or KPI’s which already exist. It’s just up to clients and agencies to work out what they are and collate them into a workable strategy.

  4. I almost agree. I agree that absolute number of followers is not the best measure of success, it’s just the easiest number to analyse so gets used a lot.

    But I don’t agree that you should judge a social media campaign as success ” by who is following, what their role is, and if they are part of your client’s target audience” unless that was your business goal for the campaign.

    I think campaigns online/offline/socialmedia/intergalactic must be established with a business goal in mind, and the metrics are derived from that business goal.

    For example, suppose a museum wants to increase the proportion of young (16-21 year olds) people coming to the museum. They might build a campaign via facebook. They can measure the total number of fans, they can measure the number of “qualified” leads in that fan base. But neither of those measures tell you whether the campaign was succesful for the business. You can only tell that by seeing that there are more young people coming through the door, and you could measure the social media campaign contribution to that by using a voucher system for the tickets or a sample survey of visitors.

    Because that’s the other thing, social media campaigns should not run in isolation – in the example above the offline marketing such as a poster campaign should be integrated, and even the exhibition itself (the product) could be created in a way to involve young people.

    The best I’ve seen on this subject comes from Olivier Blanchard (

    Overall you’re right though, fan/follower numbers are not by themselves very interesting.

  5. Gemma Went says:

    Hi Louise, thanks for that. I agree with you that social media should not run in isolation, particularly as the results spread across online and offline. A campaigns success should be measured in terms of the objectives of that campaign. Period. The target audience engagement could be just one of those metrics. Sales derived from that audience is another, and so on. I think the issue we have is that people attempt to apply metrics without considering what the original objectives were. I do wonder if part of that is not knowing what the objectives are in the first place and simply jumping into social media activity with no clear strategy.

  6. Reminds me of that common image used in 99% of all social media presentations…..the one of a cart loaded with logos of all the social media platforms. Headline reads: “Is your business jumping on the bandwagon?”

  7. Gemma Went says:

    Absolutely. Strategy first. Tactics after.

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