Branding/Marketing/PR Content Marketing Social Media Thought Leadership

EDITOR’S SOAP BOX: social media number obsessives

Written by the Editorial Team

by Paul MacKenzie-Cummins

There is simply no escaping the fact that social media is invaluable in today’s world. The ever-increasing number of platforms available makes it even easier for businesses to better communicate and engage with their stakeholders in a way in which those stakeholders want to receive information. This level of active engagement is something I never thought would be possible when I started my career some 20 years ago.

But that’s not what my gripe is about. My gripe is about the people who I call the social media ‘desperadoes’. You know the types, those businesses who have 20,000 ‘followers’ on Twitter and 5,000 ‘fans’ of their company’s Facebook page. They post desperate messages such as “Please retweet” or “Help us get to 1,000 followers”. Shut up, seriously. Please just stop.

Truth is it’s utter rubbish.

Let me give you an example. A media company local to us has posted around 60 tweets in three years, yet they have over 12,000 followers on Twitter.

Another example, again one that is local to us, has 24,000 followers on Twitter and 4,000 fans on Facebook. Impressive yes, but is it genuine? Of course not.

How can any business, with a headcount of fewer than 3 people (yes we have checked before making such a claim), and a poor (at best) level of social media activity possibly build up such a following? I would understand it if they were a celebrity or a top brand such as Virgin et al, but for a small business in a city which is a third smaller than Bristol, how is this possible?

Its quite simple: They have ‘bought’ their followers and fans.

Businesses can do what they wish, I honestly do not care. What I do object to, however, is that these said business that I refer actually offer social media as a service to their clients.

So, they ‘buy’ their own audience in a bid to make themselves look a) popular b) good at building audiences, and c) relevant to their audience. They are anything but.

One such company says it forms “online conversations” with their clients’ audiences though “public relations and marketing initiatives”. Errr stop right there, this is NOT how PR works!

PR, when it comes to social media, is about creating two-way – meaningful – conversations. It is NOT about collecting an ever-increasing number of fans and followers to your social media accounts – that’s simple vanity marketing. What’s the point in having 1,000 followers if you don’t engage with them and how many of this magical 1,000 people are current, past or potential new customers or advocates of these product or service?

Interestingly, look at any of these company’s LinkedIn pages and you see an altogether different picture.

Using the same two examples I mentioned above, both these companies have 25 and 83 ‘followers’ on LinkedIn respectively. Why, if these businesses are so fantastic, engaging, and ‘popular’, do they have such low numbers on LinkedIn?

Simple – LinkedIn does NOT allow you to buy your followers – you have to earn them. In other words, what you see on LinkedIn is a more accurate representation of how good said businesses actually are when it comes to social media.

This is the problem: If you have to procure your fan base you quite clearly have nothing of note or value to add, there is no engagement, and quite frankly you look so desperate its embarrassing.

My greatest fear is that these people somehow manage to attract clients – these clients no doubt are lured by the promise of greater engagement across their social media accounts. It’s a lie, a fallacy. They are being duped and misled.

Companies who promote such practices are in my view, poor. They lack substance, they are self-aggrandising, and they have no concept of what ‘engagement’ actually means.

Tweeting is a two-way communication and anytime the user fails to deliver relevant “What’s in it for me?” content, followers can simply decide to opt-out of following that user anytime they choose to do so. This is permission-based marketing – like having an inbuilt anti-spam filter. It is NOT a competition to see who can collate the most number of followers.

If all you want is numbers, I’ll pass you the details of the businesses above and they can help (or damage) you. We work with clients to help them actively speak with the people who matter most to them.