What matters to you: Volume of followers or Community of interest?

How many followers on social media are enough? Do you watch your numbers and constantly search for new ways to gain a new friend or an extra follower?

Do you see a herd or a community of interest?

In this week’s Inside PR, Gini Dietrich expresses her annoyance at discovering that some people seem to be using the #FF (Follow Friday) hashtag primarily as a means to get the attention of others on Twitter who have high follower counts. Ginny observed that some people she is following seem to point only to others who already have high follower counts. Ginny wonders whether those recommendations are sincere endorsements of content or instead, attempts to get those high follower people to reply, putting the original person’s ID in their Twitter stream and attracting more interest to themselves. Thinly veiled spam? An extension of the old-style interruption broadcast advertising psychology?

I monitor the number of followers, subscribers, mentions and comments on my blog and other social media as part of my calculation of return on investment. Given that my greatest cost of creating and sharing content is my time (and I always have other things that I could be doing with my time), I make a calculation of whether I am talking to myself or whether I am part of a community that shares my interests and is actively engaged with me. While I don’t put a dollar amount on that calculation, I do make a calculation of my relative return on the investment  of my time.

So, having admitted that I do track my numbers, why don’t I spend more time trying to dramatically increase my numbers of followers? The answer is simple: I am interested in engagement with the community that cares about my content, not in raw reach. What counts for me is a genuine connection with a community of interest, not simply growing the size of my audience.

How does that compare with your approach to social media?

Do you focus on finding and engaging with a clearly defined community of interest that corresponds with your personal interests or the interest of your organization? Or do you pursue ever larger numbers of subscribers, followers and friends?

  • Nice topic. I haven’t had a chance to listen to this week’s show but I have had conversations a few times in the past few weeks about the # of followers issue and I think that is the worst # to look at.

    The primary reason I say this is that somebody can see your activity without following you, provided you are on a list of theirs. I personally never look at my home feed and I always look at lists or search terms I’m following. So, even if I am actually following you, I may never see a single thing you do unless you are being retweeted or replied to by people I am watching on my lists. So really, a follow is just a hollow action (more on that at the end).

    For me, this further highlights the importance of being actively involved in conversations on twitter and why that is the best way to get seen.

    If I want to understand how engaged somebody is, I like to run an analysis on TweetStats and look at percentage of message they are retweeting or @ replying and then who they are retweeting. I might also run analysis on TweetReach to see how far their messages are going but I tend to do this more in a “professional” sense in that I might be trying to quantify engagement for a client or something. When it comes to people or contacts, I could care less as what matters is what you are saying that how many people you say it to or how many people are “hearing” what you say.

    Personally, my decision to click “follow” on somebody is like shaking their hand in person in that I am trying to take a brief action that is personal. That’s all. Every month or so I do a cleanup of my account and if that person isn’t really doing anything that I am connecting with, I just unfollow.

    And I will go one step further: I could care less if somebody is following me or not because I know that probably means I am going into some crowded home feed that they never watch. Big deal. In fact, I have gone as far as block people who follow me like real estate agents from Florida or a storage facility from Alabama because, I don’t really give a hoot(suite) about a uselessly high following count and let’s be honest here – why are those people even following me in the first place – to pump up their follower numbers.

    • Danny, You make a good point about lists. I too follow lists of people who I search by topic or hashtag. I may never show up in their followers, even when I directly engage with their content by retweeting it. Add to this new developments like paper.li (I publish two paper.li’s daily – one based on my gov2 list and another based on the list I’ve market “must read.” Put it all together and I think you are I are on the same page – it’s about community of interest, not number of followers..

  • Anonymous

    It’s easy to build a large number of followers, but it’s hard to build quality followers.

    Anyone who says a large # of followers is not important, clearly already has a large following. 🙂 As you said, if you’re investing a lot of time into social media and no one’s reading it, it’s a bad investment. Period. However, that also applies even if you have a large following who aren’t engaged.

  • For me, it’s never been about the numbers. In the early days of Facebook, I’d watch that friend count and fret anytime it went down, but it wasn’t about the number it was more about the engagement and I hated thinking that someone had unfriended me in case I’d affronted them in any way. Quickly learned to let go of that mania and that’s the same tact I take with my Twitter presence. I am sometimes still amazed that I have the number of people following me that I do, but what it shows me is that others find value in what I share and say and I respect that and treat that with a great deal of care and thought. For me it’s about the dialogue…always has been, always will be…

  • Amy

    You approach is the right one. Too many people concentrate on quantity as opposed to quality followers. Every person’s opinion is powerful, but there is nothing more important then engagement. If you can engage your community, and garner interest in your product or opinion, you’re better off with 200 followers who care as opposed to 2000 followers that ignore you. It’s all about starting and continuing a conversation that people care about.

  • #FFs really are very spammy. I only reply in thanks to those who FF me. Otherwise I think the whole #FF thing is a waste of time and clogs up my reader.

    • Hi Sherrilynne, I think that Gini’s concern is that people who #FF someone with large numbers may be hoping that person will thank them with a public tweet, pushing the originator’s twitter id into their own twitter stream.

      I personally use #FF to recommend someone I’ve met whose content should, in my estimation, have broader exposure to the people who follow me. I don’t publish an #ff every week. And when I do, I publish only one name with a brief explanation of why I’m recommending them.

      I agree with you that those #FFs with half a dozen twitter IDs and no explanation are of little value.

  • Oliver Holtaway

    Good post – I’d be interested to know what people’s experience has been like explaining the quality vs quantity angle to clients who might be disappointed in a low follower count or facebook group membership.

  • How’s that saying go, “Better late than never.” and so it is that I come to this discussion. It seems there is a high level of agreement here on the quality vs quantity issue, which, if I’m reading right, we lean to the quality end of the spectrum, good news. I’m not a huge tweeter, as a small business I have to use my time as effectively as possible and have taken the approach that the social media engagements you enter into should be deep as opposed to wide. WRT ‘follows’ one way I screen followers is with a reply along the lines of “thank you for following, was there something in particular that caught your attention?”…interesting how often there’s no reply.

    So we agree, what to do about it? No doubt, we are not alone with these sentiments, if this is how you feel, push it out, I’m going to start today, and for the next week I’m going to push out the idea of connected interactions as opposed to blind follows. Want to join me?