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Social Media Isn't a Numbers Game: Quality Connections Should Matter More Than Quantity

April 21, 2017

Do you ever get asked: “How many Twitter followers you have? How many people you're connected with on LinkedIn? How many ‘Page Likes’ do you have on your Facebook page?”

Those questions drive me nuts. If you’re selling a product or service in the online marketing world or building your thought leadership online as a go-to person in your industry, then those numbers DO matter. To a point.

QUALITY & RELEVANCE

I’ve been thinking about this numbers game and go back to the adage: ‘quality over quantity’ matters more. For a moment, set aside your obsession for the numbers of likes and follows and consider the ‘quality’ factor. Personally, I’d prefer followers, fans, and connections with people who are relevant in my world.

Most of the people I’m networked with online all have something to do with social selling, personal branding, entrepreneurship, and career transition. These are not only the people who make up my ideal clients, but they also represent a good portion of my tribe, and many are peers, influencers, collaborators, and partners.

When I left the world of private sector public relations and marketing, and went out on my own, I had already been entrenched in social media. My engagement was more personal but as I began to work with clients who wanted to build – or strengthen – their personal brand and showcase it on LinkedIn, my engagement strategies shifted.

DON’T BE A LION

Let’s back up a bit first. A few years ago, it was the ‘cool thing’ to be what’s known as a LION on LinkedIn. LION has nothing to do with big cats, it’s an acronym: “LinkedIn Open Networker”, which meant everyone and their brother (or sister) would be accept anyone on LinkedIn as a connection.

Users would add ‘LION’ to their headline. It was like an online billboard, which conveyed: “I’ll connect with anyone because I want to build up my numbers.” (To me it open almost reeked of desperation.) Whether that was the users’ intention or not, it did get people to build their LinkedIn connections by the thousands. And, admittedly, LinkedIn kind of encouraged it.

Same thing, I believe, happened on Twitter. Back when Twitter was still gaining wide popularity around 2010-2012, a best practice was to follow a Twitter member and, in turn, they’d follow you back. Essentially, “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”

Facebook and other platforms were doing the same. Urging their users to build up their numbers. In fact, an app called ‘Klout’ came about to measure just that. The more followers, fans, connections, and engagement on each of your social platforms is measured by Klout and gives a score to gauge your engagement. On Klout, any number above a 45 is desirable, with 100 being the best.

To put that in some context; Donald Trump’s Klout score is in the 90s. Mine is around the low to mid 60s. Really engaged social media marketers should be in the 60-80 range at a minimum, since this is how we earn our living. Now, the only reason Trump’s Klout score is so high is mostly because he tweets multiple times a day and it’s essentially the only platform he uses.

He built his following based on the following: 1) he was a reality show celebrity, 2) a well-known (not necessarily well-liked) businessman, 3) he’d ran for president two times before 2016, and, 4) he fascinates people whether they care for him or not. You could argue that his following was built organically.

OLD SOCIAL MEDIA TRENDS

Those familiar with the social media marketing world know that – in the past – Twitter users could “buy” their followers. This is no longer a practice but there are some companies, which still exist who have a workaround to do this. More importantly – and thankfully - it is against Twitter’s terms and conditions, and I’m sure they have bots that can figure out if someone’s buying followers. (Facebook has to watch out for this with business pages, too.)

So, with all those trends now mostly in the past, I came into my social marketing with eyes wide open. I had a Twitter account and I made time here and there to find people and businesses, which I’d want to follow. I also made a point to connect with journalists and bloggers I admire plus social media influencers from whom I could learn about tools, trends, and effective ways to market online. I’ve been intentional in who I follow and with whom I connect.

When I started to use Twitter, I used it more as a listening tool, and I still use Twitter in that way today. Sure, I post interesting and regular content on Twitter but I chose to make Twitter a place to listen and learn. Yes, I’m connected with many people there but I do check out every notification I receive when I see someone new has followed me. Many times, I follow back, and just as many times, I do not.

I truly don’t know how so many influencers have over 20, 50, or 100,000 Twitter followers. And I’m talking regular folks here, not the Donald Trumps, the Kardashians, nor other celebrities, politicians, rock stars and the like.

I know some very savvy, brilliant social media influencers who have been in the social selling world long before me. While their numbers are enormous, they’ve mentioned to me they now wish their numbers weren’t so large. In fact, some of them make it a regular task each week to start whittling down some of their followers, fans, and connections.

SOCIAL MEDIA RELATIONSHIPS MATTER     

A more meaningful connection is what we all desire both online and off. There is so much noise in our world – beyond just the Internet – and we want to know one another beyond the ‘Like’ or ‘Follow’ button.

I “only” have about ~2,100 connections on LinkedIn, and a significant part of my work is coaching clients how to use LinkedIn strategically for personal branding and marketing. Many people expect that I should have thousands more since LinkedIn is “what I do”. But I must tell you that my over 2,000 connections are quality, meaningful connections. (And, yes, I do an actual reply of ‘thanks’ when I accept someone’s invite.)

WHY QUALITY IS CRITICAL

My business and mission is to help entrepreneurs, executives, and professionals build their digital brand encompassing the appropriate social platforms where they can serve their audience. I help people discover their personal story to help define their personal brand, which is how they can build the know, like, and trust factor to find their ideal clients or customers.

If I were to coach my clients to focus on their numbers, I’d be doing them a disservice. Their pre-eminence online would be based more on quantity vs. quality. How can people build meaningful relationships in business with hundreds of thousands of followers?

Some of you reading this may think my outlook on this is quaint or, perhaps, even a bit naïve. The numbers count, believe me. I keep them in mind every time I post any kind of content online. The more followers and connections you have, the more likely your message will reach more people.

But it only takes one person to see your content, follow and connect with you who might become a client. My online engagement with my audience is much more thoughtful, and, indeed takes a little more of my time. I plan accordingly, and I also have a great virtual assistant (VA).

I practice what I preach, however. I like to listen and learn from my audience, and I like to participate and exchange thoughts and ideas with them.

Have I paid to play on Facebook? Yep. Has it been super effective for me? It’s had its ups and downs. Is it something I’ll do more of in the future as my business evolves? You bet! It would be a bad business decision if I didn’t.

Paying attention to your audience and not getting yourself overwhelmed is a good business decision, and I would encourage you to be thoughtful with the people you connect with online.

Here’s how I decide whether to accept someone’s LinkedIn invitation:

  • I take less than 30 seconds to scan their profile
  • If they don’t have a profile photo, I usually ignore their invite immediately
  • If they have a compelling headline vs. just their job title
  • They took time to write more than two sentences in their summary section (heck, they even bothered to fill one out in the first place)
  • They’ve listed their most recent role in the experience section along with a brief description
  • They are relevant to my world, could be a potential client, or someone considering me for a speaking event.

The importance of the numbers game in social media can be controversial. I’d love to know how you feel about this, and welcome your constructive thoughts below.