The Power of Social Followers
by Bill Jempty, founder of Sollevarsi SOCIAL
Social Media Followers: Why bother?
Working in social and content with growing businesses, I get this question. For the past 10 years, I've been in digital marketing. For the past year I have been working with a highly prestigious and select B2B Advertising agency here in Austin, TX. As their Social and Content expert, I get some unique insight into businesses as they seek to maximize their digital marketing efforts. I’ve even heard the question put to another Social Media PRO who had an interesting response.
This social media professional was questioned why they didn’t have a large social media following. Seeking to discredit the pro, it was a tough question. There in lies the problem. The social media professional replied, “It’s funny you asked that because I went to the bank earlier today and they looked at me funny when I tried to deposit 1,000 followers.” It’s a wity sarcastic response, a sarcasm I personally enjoy. However, it got me thinking. Is this how some people view social media and followers? If social media professionals look at “followers” with such a laissez-faire attitude, why would a business spend the time to build a following? What is the real value?
Social growth is our focus with Sollevarsi SOCIAL, and we do it for many different clients. So, is this professional on point with his answer or is it more of sarcastic defense? The answer is both.
Is there real value in growing a following? If so, what is that power?
To start looking at the power of followers, let's look briefly at the psyche of a "follower."
If you have ever grown a social media account by scaling up the Social Media Handshake, then you know how funny some interactions can be. I have always found it odd that people love it when you follow them and if they see you unfollow them, they can drop you even if they have enjoyed and engaged with your content before. Why does an individual need to be followed by a clearly branded business? They wouldn't have this more intimate expectation for a celebrity or a major brand. For me, this psyche speaks to the perceived authenticity and intimacy of the interaction.
The short answer without any psychological speak is shared value or as I've deemed it - worth. People value the personal aspect of social interaction. It's natural human behavior. It feels good to be followed back. It feels validating to be a part of a brand and have them follow you back even if you know it's a business.
At Sollevarsi SOCIAL, we even shape our growth for brand new clients (under 1,000 followers) to account for this on Instagram. Twitter allows us to continually follow as many people as we want as long as you stay within Twitter ratio and follower benchmarks. Personally, I like this better, and so you see influencers who have 100k followers and follow 40k people. The reciprocated value is powerful and strengthens their communities. Instagram, for as amazingly authentic as it is, caps your following no matter how many followers you have. So, we shape growth to accelerate early on not worrying about your following and we start to trim this down as the account grows and nears the "following limit." Then, we keep it nice and trim once the brand is large enough.
This bring us to the next power of social followers, Prestige. Prestige interacts with worth in an interesting way. People view your brand and company differently the more followers you have. It's just a fact. More followers equals higher prestige. You know it to be true whether we want to admit it or not. More followers equals more cache in social media, more power. When you are growing a business and a brand, that is important. This is also why social media and social growth as an industry has its pirate businesses. This seedy subset of the social growth community are the scammers and vanity growth companies. Buy followers. Be "insta-famous." Followers are powerful in many different ways. Prestige is one of them for the same reason as "worth" above. We are social beings, us humans.
On Instagram, we see prestige play out in real terms. When a company or brand is starting out, we are accelerating growth from a more fragile state and so we take care. We recommend authentic, personal interaction. We don't automate likes or comments in large part because bots don't do this well and it works against our primary goal - business and brand growth. We also highly recommend authentic, original content to grow your brand. This strategy strengthens the connections while decreasing with less volatility in the interaction between followers and your account.
Sollevarsi SOCIAL also shapes your social growth for prestige as much as worth. During the first 5-10k followers, worth outweighs prestige. But, as social growth progresses prestige gains more weight. Instagram is designed around prestige. Your posts get more organic exposure and can even be highlighted under different hashtags or in different locations the more followers and engagement your posts receive. As Instagram forces us to trim followers, even if they follow us, prestige and the value of your content kick in to support the system from breaking down. In real terms, prestige tends to outweigh worth as your following increases. You don't expect a celebrity or a major brand to respond to direct messages or follow you back, do you? The same can be said of the "Insta-famous" brands, those with large numbers of followers. A follow back or a direct response is often expected of brands or businesses with small followings. It's nature. Nature always wins.
As we've stated, Instagram is built on prestige. The system supports those accounts with larger followings. The idea is that content wins, and it does. But, Content more often wins if it is backed by a large following. Even as engagement rates get lower the larger your the following (typically), the size of the following still wins out with sheer reach and overall engagement. Have you ever seen a post that was liked on Instagram a million times. It is highly likely that the post was from a large account.
Your follower base ignites your content and turns the cogs of the Instagram machine. If you don't have a following, your content won't stand a chance.
One of our earliest social growth customers diversified into multiple brands this past year. They post very similar content. One brand has a following of 15k, as of now, and the other account has a following half that size at 7k. They often post the same day and time and while they each have unique posts, the content is very similar. The larger brand is sometimes featured in less used hashtags and gets about 1k-2k likes per photo and a handful of comments. The same type of content posted around the same time on the smaller account gets about 500 likes and a few comments. This account is not yet featured in hashtag searches because their engagement is too light. That will change as the smaller account grows. The larger account will soon start to be featured in the Top Posts sections much more often on bigger name hashtags as they continue to grow. The biggest accounts trend with mentions, in addition to their posts.
The number of followers effects the exposure of your content, all be it on a proprietary and secret scale in their algorithm. The system is designed that way on Instagram and it fosters a thriving community balancing both growth and content. Twitter leans more heavily towards prestige in its current form as content is posted much more frequently, like a news feed. Instagram remains one of the most authentic platforms because it works in this way mimicking human nature. Prestige counts.
There is some validity to the perspective that "followers don't put money in my bank account." From a purely revenue perspective, there are so many profitable methodologies to follow. For a growing business, there are choices to make. Spending the time it takes to grow a following on your own is a substantial process, and for some it makes sense to focus on other areas first.
Even if your only focus from a revenue generating standpoint is advertising, there are still a lot of ways the power of followers can increase your performance. The most direct of these is social proof. It has become a staple of advertising on Facebook and presenting content, a product, or service online. Social proof is the positive engagement of a particular ad or post. These social ads often start out as posts on Facebook or Instagram posted to an account where followers interact (mostly positively) having already joined support for the brand by following. This social proof then serves as validation when the ad is viewed during its cycle. All the likes and reactions on Facebook serve as reviews for the ad. The algorithm of Facebook and Instagram also targets more effectively AND to a wider audience with social proof. Learn more about social proof.
For our service, we priced it to be affordable for every business - not just larger businesses. Every business, no matter how small, can use the power of followers to benefit their growth. The startup, freelancer, contract worker, the creative, the local business, and the small business can all afford to grow a following and maximize their social with Sollevarsi SOCIAL.
Ignite Your Sales Funnel
In digital business, it is all about funnels. A good sales funnel drives traffic, converts, and makes sales basically on auto-pilot.
Sales funnels aren't quick conversions though and they depend heavily on things like prestige and social proof to make those first, oh so important conversions like getting people to opt-in to your email list. Most importantly, sales funnels require warm leads to be efficient. Many sales funnels have multiple ad sets running just to create warm leads. Content marketing is done almost exclusively to build a long term brand relationship so that when the sales funnel is started, it isn't only to cold leads.
Enter a growing, vibrant social community. Social followers can shorten your sales process by continually igniting your sales funnels with warm leads in addition to social proof and prestige. Sure, you can do a sales funnel without social followers but you're going to be throwing money at it just to warm up these leads over time. Social followers can close that gap for your business. If your business uses a service like Sollevarsi SOCIAL - you can have this social machine running on auto-pilot.
Leads Not Lemmings
The last powerful result of social growth on your business we will discuss is perhaps the most hidden, yet arguably the most powerful. It is a power of philosophy.
The biggest problem with the notion that 'followers don't put money in my bank account' is that it marginalizes and discounts the fabric of a positive relationship with people who want to support your brand. If you think followers 'don't put money in your pocket', then you are going to fail unless you change your philosophy.
The best brands and businesses create authentic connects with their consumers, their clients, their followers. These are the people who like your products or services. They like your content. Someone who follows you on social media should feel like they are important to your brand. A person who engages with you, especially when you are small, is GOLD! Those are the relationships you should nurture. These are the people who should help you plot your course, make adjustments, advise you on how your products and services perform and can improve.
We get caught up in big numbers, a million followers, and low rates of engagement. We lose sight of faces and see digits. We make the mistake that an individual doesn't matter to the bottomline. It's a slippery slope toward an eroding relationship. Your bottomline is built by a series of individuals. There is not a better way to create an authentic, organic relationship with a massive number of new people than social media like Instagram. It may not offer the same authenticity as a handshake, but social media can be as authentic if you value the right things. Put value in your followers by offering them value in your content. Value that relationship because they are leads not lemmings.
The Insta-Famous Influencer
A new-ish feature of social media is the phenomena of the influencer. This account is defined by having a large and active following. The business model is that a person or business has grown an account based on their interests and/or expertise to such heights that advertisers now pay them for access to this vibrant and lucrative group. Personal brands that have done this are "Insta-famous." The most popular of these are models, fitness professionals, photographers, and tattoo artists to name a few. The great part about this power is that these tend to be "amateurs."
The financial side of the influencer is that they are anything but amateurs. The brands themselves are intimate, personal, and authentic on social media. Other business brands leverage these influencers to sell products and services to their highly active, engaged and specialized brands. Instagram is the perfect platform for these businesses.
It is no joke either. Influencers make big money on Instagram and other platforms. It starts at hundreds of dollars per post and balloons to hundreds of thousands on the high end. The biggest variable on the scale an influencer makes for sponsored content is follower size.
The Expert Influencer
You have no doubt seen TED talks from experts on varying subject matters. The wonderfully engaging, powerful, and stimulating presentations are all over social media for good reason. I can see why these professionals are subject matter experts.
Being a subject matter expert in 2017 almost always includes commanding a large following on social media. Being an influencer started with experts bringing their expertise to social media. These influencers were the experts before social media and they came to social to get out their message. What they found was that they could make money, fund their projects, and empower their message with the large followings they grew. Now, experts are made on social media. Influencers start growing ON social media. In fact, some of them might not even be experts outside of social media.
The power of followers extends beyond fame and fortune and into information. Suddenly, an expert is validated by the large social media following. For good AND bad, the power of the social media following is effecting the information we value on subject matters and even in the news.
Yet, even for businesses and brands who are focused on e-commerce or offline sales - there is substantial value for growing a following on social media. We've discussed prestige within the channel such as Instagram. There is prestige outside of the channel as well which fits into the larger validity of your brand. Brand is why Instagram is such a powerful, and under utilized, tool for businesses. Too many brands and industries I have consulted for have very little presence on Instagram. Instagram grows brands like wildfire once you figure out how to do content. (Hint: Add value, be authentic. It's not complicated. More on that in another post.)
We've also discussed being an influencer on social media. But, for a business focused on e-commerce or short term revenue in general, it is especially powerful. Becoming an authority or go-to for information on the brand experience around your products and services is powerful and explosive.
You can’t deposit followers into a bank. Followers in and of themselves are not directly depositing money into your business's bank account. It’s a sales and revenue focused perspective, but a short sighted one. Nothing deposits money in your business’s bank account except sales. PERIOD. Not ads. Not marketing. Not branding. Not influence. Not attention. Nothing puts money directly in your account except selling a good or service. Yet, there is so much that happens before the point of sale. All of these different areas of a healthy business are crucial to success - especially brand. Every business, small or large that I have ever worked with had a wide strategy that covered many of these areas and allocated resources to develop each of them. I have never seen a business focus solely on point of sale and be successful.
This perspective is the wrong one and plays into the "magic pill" we are always looking for that doesn't exist. Digital sales are not so easy as someone walking into your store and buying your product. Businesses fail everyday by expecting this result, the easy road to success. Social Media is no different and so is a following. "I just created a social media account and I have 10 new leads." "I designed a website and poof $$." Nope.
This perspective discounts, marginalizes, and ignores several very important elements in “depositing money into your business’s bank account.”
A First Step Positive Perspective
You prepare all week for a big webinar of your product or your business. You’ve got it sharpened down to a razors edge. You’re ready to go. You’re presenting to no one. Zero people. It looks like that webinar isn't going to be depositing any money in your account either.
Followers are audiences. They are traffic. They are a brand. In a world filled with social content touch points like Facebook live, Snapchat, Instagram live, and every other social media channel, you have the OPPORTUNITY to grow a profitable following.
Think of followers in business terms. These are qualified leads. They have already taken a real action toward joining your brand. Though small and finite, this action is one step closer to your sales funnel. If you’re building a following the right way, you’re qualifying leads for your sales funnels. A quality following is as valuable as a rolodex once was for a salesman or a contact list spreadsheet or an email list is today. I think it is a healthy perspective to view a following as the first step into your brand. Very few go straight from following on social to buying your service. But, nurturing these leads down the line WILL make a difference in your bottomline.
Devaluing a quality following is very narrow sighted. Adding an individual follower is most likely not going to net you any income. Neither is making one sales call. Neither is running one ad (at relative cost). Yet, all those things are still very valuable functions when done properly, scaled up, and in substantial repetition.
Growing a following is not your end goal. There is much more work to be done. Followers are one of many ways you nurture leads and merely a first step. Sales don’t happen in a step 1 and step 2 simplistic journey. Buyers go on much more varied and longer journeys to purchasing your products or service. This is especially true if you are selling a digital product or service. A follower may follow to get a taste of your value before proceeding to even look at what you offer. They need to identify your value before they become a customer. Revenue is much more varied and long tail in the digital world than we are made to believe when we first get started. Expecting to simply “cash in” from a following is narrow sighted and won’t get you where you really want to go.
Bad Message from Your Business and Brand
If you can’t value others who find value in what you do or offer, you are going to lose. It’s pretty simple. People that openly value what you do and what you offer are highly valuable even if you can’t deposit them into the bank.
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