Influence or Number of Followers: Which is More Important?

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influence_followers.jpgI recently did a search on the term “Twitter Followers,” and one of the top results was a blog post titled, “Number of Twitter followers is the most overrated metric in social media.” The blog post was from 2010. I dare say, many PR folks and marketers still haven’t gotten over the idea that the number count is all that matters.  I think we’re still hanging on to a few outdated ideas that have existed since before “inbound” was a thing.

Impressions? I’ll Give You Impressions!

If you are old enough, think back to how advertising was sold before the internet. (If you’re not, you’ll have to take my word for it.) Print advertising, TV advertising, yellow pages and bill boards were all non-interactive media. Unlike online advertising, it was very difficult to confidently tie a buyer’s behavior to a particular ad. I might go into Chipotle because I saw a billboard and it made me hungry, but there’s no “click” to prove that was the reason. So what did advertisers do? We bought impressions.  We made ad buying decisions based on how many people subscribed to a newspaper, drove down a certain street, watched a particular show, and so forth. In that context, a subscriber or viewer was much like a social media follower and the more the better.

Action is Better than Eyeballs

Under the impressions model, it is very difficult to tell if those impressions are actually driving business results. The same is true if you just think about the number of followers. If someone with 90k followers retweets my post, what have I accomplished? Nothing really. I’ve only impacted business results when someone engages with the content by visiting my website, sharing it with their followers, making a comment, or filling out a form.

Influence Makes the Content Go Around

People are much more likely to engage with content that is posted or shared by people they trust and admire. Someone relevant in your space may not have many followers because the content they post is built for a very specific audience. This is a good thing. It means that the people who do follow them are likely to really care about what they have to say. Aviation Maintenance Magazine, for example, only has 2,662 followers, but you can bet those people care a lot about aviation maintenance.

There’s no denying that it might be a big win for your brand if Beyoncé reposts your content, but she has both reach and influence. Reach alone is an insufficient metric for judging your social media effectiveness. Influence and engagement are what really matter. It was true in 2010 and it’s true now.


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