Obsessing about social media follower counts seems less a case of tracking serious investment and more about vanity. Social media curmudgeons seem to suggest that, anyway, implying that social follower count doesn’t really amount to much.
It’s not just vanity. It builds your confidence, provides data and direction, and it speaks to how far your content can potentially reach. It’s tied into brand familiarity and, ultimately, getting a return on investment (ROI) for the time and money you’ve invested online.
What’s the ROI of Social Media, Anyway?
When it comes to ROI, the investment that you make to get the return looks different than traditional outbound marketing. So what exactly does social media return back to you for all of your time and financial investment? Because if you don’t believe there’s an ROI to it, there’s no reason to waste your time chasing after 10,000 followers.
Social media provides a data horde unlike anything else. Social media guru Jay Baer broke that data down into four types of metrics.
- Consumption metrics speak to how people consumed your content. In other words, how many viewed, downloaded, listened to or read your content.
- Sharing metrics tell you how many people shared your content on social media, and in what context (time of day, for example). In other words, if people liked your content at all.
- Lead generation metrics reveal how often consumed or shared content leads to conversion. Your goal isn’t just creating great content, but creating great content that converts. Without paying attention to this metric, you’ll know if people like your content but you won’t know if it is effective at conversion.
- Sales metrics reveal whether a piece of content led directly to sales and income. These metrics tend to be the metric people immediately think of when debating whether social media has any true ROI or not.
In other words, you’re not going to get real-time, real-people, real-conversation accurate demographic data all in one package like you do on social media from any other traditional marketing method. This is real data that lets you fine-tune your sales and marketing quickly.
Branding & Loyalty
Social media creates familiarity with your brand, much like traditional brands used to do with television and newspaper ads.
What’s different, of course, is the personal aspect.
You’re not blasting your message at someone, breaking into their favorite TV show. It’s ground-up rather than top-down. You don’t control the message entirely, and followers have to give you permission (by following your brand) to market to them. That’s where loyalty comes in.
Take Oreo, for example, a brand that makes…a cookie.
Yet it’s well-known for its clever and timely social media posts. This is a cookie brand with 750,000 followers on Twitter alone, much less other social sites. With social media (in an anti-sugar processed foods era, even), it has managed to be seen as a brand that’s witty, relevant and completely engaged. The brand has funny conversations with its customers in full public view. The same can be said for the almost slavish devotion and brand reboot of Old Spice (with its famous YouTube videos). While Old Spice ran its videos as television commercials, its social feeds interact with followers and other brands in hilarious ways. How exciting is deodorant, anyway?
Apparently it’s exciting enough that half a million people subscribe to watch videos about it.
Social media turned a classic cookie and an “old” men’s brand into something fresh with loyal followers. Social media plus consistent branded content and approach can give you seriously loyal fans. As Jay Baer pointed out, social media really excels at retention, with 53% of Americans who follow brands on social media being more loyal to those brands.
Growing Your Social Networks
Social media clearly has an ROI on several key levels. And that’s why wanting thousands of social media followers isn’t merely about vanity, but it’s about real business.
Every social network has similar must-haves in order for you to gain followers:
- Get your profile in order. You have to have a completed and brand-aligned profile on each network. Use keywords and hashtags (if the network calls for it) so that you show up in relevant searches. Use graphics that fit your brand. Complete information. No one takes you seriously if your profile doesn’t look legit.
- Stay involved. To make the most of your social media accounts, you have to be proactive and stay on top of both followers and conversations. A powerhouse tool like Sprout Social works well as an umbrella approach, making this overarching social media management a breeze.
- Keep your followers. Any business knows that keeping current customers is cheaper than chasing after new ones. This applies, in a way, to social media. Stay connected and place value on the followers you have. Don’t get so caught up in chasing after new followers that you let hard-won followers slip away. This requires two-pronged planning: regular engagement with current followers and techniques for finding and obtaining new followers.
Beyond those basics, each network has tools and tricks that help garner followers. Let’s take a look at three popular networks, and how you can get 10,000 followers with the most advantageous approach.
Twitter & Facebook
Twitter and Facebook move fast. Followers sometimes churn, and news feeds fly by quickly. But that speed can work for you when your goal is to get serious numbers of followers. How do you do it?
By following & Engaging
You must follow people if you want followers. Some people don’t want to follow too many accounts because they want a bit more control over what they see in their feed. That’s no excuse—don’t skimp on following. Create lists and segment your fans if you want that kind of control, basing it on the type of content they share on Twitter and Facebook. Remember that unless the list is private, Twitter users can see the name of the list they’ve been added to (so don’t use list names you’ll regret).
Who do you follow?
- Relevant accounts. Find influencers in your niche that you can leverage, and follow the people they follow and Retweet. Find blogs in your niche, and follow them on Twitter and Facebook. Follow the social accounts of the apps and tools you use or that people in your niche will use. And when blogging about people or tools, always Tweet a link and mention them. io is an ideal app for locating these influencers on Twitter.
- Relevant conversations. Find Twitter chats of relevance in your niche, and join in. Find Facebook Groups related to your niche.
- People you know. Follow all of the people you know and have a relationship with in email and in other social networks, like LinkedIn (there’s a way to do this using an imported CSV file). Connect with these people across multiple social platforms and they’ll see you mean it instead of just chasing after follows.
- People you almost know. Follow users who are following your followers. This seems like the start of a journey down the rabbit hole, but it makes sense. They will have the same interests. You could do this manually, or use a tool like Tweepi (for Twitter) to access a list of second generation followers.
- People you should know. As you begin building followers, Twitter and Facebook will learn who and what you are interested in and may make additional suggestions. Follow these accounts.
Engagement goes along with following. If you follow someone, look through their News Feed and ask a question or respond or share what you see. You can even take it to the next level and carry on that engagement beyond the borders of the social network. Personal engagement where you treat a person like a real person gets attention.
— Sujan Patel (@sujanpatel) August 18, 2015
A word about people who, after all of this, unfollow you: take the time to find out why.
If you care about people who unfollow you, either because you want to keep them as followers or want to know why the stopped following, you can ask them. Most people will tell you, and you can gain valuable insight into what you might need to change in your own feed, or even gain followers back who realize you value them personally.
With Twitter especially, you may think you need to unfollow the accounts that don’t follow you, so that you don’t hit any Twitter following limits, which are 1,000 per day (within guidelines). However, you want to avoid massive follow-unfollow churn, as that is something Twitter punishes.
By the Content You Publish
You gain followers, obviously, by the quality of content you publish. What does that look like?
- Being helpful. When I Work, an app used to help with employee scheduling, is a great example. Check out its Twitter feed—it’s full of blog content that is directly valuable and of interest to their customers, and sometimes even funny.
And that When I Work Twitter feed has over 13,000 followers. Not bad for helpful information on the workplace.
- Be inspiring. Share quotes that readers your niche will find inspiring and motivating. Create graphics to go with them using Canva or Pablo. Find quotes that everyone else isn’t already using, and sprinkle in your own quotes, from your own content. It’s not just other people that have something quotable to say. You’re an authority on what you talk about—own it.
- Be bad-ass. Creating bad-ass content is about creating exceptional content. As I’ve said before, bad-ass content that stands out is about establishing yourself as a true thought leader. A thought leader is a leader, not a follower. That means you don’t fall into some comfortable trap of churning out benign (and completely forgettable) 800-word posts each week, using pretty little templates. You go above and beyond that.
- Pay attention to trends. Never hijack a trending topic that is sensitive in nature, but be on the lookout for trending topics that relate to your niche, or are benign enough that you can have fun with it.
- Connect with them personally. Ask questions and provide answers, both in general, and to specific followers. Respond when they respond to your content. Your only engagement with your followers shouldn’t be self-promotional.
And then, once you have all of your content ducks in a row, be sure to publish it to social media when your followers are online. As your follower counts grow, this may change a bit. A tool like Tweriod (for Twitter) will help.
LinkedIn is the professional social network, that place where you are building your online professional persona. This is a social network that can lead to jobs, clients and beneficial partnerships, a kind of business-to-business (B2B) playground. In this sense, LinkedIn is about a higher level of direct and purposeful one-on-one communication to a carefully built contacts list more than Facebook or Twitter.
Communicate With Purpose
It’s clear that there is one simple way to grow followers across all of your social networks, and that’s by staying in communication. This is never more true than in LinkedIn, where your contacts are your professional bedrock. Building them, whether through social media interaction, real-life networking or LinkedIn message or email conversations, is paramount.
It’s more than merely staying in touch with your contacts on a regular basis (though that’s a huge part of it, and one that many people neglect to do). It’s about staying in touch regularly and cohesively.
You’re going to be sending out messages to contacts, messages that might be about you asking questions or congratulating them on their content. Or maybe you are alerting them to your new ebook that’s about to launch, or you’ve discovered helpful information you think they might be interested in. You want to be sure to stay on top of these conversations, never letting a response slide or a conversation die to the detriment of your network.
A tool like Five Hundred Plus helps by making it easier to manage and keep track of the conversations you’re having on LinkedIn, allowing you to categorize contacts by how often you think you should contact them and whether you’re keeping to this schedule. If you’re doing it right, you should have enough conversations going on at any given time on LinkedIn that you’ll need such a management tool.
Rapportive is a tool that brings your LinkedIn contacts into your Gmail. If you use Gmail as your preferred communication, Rapportive will make it easier for you to put who you are communicating with in context, making it possible to be more personal and avoid the feeling that you are networking for the sake of networking.
Create Content Your Followers Like
Beyond purposeful communication, though, is the kind of content you create on LinkedIn. You’ll want to share your blog content, curated content, and content you write on LinkedIn Pulse (the network’s blogging platform).
In a LinkedIn SlideShare, the network makes a few suggestions on what makes winning content based on its own data.
- When creating content, share plenty of YouTube videos. As with other social networks, videos are always popular and get more amplification (shares and conversation) than other forms of content.
- Link to or create “best of” list content. Again, this type of content is always popular.
- Share company news. While you might want to reduce this approach on other social networks, 53% of professionals who joined LinkedIn did so to access this type of content. Keep in mind that company news is not the same as self-promotion, which should be minimized.
Additionally, don’t neglect the content you create by simply participating in comments on your own content as well as in groups. Talk, connect, follow and engage. If there was ever a social network that put the emphasis on network, it’s LinkedIn. Let your content and conversation reflect that desire to build a network.
Share Content With Specific Audiences
In addition to creating content your followers like, you must be targeted in who you share your content with. You likely have subsets to your audience.
For example, maybe you have both clients and networked business (B2B) as followers. Some of your content may be more relevant to one group than the other. LinkedIn allows you to share your content with all of your followers, but also to targeted audiences. Make use of this feature so that your content feed is relevant to each person following you. Too much content that feels irrelevant to a follower may lead them to unfollow just to clear up their own news feed.
The Best Tools to Use
I have a core set of 15 content marketing tools you should use every day, but there are others you might want to consider adding to that core toolbox that are more specifically focused on building your social followers.
- Narrow.io: A robust tool that identifies your target audience, using keywords and hashtags, and then making it easy to connect and attract your ideal audience to you.
- Followerwonk: Find out important details about your Twitter followers, such as who they are, geographic area, etc. This app gives you the tools to visualize and analyze follower data so you better understand your audience and how to grow it.
- Filament.io: Get help understanding which social channels bring in more traffic. This app helps you understand shares and engagement. It tells you what your content is doing and why.
- Facebook Mentions: Allows Facebook Pages to engage with Profiles as the Page, letting you connect more personally with fans.
- Little Bird: Find influencers on Twitter based not on keywords, but on “collective discovery” that helps find people you might not know to search for.
- Unfollowers: Find out who unfollowed you.
- Tweriod: Find out when you and your followers are most active on Twitter.
- Twiends: Find other users with similar interests in this social directory.
- Quuu: By integrating with your Buffer account, Quuu helps you become a content curator master without the hassle. Using content categories curated by professionals, your Twitter feed will be full, automatically, of content relevant to your audience.
- Hashtagify: A hashtag search engine that helps you find the best hashtags to use based on popularity, geography, relationships, influencers and other metrics.
- Startafire: Build your brand even with curated content using Startafire, which integrates with other social networks. Every piece of content you share will have your brand badge in the corner. This tool integrates with popular apps including Buffer and HubSpot.
- Tagboard: Find out what kind of activity and sentiment surrounds your hashtags and get a better idea of what to change.
- Five Hundred Plus: This tool helps you manage your LinkedIn contacts as well as the conversations you have with them.
- Rapportive: A tool that brings your LinkedIn contacts into your Gmail.
- Discoverly: Somewhat similar to Rapportive (and not limited to LinkedIn), this Chrome extension shows you the person’s social sites as well as the shared social connections you have with a person.
- Connected: This app syncs contacts and calendars so you can take valuable profile information into a meeting and have something to talk about. Great for real world meeting prep as well as staying more personally connected on the network.
Sujan Patel: Sujan has 12 years of experience in digital marketing and co-created Content Marketer, a tool to help automate and scale content marketing. He is also an avid blogger and writes for Forbes, Inc, WSJ and Entrepreneur. In his spare time he authored the Growth Hacking eBook 100 Days of Growth & Content Marketing Playbook. When he’s not working 80 hours a week you can find him at the racing cars/motorcycles or jumping out of planes.