Is Social Media Becoming a Numbers Game?

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February 3rd, 2011

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As a social media agency it won’t come as any surprise that we monitor and manage multiple channels (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, etc) on behalf of our clients.  Each channel has its own list of followers, fans and friends and often we concentrate on specific channels according to the client’s wishes and our recommendations.864731_lucky_numbers_3

Twitter is often a popular choice for brands, but as more and more enter the Twitter-sphere we’re noticing how differently companies worldwide are reacting, responding and engaging in conversations in a comparison to the next – some doing it better than others.

Naturally, each of the brands will be trying to satisfy their own objectives for utilising a social media channel such as Twitter – objectives that are often associated with follower numbers or mentions.  However, are these objectives a good measurement of the extent of engagement their brand is achieving within a genuine target audience?  Or are they in fact just a host of numbers to show that a job is being done?

Many brands may measure their success on Twitter by the number of followers they have, something that can actually be counter-productive.  It’s easy to become obsessed with having follower numbers into the thousands or tens of thousands, but blindly following irrelevant people in the hope that some may follow you back is actually a method of spamming (we don’t like spamming- see previous blogs) and besides, it doesn’t really get anyone anywhere.  The key to Twitter from a brand’s perspective is to engage and interact with followers who are relevant to a business, enabling the brand to have conversations online and create a public community.

We also see people attributing the number of tweets they’ve posted as a sign of a successful Twitter account. This might actually signal that the brand is not really listening or engaging with their followers but is posting impersonal, untimely tweets- often about themselves or something their brand is doing.  It’s not a great way of achieving engagement and interaction that we’re looking for when communicating through social media.

On the contrary, numbers can often be useful where retweets or @ mentions are concerned.  Someone retweeting your post normally signals that you’ve said something interesting.  Similarly, if an @ mention is responding to something you’ve tweeted then you have successfully managed to engage with a follower and should continue to try and keep the conversation between them interesting and ongoing.

We’re well aware that the quality versus quantity argument is alive and well in the social media arena and despite there being ongoing criticism in the traditional PR remit (we won’t start on payment by results) there doesn’t seem to be any lessons learnt so far, and unfortunately we sense a similar fate for social media channels.  We’re not holding our breath for Twitter to be approached in a ‘best practice’ kind of way anytime soon, but we hope that brands will begin to realise that following any old ‘Tom, Dick or Harry’ is not strategic and is in fact just a numbers game.

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PR & social media, with a bit more