Follower growth. We’re still talking about it, so let’s talk about it.
After more than a decade navigating this topic with varying degrees of success (and/or frustration), here’s a very tl;dr breakdown of my issues around this goal.
First: it’s often misguided. If your primary goal is sales, I think you should focus your digital marketing resources on getting sales. You should identify what drives a sale and what step(s) the consumer takes right before they purchase your product and build your funnel around driving more of these actions.
Second: it’s very expensive. Even if your goal is to grow followers “organically,” this will still require a ton of time and resources to develop social content, manage active accounts and on and on. And if you’re trying to throw media money at follower growth, buckle up, because I can almost guarantee your spend is not going to be justified by the return to your business.
Third: because of #1 and #2, striving blindly toward followers ends up being a very inefficient use of your resources and lots of nice, smart folks’ brain power. And it often leaves both parties feeling frustrated, at best.
To further explain where I think brands go wrong as they embark down the path of achieving follower numbers at all costs, let’s look at the four follower growth brand views I see most often — along with some explainers/insights around each.
The Mirror: They see social as a natural extension of their business. As their business grows, social followings grow — often at scale. Any virality or unparalleled social growth is seen as more of a nice bonus, rather than their primary goal. Lots of small business social accounts show IRL how this approach, in addition to being a very efficient use of digital marketing resources, also results in developing a very genuine, engaged social audience. The dream, right?
The Visionary: High investment, low return. Brands with this view are fatally attracted to The Celebrity. Even if they run fast, spend high and achieve some success on the follower growth scoreboard, many will be left questioning what they really gained in the end. This movie often has a sad ending.
The Celebrity: Low investment, high return. By being naturally remarkable, they’ve amassed a large social following and now, by creating products tangent to their expertise and their audience’s interests, they’re going to profit. Let’s all try to be happy for them, but let’s not try to be them.
The Billionaire: High investment, brand level returns. These are established brands who have the capital to invest in social to achieve brand-level goals like shifts in brand perception. They don’t need each digital marketing dollar to be tied to their bottom line, so the cost of follower growth is not much of a concern. These are fun projects to work on!
Tl;dr: if your digital marketing efforts need to show a return, be The Mirror. Or maybe, put the mirror down and focus on growing your business first.