Rethinking the Value of Social Media

“All things digital are inherently vulnerable to inflation.”


In my quest to get closer to understanding the value of one’s social media channel followers and fans, and the seeming non-stop challenge of trying to keep up with both growing and interacting with one’s audience, I was intrigued by a post from Julien Smith entitled “Follower Hyperinflation.” Smith is co-author of the book “Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence.”

Follower Inflation

Smith’s post helped explain to me the concept of inflation in a social media following. If you start out on a social network early on and that network grows over time, you can only keep up with that growth for so long because, at some point, the service will experience faster and bigger growth than you. The result is that you end up with less “access” and have to make more effort to be able to reach more people. As Smith puts it, “100 friends yesterday has the same value as 200 today.” This feels to me like a never-ending vicious circle.

My own company sees this dynamic happen within our clients’ social media channels, and we believe there is inherently more value in an honestly-acquired following over time. We’ve been concerned our clients won’t appreciate the smaller but more meaningful numbers and understand that —  because of inflation- – we can’t necessarily get to the “big numbers” today as easily as we could a few years ago (not that we’d even recommend quantity over quality).

So here’s the burning question: How do we effectively scale up over time to keep growing and “managing” our audience?

Here’s what I don’t think we should do:

  1. Don’t buy followers.
  2. Don’t follow too many people at once hoping they’ll follow you back.
  3. Don’t spam as a tactic for getting your message out there.
  4. Don’t stress about the numbers of followers.

We’re getting too caught up in the numbers — and the wrong numbers at that — because of old media, marketing and advertising language. I talked about this before in “The Problem with Social Media.”

Let’s Remember Value

Regardless of the number of ratios and formulas we cook up to better measure and explain the “value” of our social media channel friends, fans and followers, social media marketing is not and should not be a pure numbers game. The real value comes over time when your followers become customers and then enthusiastic evangelists of your brand. You can’t buy that. You can’t inflate that. You can’t put a formula to that other than this:

  • Do good work. Create a good product, have great customer service, etc.
  • Listen. What is being said about you is as important, if not more than, what you are saying about you.
  • Care. In social media channels where conversations are more intimate, people can really tell if you are paying lip service or paying attention.
  • Add value. What you bring to the conversations and communities better be relevant, thoughtful, and of real use to the community members (friends, fans, followers).
  • Be real. Authentic, transparent, honest — you know the drill, but are you doing it?

We should know this by now: Good business boils down to good relationships. Social media tools, networks and channels are just platforms to communicate more closely with others to build those relationships. How you use these tools is up to you. Just make sure you aren’t measuring the wrong numbers and ruining relationships because you’re too fixated on the numbers.

Stay tuned next Wednesday for the second part of “Rethinking the Value of Social Media,” where I’ll talk more specifically about re-framing the way we think about the measurement of our social media efforts.

How are you measuring social media’s value and how is it changing over time?

Flickr Creative Commons image by user Tambako the Jaguar

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