Social Media: So, Are Numbers Important Or Not?

Are Numbers Important In Social Media? Followers, Likes, Retweets, Subscribers… Is any of this stuff important? I’m sure you’ve listened to both sides, “get more followers” and “numbers are not important”.

There is a lot of noise on both sides, people telling you that numbers are important are usually trying to sell you some kind of software and people telling you they’re not, have 50k followers and get retweeted like crazy. So which one is it?

I’m going to tell you when and why numbers are important, or not.

Let’s take it step by step…

Business Objectives

First of all, the most important thing is that you understand what your business objectives are and how they translate into online goals. That will make the difference and you will be able to determine if numbers, either high or low, are important for your business AND, if it’s relevant to display them on your site/blog.

Profit Anyone?

How do these numbers affect your bottom line? most likely not directly, having higher Retweets than your direct competitor means nothing on the front-end. Having a bigger influence over that same competitor could mean everything and Retweets, Likes and RSS subscribers could be part of that.

The point here is that higher numbers don’t necessarily translate into profits. I know of a few individuals out there with very small communities that are very successful creating a sustainable income. In other words, when we talk about a profitable business, we should focus on dollars, not on Retweets. When we talk about reaching a bigger audience through a blog, then we focus on Retweets.

So when exactly are these numbers important?

On two different fronts:

Online Community

IF (notice the big “IF”) our business objectives require that we reach a higher audience then numbers like followers, “likes” and others become a measurable item. For example, if you sell information products through a blog, then your social media strategy should include increasing those numbers.

When you create something, you need to put that creation in front of people.

Social Proof

For the same reason a book cover reads “Author of the Best-Seller…”. 10k monthly readers, 15k Twitter followers, 10k Likes indicates that you are a successful whatever you are, a leader in your industry or at least an important blog in your niche. People don’t join Ning communities with 8 members or share posts with 2 Retweets. This is the same reason why blogs have comment counters.

As a quick exercise, visit the blogs from different leaders in your niche and see if they display these kind of digits.

Social proof builds credibility, like it or not.

A Reality Check

Our reality check also comes on two fronts:

Externally

On external platforms such as Facebook or Twitter, there is a publicly accessible digit known as Likes or Followers, however, you have to be realistic and admit that only a tiny fraction of those digits are actually engaging or are relationships. Those could mean people that you interact with or people that consume and share your content.

If you run a Facebook Page for example, it’s very easy to get an idea on the users that actually engage with you. Just a look at the number of “Active Users” and compare with the total number of “Likes”. It looks something like this.

Facebook Page Active Users

In this case, only 16.87% of the users are active. A higher percentage however, clicked the “Like” button and never came back to the page.

Internally

By “Internally” I mean your blog. These numbers are considered “Content Engagement”. If you want to analyze the performance of a single post, you could start by measuring visitors or pageviews and then see how many of these actually shared your content through a Retweet, a Delicious bookmark or other.

The truth is that you could be kicking ass at this level BUT, if this content is not converting then all these numbers are useless. I’m not saying traffic or content engagement are not relevant, of course they are. What I’m saying is that if tons of traffic and shares are not achieving your online goals then it means nothing.

A lot of the Retweets on posts are done without even reading a single line, they are retweeted because people share stuff for different reasons. If you have an audience, a clever headline is sometimes enough to fly. Is this bad? not necessarily, you are getting more exposure after all. I’m just saying…

Final Thought

My conclusion, and this is just me (you should express your thoughts in the comments section), is that numbers matter. They matter in different ways and at different levels. You are the only one that can determine that.

One of the worst things you can do is to start following people on Twitter without having a clear objective. Can you drive traffic from Twitter to your blog? You bet… Can you get Retweeted? of course you can… the question is: For what?

Also, to make it very clear, these numbers are highly addictive and can waste a lot of your valuable time. Not recommended for people that gets distracted by shiny objects. Like my wife ; )

Your Turn…

What are thoughts? Do you care about social proof? What is your business goal behind having more followers? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments and please… feel free to disagree!

One more thing before you go, please share this post! =)

  • Hey, Fransisco: as you know you are raising a very subjective topic here.

    Here's my take on it: you said that higher numbers don’t necessarily translate into profits. However, in my opinion, they DO translate into higher PROBABILITY of profits.

    The more a post gets retweeted, the more likely I get traffic to it.

    Now, who is to say you can't have the best of both worlds? You can still have a high number of Twitter followers, but also have a “true” circle of influence that you communicate with by separating them into a “special” list. You are on one of those for me! 🙂

    Anyway, would love to hear what you think.

    Ana

  • Hey Francisco.. You make a good point here

    It really has everything to do with your business model, in my opinion. I mean.. if you're selling info products then, more retweets, equals more traffic which equals more leads and ultimately more sales. right?

    But I've also heard of those who only need a few of the RIGHT type of visitors because they're selling higher ticket stuff.. ie, coaching/consulting and web design services..

    makes sense to me..
    Hector

  • Numbers are important if and only if your objective is measured in that numbers. Bloggers with bigger audiences, followers can impress, but if they have no comments? All is relative. The cocktail numbers depend of the person.

    Speaking about business the number that are important are the conversion of sales (no the traffic) but if your target is conversion via ads then the quality of the traffic is fundamental.

    The question is which is your target from social numbers? I see several bloggers and businesses that haven’t clear and jump over the social wagon just because you “must” be there.

    All the best,

    Gera

  • Yes, I think that numbers are very important. You need all the traffic you can get because you never know which one will be your profit. I really enjoyed your article. They always make me think.

  • I'm glad to hear that Bessy. The focus is always on ROI.

  • Hey Gera, Comments are also a form of content engagement, they are considered to be more important since they require of a bigger effort from the user than a simple retweet.

    As you mention, however, the real goal is conversion, be that a sale, ad clickthrough or a subscription. Whatever the business objective is. I like your term “cocktail numbers”…

    Thanks for the comment!

  • Exactly my point, everything is based on business objectives. At @pluralnpartners for example, an interactive agency I jam with, we focus on very few connections with key individuals in the industry. There is never a discussion on shared content or followers. In this case this stuff becomes noise…

    BTW, great post: http://www.hectorjcuevas.com/articles/anatomy-perfect-sales-process

    Thanks for your comment bro!

  • Hey Ana,

    I think we're agreeing here, it's a content marketing strategy. Drive traffic by getting exposure to a bigger audience. Conversion is a second step in the process.

    Using Twitter lists to filter your true relationships is a great idea, I do the same and have created a column on my Twitter client that has a higher priority than the “Home Feed”. You're also in it BTW =)

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • Hey Francisco,

    This post touches on a topic I recently spoke about that is very similar. It is really about strategy, which you are driving home here. Objectives need to be clearly identified, and (it seems) most people fail to do that when promoting themselves/their brand(s) online.

    Regarding social proof, as I'm sure you'll agree, a high tweet count in and of itself is NOT a solid objective, unless you are specifically measuring the popularity of certain topics or words or phrases, etc. It is scary to think that that is all people want these days – social proof. Social proof will not pay the bills. But so long as people are still “trying out” this “online marketing thing” it will remain center stage. Everyone wants to be popular but few seem to consider what they are going to do with the popularity once they have it.

    Again, I think numbers matter but which numbers matter depends heavily on objectives.

  • I think whether it's Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, or the thousands of other niche communities out there, marketers tend to fall into the trap of just counting the number of followers, fans, members, or friends that they have. Using this measurement alone can be a very misleading metric to base an integrated marketing strategy on.

    Services that automatically follow back someone who follows or friends you on a particular social media platform can make managing and implementing a social media strategy a lot easier, they also have their drawbacks.

    At the end of the day, it's the quality of what you are giving your followers that matters the most if you want to be successful.

  • I agree numbers mean nothing when you are trying to make money. I know people that kill it at $5,000 a month with there blog, yet can't get 10 RTs or FB shares.

    And Alexa,, is deceiving,, I can have twice your traffic, yet your rank will much much lower then mine. Alexa look at consistency over traffic bursts.

    Social attention is nice, but it is the WORST type traffic to monetize. If you want a popular blog then great.. if you want money, then you need to drive a lot more traffic then JUST social.

  • Interesting and vital post. I'm mixed about this topic. On the one hand, numbers do matter. If no one comments on your posts, then it's unlikely that others do the first step. People trust people who are followed by (many) people.
    On the other hand numbers can be deceitful. You can have high traffic stats and impressive subscriptions, but if the conversion is low then the numbers aren't worth shit.
    I personally prefer to have some decent numbers in both traffic and comments, and then make sure I get some quality interactions with them.

  • LKelly

    I am very torn on this. A lot of our clients want to see the numbers grow and people comment/tweet to them. These are the numbers they all care about. I do not think this is always the most important.

    Often times I 'like' something on Facebook, or 'follow' on Twitter but do not comment. I read and I am interested in what they are saying, but perhaps don't think that they really care what I, as an individual, have to say. Just because I do not comment, does not mean I don't pay attention.

    Its really hard to keep track of who is actually reading and processing what companies post on their social networks.

    The real question for me is: how do you get people to WANT to post; to think the business cares about their thoughts; to get into a conversation? This is the most difficult for me. Getting people to 'like' or 'follow' a business is the easy part.

    Any thoughts on engaging them?

    Laura
    JSNCafe.com

  • Good point Laura, I experience this issue all the time. It's obvious that there is a difference between working with brands and small business, what surprises me is that brands are usually more concerned with growing rates on “likes” and followers.

    Now, to be fair, let's compare with traditional media. Ad agencies are more concerned with being super creative and original, they even build campaigns aiming for specific awards (believe me, I have been in those meetings…) and nobody cares if the TV spot has any impact.

    About your question, we have been discussing how to motivate conversations between users on FB instead of just reacting to whatever we have to say, I'll keep you posted on the findings. Other ways to motivate engagement are polls or contests, simple and quick, nothing major but more frequently.

    Thanks for your comment, stay in touch.

  • Thanks Man.. I appreciate that

  • Darcy

    Francisco, Do the numbers count or do they not count. It makes my head spin! =-)

    I try not to look at the numbers on my blog. I seem to have good traffic and some comments, but not many retweets or likes. My blog is new so that may be it or it might be my content is not worthy enough.

  • Yes Twitter followers count poor in certain cases like when you have thousands of followers in which most of them are not real but are fake/robots! I think we need to analyze certain things on twitter: How many like minded people follow you? How many other sections follows you? Does they follow just because you follow them? Who are re-tweeting your messages? What are the links you get traffic from twitter? How often you need to tweet. Because analyzing them can understand the real benefit of twitter marketing.

    And on facebook, I think if someone likes your status it does mean you are not up to the mark because you cannot make him to comment!

  • Sure your number of followers/fans count, but what counts more is that you have good quality followers/fans, and that the mission of having them tweet and retweet or post comment on what you are putting out in the online space. I tend to look more at what kind of reaction you are getting online vs how many fans/followers you have. If your brand or message is being spread in the online space because what you are putting out there is of value, then that is your measure of success.

  • Thanks for that. It puts a bit of light on a subject that i have been throwing around Conawarra.

  • Everything that glitters is not gold but everybody is curious to know the reason behind that glitter and its justified to some extent.

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  • yes these numbers are considered “Content Engagement”. If you want to analyze the performance of a single post, you could start by measuring visitors or pageviews and then see how many of these actually shared your content through a Retweet, a Delicious bookmark or other.

  • How do these numbers affect your bottom line?

  • I’m sure you’ve listened to both sides, “get more followers” and “numbers are not important”.