It was the 2011 Driving Sales Executive Summit when I was asked by Joe Webb to participate in a debate about Twitter followers. I had around 100,000 followers at the time and he wanted me to argue for the side of quantity being more important than quality. This made perfect sense except for one fact: I don't believe in quantity being a more important factor than quality. I did back in 2008 when Twitter was bright and shiny and "churning" for Twitter followers was a common technique, but those days are way behind us.
Today, size still matters. It's not the total size that counts but the size of your engaged audience. Under most circumstances, I hate using buzzwords like "engagement" but it fits perfectly here. Your engaged audience is all that matters from a business perspective.
Let's look at a handful of social networks for examples of how quantity and quality fit into the models for marketing in each. We'll focus on three areas: fan base (likes and followers), posting frequency, and interactions with others.
This is the big daddy in social media and deserves to be up top.
* Fan Base - This is the most important component when discussing quality versus quantity, particularly for localized businesses. National and worldwide brands do not have to worry about it as much, but when you're promoting a local car dealership, you actually want fewer fans that are outside of your area. An ideal Facebook page fan base would be comprised entirely of locals, of people who would be willing to drive to the store. I'll take 500 local fans over 10,000 fans spread out any day, even if 500 of those spread out fans are local. Why? It's all about demographic and advertising. Facebook ads are extremely powerful and pages that are loaded with irrelevant fans actually hurts your ability to market to the locals. It drives up expenses and can make you look like a cheater to those who see your page and wonder why so many people outside of your area seem to like your page.
* Posting Frequency - There are two different strategies here. On one side of the spectrum, you have the business-only Facebook strategy that puts up 2 or 3 posts a week all related to business and advances these through Facebook ads. EdgeRank will not be favorable to this strategy, but EdgeRank goes out the window with proper advertising in place. The other side of the coin is to go after 1-3 posts a day (or more) with the hope of being a part of the conversation on a daily basis. This works fine as well. The pages that fail are the ones that are posting constantly. This becomes noise and forces people to hide you from their news feeds. They aren't here to see a bunch of posts from businesses. They came to Facebook to see little Timmy sliding into third base. Don't overpost.
* Interactions - Again, quality is better than quantity here, but it's less of an issue on Facebook. If you're posting comments, liking, and sharing the posts of other pages regularly but not too much, you'll be fine. The biggest challenge I've seen is in having people log in as their Facebook pages and actually interact. Most are willing to comment on their own posts when people respond to them, but it goes deeper, or at least it should.
The biggest problem that most businesses face with Twitter is automation.
* Fan Base - I've seen accounts with 1000 avid and engaged followers that have more power and get more interactions than accounts with 250k followers. This is a big problem, the ease in which people can buy fake followers to bump up their numbers. It's a joke, really. Focusing on getting real people who are active on Twitter to follow your account is gold.
* Posting Frequency - It's not really possible to overpost on Twitter. Posting too many at once is a challenge because flooding followers' feeds will make them unfollow you, but it's possible to get a ton of posts out there every day without making people too upset. However, automated posting tools such as RSS posters or Facebook post integration is a mistake. On some of the accounts I manage, I post over 20 times a day, but every single post is done manually. I schedule them - I'm not on Twitter 24/7 - but everything I schedule is manually vetted. More importantly, they're all hand-crafted. You can get more out of a properly written Tweet than five RSS-fed Tweets any day.
* Interactions - I'm rude. I don't reply to every single person who Tweets at me or retweets me. It's not because I don't appreciate the interactions. It's because I don't want to flood my followers' feeds with a bunch of "Thanks for the Retweet" posts. As a general rule, interact with those who put in the effort. In other words, you don't have to talk to everyone who pushed the retweet button, but if they typed something specifically at you or added their two cents to a conversation, it's best to interact right back at them. Keep it fresh and don't talk to spammers.
The newest big hotness in social media is making a splash on the business side. As a result, there is a need to understand the quality versus quantity aspect as it stands now. This can change as the site continues to grow, but for now here are some best practices.
* Fan Base - For businesses, this is the only social network where size really does make a big difference. You can still be effective without a ton of followers, but they definitely help. Just like with Twitter, there are buying services available that let you bump up your numbers. Just like with Twitter, this is a terrible idea. You can grow your following by posting regularly, tagging appropriately, and interacting with the accounts that are also posting content that you like.
* Posting Frequency - The first thing I do when I see my Pinterest page flooded with someone else's posts is to unfollow them. The elegant way in which Pinterest displays their feed makes it easy to spot the overposters. To me, the magic number is 10 a day if you can spread it out and no more than five at a time, but some would say you can post more in a day but should post less at a time. Make your choice based upon your schedule; if you can log in and post three or four times a day, post 1-3 at a time. If you're logging in once a day, get 3-5 out there during your Pinterest session.
* Interactions - Pinterest and Tumblr are the social networks where it's okay to operate strictly from an interaction perspective. Twitter is as well when used strictly as a communication tool, but unless a business is truly dialed in and has integrated their Twitter into their standard operating procedures, they'll get more benefit by proactively engaging. Pinterest and Tumblr are sharing machines, so even if you never post your own original content, you can still be successful by simply being a strong curator. The benefit here is that it's easier to get engagement when you're working with other people's content.
This doesn't mean that having no friends, followers, and fans is a good idea on any social network. It simply means don't focus on size. Stay true to keeping things rolling along in the right direction and the right followers will find you.