Opinion

Chasing leads not likes: Why no one cares about how many Facebook followers you have

Social media adviser Tim Doutré explains why in the age of pay to play, growing followers shouldn’t be at the top of anyone’s priority list.

Hands up if you’ve spent a lot of your time chasing social media followers.

It used to be a focal point for any social media report card – the go-to stat when you were presenting to the boss as you looked to justify the presence of (and resources devoted to) social media.

But as Bob Dylan once noted ‘the times they are a-changing’. Chasing followers is no longer the main goal on social media, in fact, it hasn’t been for quite a while.

Sure, it helps with your organic reach to a degree, but as we find ourselves beholden to the new social media mantra ‘pay to play’, things are becoming increasingly clear: it’s time to put engagement at the top of the pedestal.

Throw out the followers obsession 

The messages coming out of a recent forum on the future of social media in Melbourne made it very clear. It’s time to move on.

The likes of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn have deliberately turned away from chronological timelines to encourage you to buy your way to the top of your audience’s timeline.

As a result, measuring your success based solely on your page likes is no longer the most reliable indicator. After all, anyone with a spare couple of hundred can get thousands of likes to their page in a few hours these days. 

But as Roghan Mckerlie, a self-described ‘content jedi’ from content marketing studio Rogues Gallery, put it: “Likes by themselves are useless.”

Chris Ledlin, director of social media at Southern Cross Austereo, which boasts the Hamish & Andy juggernaut in its stable, agreed, saying it’s time to “throw out the whole followers obsession”.

“Don’t worry about followers. They mean nothing,” he said.

“We look at interactions. I want to know how many people are interacting with Hamish & Andy.

“It’s great to have them and great to put in your press releases but it’s all about interactions.”

Ledlin said the Austereo team – a business which seeks an Australian audience – measures their social media success based on engagement and the geographic location of followers.

This makes their overall follower count a misleading, and in many cases, irrelevant statistic.

“We work with marketing, we look at Facebook and Instagram interactions and we look at Australian followers,” Ledlin said.

“We might have 10 million followers but probably half of them are in the US, so that’s really not great for us.”

Chase leads not likes

In addition to draining budgets across the world, the increasing (and frustrating) shift away from chronological timelines means businesses are more reliant than ever on decision-makers at social media companies.

As Kate McBean, head of marketing at Yahoo7, said: “We are at the mercy of the Facebook algorithm, they change one tiny thing and everyone panics.”

So where does that leave us? Stuck in a world where we continue to pour money into the pockets of Zuckerberg and co with no end in sight?

Not necessarily. Businesses are starting to wise up when it comes to paying to play. 

Pay to play has increasingly become the norm

Interestingly, Ledlin and McBean said email has a role to play.

“The email boom is happening again,” Ledlin said. “We are heavily investing into email marketing. We are focussing on using social and Facebook lead generation cards to generate leads.”

By generating leads via social media, businesses can capture an audience member on one platform but continue the relationship outside of it, arguably decreasing their reliance on the pay to play game.

The questions remain though: are we fighting a losing battle?

A scary thought, but we can take solace in the fact that some things will never change.

As Audrey Norman, chief marketing officer at SMS Global, noted, the key to success is to: “Understand your customers. Provide them with great stories. Do those stories on a platform that works for them.”

Now to figure out which platform that is.

Tim Doutré is social media adviser at the Australia and New Zealand School of Government and a former journalist.

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