For many of us, they're sources of considerable pride. And who can blame a brand for pounding its chest when it vaults past a million Twitter followers or Facebook likes?
But the question is, how engaged are those followers? How many of your messages are they seeing and how many are they interacting with? If we look at recent data, we might guess that the answer is a pretty low number. A recent Adweek article used data from Snapgoods to illustrate that users engage with only 5% of all the people in their networks. That number drops to 3% if you eliminate birthday shout-outs and passive engagement. If we look at a channel like Twitter in isolation, we see reports that nearly 80% of Twitter users have tweeted fewer than 10 lines and some 40% of users have never sent a single Tweet.
Numbers like this make you wonder how many of those people following your brand are even active lurkers?
That's why I believe that brands and individuals need to find new and more relevant ways to measure the effectiveness of social media efforts; ways that better reflect the value of your connections, not merely the volume. I recently heard a headhunter say that he won't consider a candidate with fewer than 500 connections on LinkedIn. My question for him is this: wouldn't being linked to 50 of the world's most influential people be even more impressive?
As you think of your own network of friends or followers, you know who has fashion sense, collects cool travel spots, always has a lead on the best restaurants. Depending on what kind of information you're looking for, you seek out and trust these individuals in their respective areas of interest and expertise. The rest is just noise that you may glance at or ignore. Rather than being so driven by big numbers, the new challenge for brands is penetrating these smaller circles of conversation where true influence and trust is established.
Segmenting this inner circle isn't easy, but there are more resources to help you identify those that are active, including RetweetFollow, PeopleBrowsr, MailChimp, Klout and others, all of which provide some ability to help you build and enhance your dialogue with engaged consumers.
Help might also be on the way with Google+, which seems to recognize that social media is very much about these small, tight collections of people. While the "business" version of Google+ has yet to be launched, the current consumer release hints at some of its promise. With the introduction of Circles, there is the potential to very easily create and manage defined and intimate groups of people from which you can establish greater relevance and dialogue. Similarly, Google+ offers Hangouts, which allows up to 10 people to meet via live multi-person video that could be an ideal way to deliver certain aspects of customer service, or solicit feedback from customers in ways that could rival small focus groups.
There's always been a debate in the hotel business over whether you'd rather have higher rates and lower occupancy, or higher occupancy and lower rates. Perhaps now there's a need to look at whether you'd rather have huge numbers of Likes and low engagement or a lower number of Likes and higher levels of engagement.
For me, quality trumps quantity.