Social Media and Numbers - Why They Don't Matter

Elliot Volkman
Elliot Volkman Co-Founder and Community Manager, Digital District

Posted on December 22nd 2010

TheJournalizer Twitter Follow Count

Social media is often misrepresented by numbers. Followers, website traffic,Facebook  friends, community members, blog subscribers, etc. all contribute to a self-imposed goal that really yields nothing in return. The numbers that are important are your power users. The people who continue to return to your site, contribute regularly and bring in their friends to add to the discussion. I'll later break down a few of the popular social sites and how power users are identified.

Example: On a daily basis I look for new ways to improve online engagement with a demographic that is notably still deciding whether or not they want to use social media. Moreover, the demographic is still struggling to learn how to use social media, which in turn makes it difficult to use Web forums as a means of sharing ideas. While I won't divulge how much communication is occurring on our community or how much traffic we are receiving, based on PEW Internet statistics this is the norm. The demographic? Everyone between Generation X and Boomers. Increasingly though are Millennials who are becoming entrepreneurs, but there is still a large fail rate.

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As testament to my ability to generate discussion amongst my peers (read: I don't simply suck), I converse frequently on the site Reddit. The demographic on there consists mostly of males between the ages of 18 through 35 [Source]. Today I opened a discussion thread with the only intention of finding out ways people have trolled or pranked their office mates. Knowing that many of my fellow redditors were mischievous, I also included one of my favorite pranks pulled during my time developing websites for the FAA. Ten hours later - there are now over 60 comments and a lively discussion involving people from many different demographics. That being said, writing to your audience is extremely important, but their demographic is still on the fence about using social media there may be a much smaller response.

With that being said, PEW Internet has also gathered what appears to be the most reliant source of information as to why the demographic may lead to a lack of quality discussion, even though your website traffic and membership numbers continues to increase.

Generation X Domination

Generation X and Boomers love to visit agency websites and get financial information. Moreover, there is a drastic increase in the amount of Gen X and Boomers looking to use social media, but again there is still a concern about how they use use it.

Point Change Online Usage

People are clearly online getting news and watching videos, but many people find that there is a lack of response. Your numbers may show a large amount of people viewing articles, but without direct responses it's difficult to gauge how successful you are. That being said, how important is it to you personally that you have a large audience who doesn't respond? Hint, you shouldn't claim this as a success.

The Breakdown

Twitter - Power users are defined by people who interact regularly with the people they follow, and reach out to others that share a common interest. Don't worry about your numbers, but do try to keep the amount of people you follow equal to those following you. People fear that if you are following more people than those following you that you are either a spammer, poor personality or just talking to yourself. To reduce this concern, put celebrities and people who don't interact into lists.

  • Myth - The more followers you are the more influential and social you are.
  • Truth - You are only as good as your power users. Interact with them regularly.

Facebook - Facebook pages should really only be used for your friends, currently. As Facebook begins to open more to the public and compete with Twitter, it will change how you use it. I have my profile page on lock down so only friends, coworkers, and people I have a personal connection with can view a majority of my content. The amount of Facebook friends doesn't represent anything more than a number.

  • Myth - More friends means more interactions
  • Truth - You can't force conversations. Facebook is currently designed so you can interact with your personal friends and family. Random people will likely ignore you after they are added, and use you as a number under their profile.

Facebook Pages (business pages) - Similar to the Facebook profile, a Facebook Page can have 2,000 fans and only receive a few likes here and there. As an example, the Game news site Game Rant has 2,000 + fans, regular updates to their feed, but only a few likes can be found on the posts [Source]. Much like Twitter, the only way your fans will interact with you is to socialize the page. Ask questions, post pictures, and appeal to your audience. The interactions will naturally follow.

Myspace - If you are using this site for a business, don't.

YouTube - Post videos that are relevant to your audience, block the comment section and embed them directly into your host site or community. There is still a lot of anonymity to be found on YouTube that results in trolls.

TL:DR - People often misunderstand that when it comes to social media, quality is more important than quantity. Just because you have 20,000 members in a community that doesn't mean your demographic will respond. No responses = No Content/Site/Product/Application improvements. Be social, talk to others and most importantly be yourself. The bottom line is that if you are not being social with these social media tools, you are not doing it right.

Discussion Question: What do you find to be the most difficult part of being social with these social media tools?

[This article orginally appeared on Play This Magazine]

Elliot Volkman

Elliot Volkman

Co-Founder and Community Manager, Digital District

By day I work with startups to help them build out their brand, by night I support my non-profit, Digital District, that focuses on improving digital literacy.

See Full Profile >

Comments

Posted on December 22nd 2010 at 5:09PM

We specialize in marketing to Baby Boomers and seniors, and work with clients on integrating social media into their marketing programs.  You make a great point about looking beyond the numbers.  That Pew study contained a number that sounded like a huge opportunity to mature marketers - the number of 74+ers using social networks jumped from 4% to 16%. 

However, when you look closer, that was 16% of all 74+ers who go online.  And Pew found only 30% of 74+ers are using the Internet.  So the actual figure of 74+ers on social nets is something lilke 1,149,359 people.  Will they/can they be motivated to buy?

As you wrote, there has been a dramatic increase in older cohorts using social media.  Yet, roughly 6 of 10 older boomers are NOT active in online social nets. This inspired our agency, Creating Results, to conduct a national study last year finding out why they might try it and what their expectations/motivations would be.  If you or your readers are interested in receiving those findings, please let us know: www.CreatingResults.com/silver_social_surfers

 

Building Better Ideas
Posted on December 22nd 2010 at 10:33PM

This is spot on.  I just wrote a post today about the same thing.  Your influence isn't measured in followers, subscribers, fans, etc.  Your influence is measured in how effective you are in 1) getting people to listen and respond to your message, and 2) getting followers to spread your message even further, ultimately bringing back more followers to you.  Don't simply follow everyone you can, hoping for reciprocal follows- who do you end up having follow you.  People who have no interest in what you are talking about?  You extend your influence talking to people who have an interest in your topic and by being knowledgable, responding to comments, keeping things fresh and interesting, and having a sense of humor.

StevenGroves
Posted on December 24th 2010 at 2:23AM

Elliott - Impressive stats on your Reddit effort. You also brought up a number of great information on how the various age bands have / are engaging in social media - love the research the Pew Internet & American Life Project does.

I read the post and felt like you ALMOST got to a point about how to better leverage social media for business.  You took me down the path to understand that engagement is a big factor in making social media marketing payoff and how that would impact ROI, but at the last minute you swerved away and went soft on me.

In a personal setting, the joy of participating in a social network is just that - fun, connecting and enlivening.  When a brand / business wants to deploy social media in a marketing or service role, they need something a bit more substantial than that - they need an ROI that is connected to the bottom line and that means a Return-On-Investment.  Merchants want to put a dollar in and get something more than a dollar out of the effort.  

You make the case that it is vital that a human-based engagement is at the root of the effort and I agree, which is why professionals in social media marketing never say that social media is a 'free' marketing anymore - it requires people, technology and process to be effective.

To complete the idea started in the post then is to first open a dialog with the consumer, engage them and make sure they are feeling heard in the process.  If you're doing a good job of that, they'll add you to their consideration set when making a buying decision - most studies I've seen show that the social presence matters in getting the consumer to trial the brand.

Thanks for pointing out that a social presence requires human engagement - right on track that thought is!

Gregory Stringer
Posted on December 26th 2010 at 8:39AM
Posted on December 27th 2010 at 2:06PM

Social Media can be used to grab a new customer or reader one person at a time. The only thing truly viral is the flu. And while the Networks like to brag the shiny numbers like registered users, vs how many are really using their network (sadly underwhelming for both Twitter and Facebook), if you keep your head level, and have realistic goals, you can have great results for the time spent. Your power user take is very insightful.