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Why brands shouldn’t chase follower counts

Cross out the “building a fanbase” goal on your social media planning whiteboard (real or figurative) and set your sights on these three more strategic opportunities.

6 min read

Marketing Strategy

Does your brand still need followers?

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Does your brand still need followers? The simple answer: not really.

Since the beginning, businesses have approached social media like a popularity contest. And I get it: follower count continues to be the one metric that’s public, so it’s the easiest way to compare one page to another. But as a brand, you have to ask yourself, “What’s the point?”

If a client asked me to get them to 10,000 followers, I could do it. Easily. It’s merely a transaction and a matter of time. But what does that do for them? There are big problems with focusing your efforts on Likes and followers. Consider:

  • Organic (non-paid) post reach for Facebook business pages has become minuscule.
  • Similar adjustments on both Pinterest and Facebook-owned Instagram mean only your best content will be seen.
  • The average shelf life of a tweet is only a few minutes long, so your tweets are probably missed by most of your audience.

Why pay to attract an audience and then again to reach if you can just pay once by leveraging paid ads? You don’t have to ignore your existing fan base, either. Just get the arbitrary number out of your mind and let your follower count grow naturally over time. Cross out the “building a fanbase” goal on your social media planning whiteboard (real or figurative) and set your sights on these three more strategic opportunities.

1. It’s time to meet your fans.

While I believe the followers number isn’t as important as it was at one time, I do think we should still value and protect the fan base we have. My friend Bob Gilbreath recently summed this idea up quite well: “Followers are people who tend to truly love your brand. They are more rare, but more special. Instead of treating them as numbers and spamming them, we should go out of our way to more carefully craft the communication to them.”

Just like your email list, your social followers opted in so they could receive something in their newsfeed that makes their life better, whether that be through inspiration, information, entertainment, or even just the chance to save a buck next time they visit your store. To deliver on your social media pages’ promise of value, it’s important to avoid the impulse to fill up a daily content calendar. Instead, commit to gifting your audience with share-worthy content.  Give them something that’s thoughtful and personalized—something with which your readers can identify and will therefore want to share with their friends. Don’t give them space-filler you wrote at the last minute.

If you focus on engaging your audience and not just promoting your brand, the rest – post reach, page follower growth, your own sanity – will improve naturally.


2. Pay to play deliberately.

When brands were first getting into social media, we could reach almost all our followers with each post. Unfortunately, a follower isn’t worth what it once was, so we’ve spent all of this time and money growing an audience we now barely have access to. It just doesn’t make sense to continue down that road anymore.

Luckily, if you still want to reach that many people (and who doesn’t?), you can!

With paid ads, you can reach non-fans in a super targeted way. On your Facebook page for example, don’t just boost a post to your current fans. There are better strategies to apply, such as the following:

  • Target your current customer email list to build loyalty and frequency.
  • Target a Lookalike Audience to find users with similar tastes and demographics.
  • Set up a retargeting campaign using Facebook’s Custom Audiences feature. (Twitter, Pinterest, and third parties like AdRoll also offer retargeting options.)
  • Gather new contacts from the Newsfeed with Lead Ads.

With these tactics, you can be sure you’re spending your time and money where it counts.


3. Activate and empower individuals to rep your brand for you.

I think the most effective brands on social media may soon be, officially speaking, almost invisible. The future is peer-to-peer influencer marketing.

Think about what it might look like if you could identify the people in your current customer base who could effectively spread your brand to their connections for you. 

We’ve been seeing influencer marketing play out over the last few years with huge brands tapping emerging Vine superstars and YouTubers to get the word out on new products and promotions. However, even if you’re a smaller local company you can still use these tactics to grow your business.

According to, the top 5% of your contact database has a reach that is 200X greater than your entire email list. So start by finding these everyday influencers within your existing list – they’re your regulars who bring friends with them, your frequent social commenters, and those trusted experts who people look to for what’s new, tried and true. These local influencers carry more trust with the people you want to reach, and they might even be able to tell your brand’s story better than you can.

After you identify who to target, make sure you factor those VIPs into the mix as you plan your next campaign: invite them to exclusive product trials, send them coupons, and create opportunities for them to experience your brand in ways no one has before. Then, sit back and watch as they share the love with their own social networks.

Doesn’t that sound better than yet another “Call us today!” tweet?

It’s time to embrace a post-follower social media world.

As a hip and with-it brand, you don’t need to be hyper-focused on growing a social media audience. Do your business goals justice by giving your existing fans the best content possible, targeting customers-to-be with your key campaign messages, and activating your most influential contacts to share your story for you.

Matthew Dooley is a Cincinnati native whose life is all about connecting, innovating and giving back. He founded dooley media, a social media agency that transforms local companies into talkable brands. He also leads an exciting wearable tech company, Kapture, which debuted their always-on audio recording wristband in early-2015. Matthew developed the social media curriculum at Xavier University and is currently teaching both MBA and undergraduate students. Follow him on Twitter @dooleymr.

Matthew would like to thank Bob Gilbreath, Kendra Ramirez, Savannah Peterson, and Tori Tarvin for their contributions to this piece.