Businesses are all about their business. Otherwise they would be hobbies or activities.

When you get to the realm of Tweeters and TheFacebook and all of the bright and shiny YouTubes, businesses have a bottom line they have to meet, and they don’t always have time to do the research they need to stay on top of trends.

We’re talking about people who don’t have time to check in at Mashable or AllFacebook, and executives who aren’t interested in knowing the difference between CoTweet and HootSuite and RePeet and whatever else emerges tomorrow.

The way to reach them is to speak the language they know. They don’t live in a Social Media Fishbowl. But they do understand fishbowls.

Numbers Game

Right now, there are at least a half-dozen social media experts writing articles and blog posts about how busy executives ought to select their social media consultant. Some of them might even include one or two measures that don’t apply to them!

Many of these potential clients will see the numbers being mentioned, and certainly some of those quantifications of quality ought to matter. A friend of mine was recently asked why she didn’t have more followers on Twitter. (She has more than 2,300.) She answered, “I have built a highly-engaged following, and I like the quality of my network.”

But why isn’t it bigger?

She wanted to point out to them how easy it is to buy followers on Twitter — there are many services that sell them. The going rate right now for Facebook Likes is somewhere between 14 and 18 cents. So, if you have a business and want to have 1,000 people “like” your page by the end of the week, you could get it done for $160 or so. Instant Social Media Magic, right?

Apples and Applesauce

The truth is, it’s hard to communicate the value of a Quality presence or following to someone who doesn’t have the experience to know the difference. Not until you find the right analogy.

Business owners who don’t know a Twitter from a Twirler do know what to do with those fishbowls at the cash register of a restaurant or store. You drop in your card, and at some point you might win something.

You are giving up your contact information, and you might get an email about a sale or a discount in the future. (If the business is smart, they’ll start with an email just thanking you for your patronage, and asking for feedback — but most aren’t there yet.)

Now — take that Fishbowl of cards and let it be a metaphor for Quality.

Which would you rather have? The names and addresses of 50 people who have actually been in your store — or the names and addresses of 1,000 people you bought off a prospect list?

That’s a no-brainer, right?

Because if you truly believe that buying 1,000 Facebook Likes or Twitter followers is the same as having a naturally-cultivated list of 1,000 — then you’re equating foot traffic in your store with owning a phone book. It’s comparing apples to applesauce — they sound similar, but you have to handle them very differently.

Now, when you put it like that, it’s easy to make the differentiation.

And if more businesses and organizations understood how easy it is to buy the numbers, they’d be less inclined to focus on the Quantity and instead look at the Quality.

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About Ike Pigott

Ike Pigott

In his previous life, Ike Pigott was an Emmy-winning TV reporter, who turned his insider's knowledge of the news cycle into a crisis communications consultancy. At the American Red Cross, serving as Communication and Government Relations Director for five southeastern states, Ike pioneered the use of social media in disaster. Now -- by day -- he is a communications strategist for Alabama Power and a Social Media Apologist; by night, he lurks at Occam's RazR, where he writes about the overlaps and absurdities in communications, technology, journalism and society. Find out how you can connect with Ike or follow him on Twitter at @ikepigott. He also recently won the coveted "Social Media Explorer contributing writer with the longest Bio" award.

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • ahanelly

    Great post, Ike. This reminds me of a discussion I often have when people tell me how many visits their site receives but doesn't mention the pages per visit or bounce rate. I always use the analogy (similar to yours) that a brick and mortar business doesn't care how many people open their door, look in for a second, and then walk out, they care more about how many people walk in and engage (look at prices, ask questions, etc.)

    • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

      Thanks, Andrew.

      This was borne out of a common frustration. As more people start seeing social channels as a viable tactic, we need them to think about the right framework. I fear for the newly-interested who get suckered by a huckster who is flashing numbers, but not the numbers that move needles.

  • http://twitter.com/andreabierly Andrea L. Bierly

    Hi, Ike. I think the quality vs quantity mantra is carried throughout content marketing. “I only have 150 subscribers to my newsletter.” Yes, but those 150 people actively asked for your communication and invited your brand into their inbox.

    Your article also made me think of Newt Barrett's post about the shady ways SEO companies build links: http://contentmarketingtoday.com/2010/09/29/beware-of-any-seo-firm-that-promises-zillions-of-free-links-to-your-site/.

    I say just remember what your momma told you. “Nothing worth having comes easy.”

    • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

      Momma was smart.

      Thanks!

  • http://www.spencerkline.com Spencer Kline

    Great Post! I did not know it is so easy to buy followers, thanks for the insight. When you buy a follower, where do these accounts come from? Are these spam accounts? Or are they real people?

    • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

      Surprisingly, many are real people. They are either given minimal payments for following, or they are themselves in a structure where they follow-to-get-followed.

      As you would suspect, there are a lot of bots, too.

      The way you test the quality of your network is to drive traffic through a gateway that involves human interaction or decision. Link-shorteners with metrics are a great place to start, but how about using a landing page (or even a tracking code) dedicated to that channel, so you can get the full view of what you can do?

  • http://www.puredriven.com Patrick Garmoe

    Ike, great post
    “Because if you truly believe that buying 1,000 Facebook Likes or Twitter followers is the same as having a naturally-cultivated list of 1,000 — then you’re equating foot traffic in your store with owning a phone book.”
    Great analogy. I also find it comical that your friend was asked why she doesn't have more followers? As if the average person has, what, 3,000? I have about 850 followers, but I could count on two hands the followers I care about, and have gotten value from.

    I've also seen the disconnect on SEO. A company that fully understands their business doesn't operate on foot traffic thinks they need to rank for every word under the sun, as though getting your name in front of people will make them want to buy from you. Works well for McDonald's but isn't a killer strategy for an engineering firm.

    • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

      Search has its own intricacies, but you're right that not every business model lends itself to the strategies that worked for the over-used case studies.

      Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/PaceButlerCorp PaceButler Corp

    Ike,
    Thanks for the timely article. I am Pacebutler's first social media manager so this was a great article for me to circulate to upper management. They are very open-minded about using social media as part of their overall marketing strategy and this was a great article to explain a little further the drawbacks of using social media as a digital megaphone.

    • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

      Glad you can use it.

      It's particularly important, this early in the game, that your upper management understands what exactly you'll be measuring, and how it translates to your goals.

      Do you want to build awareness?
      Are you driving sales?
      Is this a campaign with an expiration date?

      At the very least, I hope this slows the desire to “catch up” with a competitor who already has 5,000 Fans. You don't know anything about the Quality of those fans, or even if they were earned or purchased. So don't put too much emphasis on that number.

  • http://insightsandingenuity.com heatherrast

    A post for the times, Ike. At one point I faced the question, “Why don't we have more fans for abc? Our other xyz online brand is adding them at a fast rate daily.” Well, let's see. Could it be that the xyz brand fits a prime, supremely social demographic (i.e., they'll like anything)? That xyz offers a highly consumable product? Or maybe because every day is 'giveaway' day and everybody wants what's free? A peek at the insights told the story: the same vested internal people were promoting the brand to their networks; most of the fans weren't engaging beyond the initial like (required to obtain a coupon code). As you suggest, the quantity was a superficial number that told nothing about how people truly felt about the brand underneath. The wall echo was the real indication that something – the strategy, the execution, the expectation – wasn't right.

  • jbledsoejr

    Love it! —> “Which would you rather have? The names and addresses of 50 people who have actually been in your store — or the names and addresses of 1,000 people you bought off a prospect list?”

    I am patiently building my list of twitter followers (connections)…relationship building not list building.
    great post and thx for sharing!

    • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

      Thanks — and keep doing it the right way!