Why Your Nonprofit’s Number of Social Media Followers Doesn’t Matter

(…nearly as much as most organizations think that they matter)

Would you rather have 100,000 Facebook “likes” from folks who never visit your museum or donate to your cause, or 10 Facebook “likes” from folks who do?

It’s important to have an ongoing presence on social media because customer interactions build powerful word of mouth marketing opportunities, it is important to be accessible, and transparency is an increasingly important social priority for successful businesses.  However, I’m always surprised when I start working with an organization and the marketing department’s social media strategy focuses on gaining Facebook likes or Twitter followers rather than engaging online audiences or getting people through the door. This happens all the time. Really... it happens all the time. It’s a good idea to aim for high quality followers, but focusing on  collecting sheer numbers is a waste of time and using this as key metric for success is a distraction. Having thousands upon thousands of social media followers is not necessarily indicative of an engaging online presence and may not be working to your organization’s benefit at all.

Your number of social media followers can and should be used to track growth and engagement, but aiming simply for high numbers misses the boat. Here's a photo tip from John Haydon.

Social media follower numbers are a big tease. They are displayed prominently on social media sites and organizations yearn for a way to measure ROI for social media. Thus, organizations often measure success based upon the pure number of people who follow them. These marketing managers are distracted.  Goals for social media should be no different from the greater goals of the organization. At the end of the day (for museums, for instance), that goal is to increase visitation, evangelism, and educate or inspire the public. An organization’s ability to do this is not dependent upon the number of followers or likes that they have, but the quality and level of engagement of those followers. Stop focusing only on this number and making it a single point of celebration.


The value of social media followers:

To reference a metaphor that I use frequently, engaging folks online is  like managing and setting up a community marathon race.  If getting runners to complete the marathon means that you’ve converted the individual into a donor, then getting a “like” means that somebody has signed up to join your training program. Generally, training programs are important to have for many reasons and there’s reason to pay attention to the number of people who sign up. However, not everyone who joined the program will finish the marathon… and many more people will likely complete the marathon who haven’t signed up for the program (or who aren’t represented in your “likes” on Facebook).

Though number of “likes,” followers, and subscribers is far less important than the quality of the evangelism in these folks, likes actually do have some value on their own- it’s just not as significant as some make it out to be. It’s important to understand how this number (alone) can actually help your organizations reach its goals on social media:

  •  Social media followers are self-identified evangelists and collecting followers increases the likelihood that people will see your message thanks to placements in newsfeeds or the Facebook Ticker.  However, they do not mean that people will share, promote, or engage with your message- or even that their level of evangelism reaches beyond that single “like” or “follow” click. Focus on engaging audiences and inspiring conversation (which increase your reputation, a proven driver of visitation to a museum) instead of increasing your sheer number of low-level followers.

  • An organization’s number of social media followers often indicates credibility to potential donors or visitors. However, a small number of followers isn’t likely to deter high-level evangelists who feel a connection to your organization. This benefit of having sheer high numbers of social media followers does not outweigh a misdirected effort to focus on this metric above all else.  Try to get social media followers when you can, but aim for individuals who are likely to communicate your message and don’t make sheer numbers your top priority.

What should you measure instead of focusing entirely on your number of social media followers? Your organizations’ conversation rate, amplification rate and applause rate are good places to start.

 

The whole point of collecting social media followers is to get them to do something.

 Recently, Rick Schwartz (@ZooKeeperRick)  of the San Diego Zoo aimed to prove the “power of social media” by taking on a challenge to get 30 new Twitter followers in 3 days. Rick more than succeeded; he reached 30 followers in just the first day and collected over 96 new followers by his deadline three days later. The goal of this was- very simply-  to gain followers… Any followers. In this case, it was likely that the audience reached in this initative could be classified more as social media fans than zoo advocates so it’s hard to say if this experiment demonstrates a certain level of evangelism or even strengthens Rick’s online influence… But he achieved his goal and made a point: “social media can get the word out, and quickly.” All too often, this is where social media goals end: after the initiative to get more social media followers ends.  But what’s the point of having any followers at all if not to spread a message? Why exert an effort to get followers if there isn’t even more effort put into getting these followers to do or support something?

On social media, Rick is a huge marketing asset for the zoo. He is engaging, fun, and tweets great conservation and animal information. In several ways, he is a living message and accessible personality for the zoo who helps fulfill the zoo’s goal to educate and inspire.  He’s proved that getting numbers can be achieved (especially when it’s timely and urgent), but he has his eye on the greater point of social media for nonprofits:

 

Focusing efforts on achieving high social media follower numbers misses the point of social media and does not even guarantee that followers will be active, engaged, or share your message. However, making efforts to attract high quality evangelists online is a worthy goal that helps your organization achieves its mission in the long run.  Design your social media strategy for an outcome that meets the organization’s goal (inspiring visitation, securing donations, or raising awareness) and don’t be sidetracked by sheer follower numbers.  The goal isn’t just a high number. The goal is a high number of high-quality social media followers who will actively support your cause.  One person who believes in your organization is worth far more than one million people who don’t.

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Media, Technology, Uncategorized Leave a comment

About the author

colleendilen

MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore

Add a Comment