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Why Social Media Followers Don't Matter for Brands Anymore
Despite popular belief, brands shouldn’t sweat their social media follower count. Below we explain why (and what metrics to focus on instead).
For brands on social media, follower count is pretty much always on the brain.
We find this is the case when companies work with influencers, too.
And we get it: followers have been the measuring stick for brands’ social growth for so long.
But follower count should not be your top priority during a social media campaign!
Of course, having an engaged audience is invaluable. Nobody’s saying to neglect your loyal followers! Still, there are many metrics beyond followers that impact your business.
Below we break down why brands don’t need to obsess over their follower counts anymore.
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Why Social Followers Aren’t the Be-All, End-All Metric for Brands
We often talk to brands that expect influencer partnerships to skyrocket their own followings.
That expectation makes sense and we get where it comes from. Influencer campaigns are a chance to introduce your brands to thousands of customers. Heck, sometimes millions.
This doesn’t guarantee that new followers will flock to your account, though. And that’s okay!
You don't need tens of thousands of followers to make an impact. We're seeing a boom of brands across social media without big follower counts. This is especially true on TikTok.
How does that even happen, though?
For starters, many brands have spent years cultivating their Instagram or Facebook followings. Translating that fan base to TikTok isn’t automatic. Each social platform has a totally different demographic. That means brands often have to build their TikTok followings from scratch.
Brands like Athleta really highlight this phenomenon. Athleta currently has less than 4,000 TikTok followers despite having 834k on Instagram. Their TikTok account is basically inactive.
Despite this, Athleta has an active community of TikTok creators, brand influencers and customers.
Their #PowerofShe hashtag boasts an impressive 235 million views on its own. Meanwhile, tags like #Athleta and #AthletaGirl each have 90+ million views. The company has been working with brand partners on TikTok since 2021. Playing the long game with creators is clearly paying off for them.
The takeaway? You can build brand awareness without a big follower count!
(Granted you work with creators and brand partners that do have established audiences themselves)
Here are a few more reasons why social media followers don't matter for brands all that much:
- Your follower count doesn’t reflect your reach. Again, there are plenty of brands with few followers that still manage to go viral. For example, keyboard brand KBDFans has less than 2,000 followers on TikTok. They also have a single creator video with 3 million views. Not to mention 18 million views on the unofficial #KBDFans hashtag.
- Quality is always more valuable than quantity. Think about it. 500 followers that engage all the time are more valuable than 5,000 “followers” that stay silent. The higher your follower count, the more diluted the quality of your audience can become. We’ve seen this firsthand with the rise of fake followers and bots on Instagram.
- Growing an engaged audience takes time. Look at a brand like Athletic Greens as another example. They’re well-established on Instagram with 375k followers. That said, they’re still growing on TikTok with only 15k followers after six months. Rarely do brands blow up overnight.
- Consumers’ attention is divided. The modern buyer’s journey involves bouncing between so many apps and platforms. Given how many brands are on social media, consumers can be more selective about who they follow. If someone does follow you, that means they’re legitimately interested in what you offer. Again, a few engaged followers beat a bunch of silent ones.
Think of new followers as a welcome byproduct of a campaign, not your main goal.
To say that social media followers don't matter at all might seem a bit extreme. After all, earning new followers consistently signals that you're on the right track.
Having an engaged audience that's authentically interested in your brand and products is what really matters, though. Always look at your audience as people rather than numbers.
What Brands Should Focus on Instead of Social Media Followers
Mentions. Interactions. Traffic. Pieces of user-generated content.
All are important, right? What matters most really depends on your individual marketing goals.
Of course, new followers signal a boost in awareness. That said, below are three metrics that are even more meaningful from a business perspective.
When considering engagement vs. followers, engagement always takes the cake.
Why? Because engagement signals loyalty and positive relationships with your audience.
New research says that consumers overwhelmingly want to feel appreciated by brands. Taking the time to respond to questions and @mentions is a low-hanging way to show that appreciation.
The best brands on social media right now are the ones that go out of their way to engage their communities. Duolingo is a great example of this. The brand’s TikTok playfully goes back and forth with followers. They’ve grown a rabid audience because they interact with fans so much.
Also, interactions such as comments, reposts and shares send positive signals to the TikTok and Instagram algorithms. The more engagement, the better for your reach.
The value of engagement versus followers is even acknowledged by TikTok themselves. The app notes that follower count is not a determining factor in going viral or getting featured on the FYP.
Before worrying too much about growing your follower count, think about how you can engage with the fans you have. Doing so is good news for brand loyalty and making sure your content gets seen.
2. UGC and Social Proof
The value of user-generated content for brands can’t be overstated.
In fact, 71% of consumers trust word-of-mouth recommendations including posts from creators. Getting more user-generated content is a top priority for brands today for a reason.
Both influencer and user-generated videos serve as compelling introductions to new potential customers. The more UGC you earn, the more potential reach you can earn as well. The high engagement on posts that creators make promoting brands speaks for themselves.
Every piece of campaign UGC creates opportunities for reposting and repurposing. If we had to choose between a few dozen followers and a few dozen pieces of UGC, we know what we’d pick!
3. Brand Awareness
Again, your follower count doesn't determine your brand’s total visibility. Social algorithms now serve fewer posts to people that actually do follow you.
Beyond that, consider how brands can also be discovered through…
- Social search queries
- The Explore page or Reels tab (IG)
- #FYP (TikTok)
- Viral product posts from creators (see below)
Discovery doesn’t happen through your social media followers alone. Not by a long shot.
Food for thought: as a brand, you can earn UGC from customers and people that don’t follow you.
This happens more than you’d think. Beauty brand MODELROCK has 106k IG followers but their branded hashtag has over 270k posts attached to it.
Translation? Brand awareness today is largely based on engagement versus followers.
Frequent tags and interactions earn you more reach and visibility. That’s why so many brands are working with creators with engaged accounts to maximize engagement.
How to Earn Meaningful Engagement and More Followers
Hopefully, we’ve cleared the air on why social media followers don't define your brand's success.
Because how many followers you have means way less from a business perspective than how much content or customer engagement you earn.
To recap: make sure you’re already engaging with your existing audience. Focus on growing your reach and expanding that base via authentic interactions. This includes earning content and shout-outs from satisfied customers.
And if you need a high volume of authentic creators to boost your visibility across social media, Statusphere can help.
Our micro-influencer marketing platform matches brands with creators using 250+ first-party data points. We help brands earn guaranteed content at scale through our vetted creator community and streamlined fulfillment technology.
Statusphere eliminates the most time-consuming pieces of working with influencers in-house so you can focus on earning authentic content. We’ve already generated 75,000+ pieces of content for 400+ brands.
Want to learn more about how our platform works? Get in touch with one of our experts to see how we can scale your influencer marketing efforts in a fraction of the time.
This article was first published in April 2017. It was last updated February 11, 2023.