Jim's Marketing Blog

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Social networking: Do you make this common mistake?

Don’t let the numbers on social networks fool you!

You see, those numbers are far less a reflection of someone’s actual influence or talent, than many people seem to think.

For example, that social media guru with 100,000 followers, forced to spend most of his or her time away from their kids in order to make a living on the speaking circuit, may be less talented, than “some guy” who just followed you.

“Some guy” and the numbers

The wealthiest and best connected person I know joined Twitter last year.  He mainly uses it to keep up with his grown-up family, so I don’t bother following him.  10 minutes ago, I checked his Twitter account and he still has fewer than 70 followers.  For fun, I checked his klout score too and it’s extremely low, just as you’d expect.

Don’t feel too sorry for him though.  He’ll be fine.  His family are happy and healthy and he’s good for over £400million; according to The Sunday Times Rich List.

It’s about people

If my friend were to follow you (or me) right now, we’d hardly notice.  Using the typical social networking measurement tools, this self-made, multi millionaire businessman is just “some guy”; not an influencer, like that guru with droves of followers.

Behind each social networking account is a person.  When we allow ourselves to be influenced by their numbers instead of their unique human value, we risk listening to the wrong people and missing the REAL gold dust.

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  1. Great Post Jim,

    All we can tell from someones follower number is that they’ve got X number of followers. It aint a sign of success or smarts. Look at them spam accounts with thousands of followers and no tweets. The numbers mean zilch.


  2. That’s a good point Jim. As beneficial as all these new tools are for our lives and businesses, it’s easy to get distracted by them and forget what is important. The purpose of the tools is to help make better connections with people, not to replace connections with people.

  3. And of course we need to go deep into our niche, not wide… I am currently reading Mitch Joel’s book Six Pixels of Separation, which covers a lot of this in detail, for instance, ‘traffic does not equal community’, and ‘attention does not equal trust’.
    It is easy when you start to be seduced by the numbers, because the thought that a whole bunch of people are trafficking through your site is immediately followed by the thought that they must like it and will be back, but that isnt necessarily true, of course. Nor are they necessarily the type of person who you were trying to reach in the first place… I recently sent a LinkedIn invitation to an industry colleague whose profile I came across, with only a couple of connections listed. He sent me a personal email, politely declining the request, but asking me to stay in touch re any projects via email instead, and this was his perfectly valid reason: “Just have found that I am not good at maintaining the network thing. So rather than be a lazy/inactive participant I believe it best to stay outside that particular loop.”
    This particular person is, like your well-connected friend, a high-placed businessman in his particular industry, and there are undoubtedly many demands on his time. Having tried the LinkedIn site, he realised that it just wasn’t his thing, and fair enough. He doesnt need it to be a success.
    So, I guess we should spend less time worrying about the number of followers, and more worrying about the type of content we give them, so that we can find the ones who REALLY care, and with whom we can build those communities.

    • Hi Naomi. Thanks for such a well thought out comment. I really appreciate that.

      Your point about going deep into your network, rather than wide is excellent.

      That’s the advice I give anyone, who really wants to connect with great people.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts ad those nuggets from Mitch’s book.

  4. Jim,
    Well said as I think only you could have said it. We’re all too easily awed by numbers. We forget that everyone starts at zero.

    Besides, it’s quality, not quantity that counts and having your grown-and-away family following you would be quality enough for me. The old adage applies – you can’t judge the book by its cover, so too you can’t judge the Twitter fellow by the number of people who follow him.

    • Hi Lori. Yes, you can’t judge a book by its cover – especially when anyone can buy 100,000 followers.

      The numbers really mean very little, in an age where anyone can generate them using software or through paypal.

  5. It’s lazy thinking but most of us are impressed with numbers and shiny objects. It takes a concerted mental effort to see past the veneer and look deeper.

    Both Mark and Lori make excellent points.

    • I agree Mike, follower counts and friend network numbers are easy to count, but they are almost as easy to fake.

      ANYONE can buy 100,00 Twitter followers or use software to generate 100,000 followers.

      People need to learn to dig a little deeper, before taking someone’s advice or hiring them.

      • True, and this is what is happening, in my opinion 75% of the users of twitter are misusing it badly by buying followers. this really hurts. i have daily 40-50 follows out of which around 50% are utter useless!

  6. Clare Evans @clareevans

    March 7, 2011 at 19:08

    I’m definitely a quality over quantity person. I build my network slowly and over time – not a hurried rush for numbers. There is a lot of ‘noise’ on the internet and even more noise from the self-appointed experts and gurus.

    I enjoy the conversations I have with my network – whether they’ve got hundreds of thousands of followers (actually they’re far less likely to engage in conversation) or just a handful or a few hundred.

    Social media numbers are not the be all and end all.

    • Hi Clare. I find the same, that those with the largest followings are least likely to respond.

      You take the time to connect with people, because you (rightly) know that’s where the value is. As you said, its quality not quantity.

      Thanks for sharing, Clare.

  7. I was thinking the same thing as Lori when reading this, quality not quantity. Back when I was young ( er )I waited tables while I went to college. Busy nights meant more money. However…my regulars, the ones that came in every week and asked for my table and invested in me week after week, are the people who count. You build those relationships and they stand the test of time. These are the ones that matter the most !


    • You use a great word there Shara; relationships.

      When you get to know people, you learn whether or not they really are worth listening to.

      Great point.

  8. Chris Eh Young

    March 8, 2011 at 01:47

    True enough. The trouble for some is getting noticed as a little guy. The trouble for others is staying relatively unnoticed.

    It’s about people and relationships, not numbers.

    • You make a great point Chris. The best way to get noticed by the people whose attention you want, is to be relevant and active in their “space”. I do that by writing a small business marketing blog, which has a great, targeted readership.

      I have a few followers on social media, but the content I provide is what people are interested in.

      Thanks for the feedback, sir.

  9. Anthony Bynoe

    March 8, 2011 at 00:32

    Good point Jim, I followed ‘some’ guy when I first joined twitter, he wrote a self titled Marketing blog and spewed some really timely and useful gems of info. He subsequently quit tweeting, but still remains an influential and well regarded expert in his field.

  10. I once knew a guy. Scruffiest guy ever. Raggy jeans, holes in tee shirt, flip flop shoes. Everyone looked at him like he’d just stepped off a tourist bus. No-one gave him the time of day.

    I knew different.

    He was a hugely successful artist whose paintings never sold for less than 5 figures. He lived in St. Tropez and had a couple of properties around the world for different seasons. He also gave a shitload to charity with no recourse of having anything in return.

    One of the most awesome people you’ll ever meet, and he doesn’t give a crap about social networks.

    Numbers are not the be all and end all. Thanks for the reminder, mate. :)

    • Hi Danny. Your example demonstrates the fact that social networking numbers are an indicator only of how many people (or accounts) follow a person.

      A UK marketing guy I know of, is currently mass following, then unfollowing, people on Twitter and has gathered over 50,000 “followers”. He knows nothing about marketing and anyone checking out his website can see that in an instant.

      Thing is, how many people will bother to look at his site? How many people will see his 50,000 Twitter followers and assume he’s worth listening to, when in reality, he’s full of shit?

      Thanks for sharing your story. I’d love to meet that guy!

  11. Great point. So many ppl are caught up with # of followers and # of friends like it’s a popularity contest. The other thing I can’t stand are people who just talk about themselves all the time. Noone really wants to hear every single detail about your life – we’re really not that interested. Why not start a conversation with others for a change?

    • Hi Henway! That non-stop commentary that some people share across social networks, in order just to keep in front of people, is close to worthless.

  12. Isn’t the numbers the easiest to quantify? When looking at websites, we have all the NUMBERS, such as Alexa rank, Google page rank, traffic stats and all the numbers. I believe the social networking on persons is part of our online lives. How do you know some one out on the Internet? Some time, the social network numbers play as a web of proof that saying this personal is more trustworthy?

    • Hi Xiaoyong. Numbers are easy to count and almost as easy to fake.

      Right now, anyone can either BUY 100,000 followers or use software to gain 100,000. Net result? The numbers alone mean nothing.

  13. Numbers are always misguided, I can’t really say much, I have 150k and I am following 130k. A lot of people disagree with what I am doing. For me if its working, I’ll continue doing it, if its not, then I’ll change my strategy and adapt.

    I’ve seen people following 150k people, get 150k followers, then unfollow everyone, to follow 10 people and have 100K follower still. Its a way to “manipulate” others too.

    For me we’re all have our own methods as to use twitter, as we all have different approaches and different strategy and objectives. What may work for someone, may not work for me.

    And YES, we shouldn’t just judge based only klout or numbers. Cheers!

    • Interesting take Aaron.

      My may not know, but I was once in the world’s top 40 most followed people; but had my account reset to zero followers and zero following. That was when Twitter became a business asset to me, rather than a huge time suck. Thanks for the comment sir!

  14. This is a great summary of our real living.
    We are surrounded by numbers, everyone is defined by his/her potential of growth.
    I’ve mentioned here very great points in some comments:
    – The strength is located in our capacity to enter deep into our market, that supposes to identify our environment and respect it.
    – The second point is that internet allow us to make a lot of noise, but noise is not equal to success.

  15. Very thought provoking as always, Jim.

    I can’t help feeling that is some connection between follower numbers and search engine ranking. Just because you are at the top of Google doesn’t mean you run a great business, or you are an expert. I’ve seen some pretty dire websites at the top of the list!

    With all these things I believe it is about delving deeper – doing a bit of homework and deciding for yourself whether you want to engage with a person or business.

    • Indeed Nicky. It seems the one thing services like klout and to a lesser extent Google search can’t filter out, is bollocks.

      Thanks for the comment my friend!

  16. Hi Jim! :)

    I just found this post through a tweet from Adrian Swincoe, and so glad I did!

    I’m currently reading UnMarketing by Scott Stratten and he talks a lot about building RELATIONSHIPS with real people. This post tied in so well with what was top of my mind this morning and was another good reminder to focus on the people, the relationships, and engaging – instead of worrying about the numbers. :)

  17. Hi Jim,

    Thanks for the post and I agree with Jessilicious, im currently studying for a certification in Social Media and it really is about building long lasting relationships with real people, the days of posting hap hazardly are gone. But how much of ones self should I make public? I mean making relationships is about letting go to some extent and at points getting personal so where do we draw that line?

    Thanks again

  18. Jim I love this post. When I got to that last statement it remind me of a similar story I told a few weeks ago. It touched a lot of people. Not being self-promotional but really wanted you to tread this because we share the same view on this!!! http://bit.ly/aGhNRR


  19. You are so right, Jim, numbers can easily be gamed. Number of followers, influence algorithms – they all need to be taken with a huge grain of salt. Most of my best conversations online are with a bunch of “some guys” who don’t have tons of followers, but are super smart and engaging.

    I await the day when the algorithms can take someone’s offline life into account when calculating their influence. Now, that would really be something.

    • Hi there my friend!

      I agree: “I await the day when the algorithms can take someone’s offline life into account when calculating their influence.”

      Maybe we need to wait for a company who can spell clout correctly, before that becomes a reality 😉

  20. *sniff, you mean my friends on my page don’t count?

    lol, great post Jim! As usual!! Have a great weekend,

  21. And yet, Jim, you do have a follower count on this page…

    People are always going to want a quick and easy way to judge credibility. I’d like to think people would invest 20 minutes in reading my stuff but that would be taking up residence in Fantasyland.

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