Thursday, August 25, 2011

Followers, Likes and +1s as Meaningless as Hits

One of my un-fondest memories from my early days of web development was the constant client request for web site counters at the bottom of a new web site. Trying to explain to clients that showing a rather low number of visitors might not be something they want to brag about. And then I got the inevitable request to, like the sketchy used car dealer behind the warehouse, adjust the site counter ahead a few hundred thousand miles.

Today on the web services like Google Analytics, preceded by products like WebTrends, allow site owners to see the number of users visiting their sites without embarrassing themselves by displaying low numbers. These services have also allowed site owners to, for the most part, move past the goal of just getting hits on their sites and instead setting up better methods to track conversions — how many visits result in sales, or downloaded product, or filled out forms, or whatever the goal of the site is. Smart businesses aren't enticed by a count, they want to see numbers of qualified visitors.

So how do we not get this with social media?

I read an article earlier this week about a local firm doing good by helping local businesses to increase their Facebook "likes" (Buffalo Social Media Firm Focuses on Educating Local Clients). To be fair to the company being profiled, it's possible the writer just doesn't understand the business goals or what "educating clients" really means and did not provide sufficient context. When I see quotes like this I am more than a little surprised, given the boast of the article title:

"The key thing that a lot of people don't understand is it costs money if you want a 10,000 fan page. You've got to invest. You've got to run ads,” said Evanetski. Likes for the page have grown from around 450 before the ads launched to more than 1,700 by Sunday morning.

Nowhere does the article discuss just what those 1,700 fans actually mean for that business. Is the campaign over now, or are those fans being approached for more information, as sales opportunities, just for mining demographic data, or for something else? Educated clients should ultimately know that an increase in the number of people who follow / like / +1 them on a social media service in itself does not translate to anything. An educated client has a goal in mind and uses social media as one method to achieve that goal. If the goal is simply to garner fans and followers, then an opportunity is being missed.

I wrote about this very thing just a few days into 2010 — almost two years ago — and thought folks might catch on. It's worth a re-read: Lots of Twitter Followers Guarantees... Nothing. Seeing the reasons behind Newt Gingrich's absurdly high Twitter follower count (EXCLUSIVE: Twitter Analysis Vindicates Gingrich in Followers Scandal) should remind us all that such a high follower count is essentially meaningless, particularly if you've only cultivated followers who aren't prospects for your product or service.

If you are a business owner and are approached by firms offering to increase your Twitter follower count or Facebook likes (or other service-of-the-day verb-to-indicate-attention), just ask them, "Why?" The answer should include a tangible reference to your final goals for any marketing campaign. If it doesn't, then send them away.

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