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The Daily Show has more than 6 million likes, but what goes even further is the daily posts with thousands of likes and thousands more shares!

When it comes to social media, numbers matter. When I sit down with a new client to discuss public relations’ objectives, the first thing that usually comes up is social media, and with good reason. I admit social media is a necessary element to basically any PR campaign. But when asked about their social media goals, most businesses will say their primary desire is to gain more followers.

There seems to be a common belief that the more followers one has on any respective social channel, the more influence they have in their field. More fans equal more status. Higher numbers mean greater importance. But as a public relations professional, I would argue there is something of much greater value than the number of people who follow you on social media: engagement.

I was recently pitching to a few social media influencers for a client of mine. One influencer had more than 50,000 followers on Facebook, the other had about 15,000 less. At face value, you would think the larger account offers a bigger return on investment. However, I chose to work with the smaller account. Why? The influencer with 50,000 followers had very little engagement. The smaller account, however, had significantly more likes, comments and social shares on their posts. So ultimately, I had to ask which of those “influencers” actually had more influence?

Three things Public Relations Professionals Should Keep in Mind:

  • Followers can be Bought: Many people who are trying to make a career out of being an “influencer” can and will buy followers to make them appear more influential. Don’t be fooled. These fake followers will never actually engage with an account and will not benefit your client at all. In actuality, they are likely robotic accounts, and robotic accounts will not buy your client’s product or use your client’s services. Many of these influencers will also follow and then unfollow accounts routinely to grow their numbers. But many of these followers are only following back as a courtesy, unbeknownst them that the “influencer” unfollowed them soon after they followed back. This happens all the time, even among celebrities trying to climb the ranks to A-list status. For example, a B-list celebrity, who will remain unnamed, recently followed me on Twitter. I did not follow back, and within a few days the celebrity (or their PR person) unfollowed me. Much like purchased followers, this “influence” isn’t authentic and will likely not result in a return on investment for your client. If you haven’t already, all public relations professionals who manage a client’s social media should download an app to track new followers and unfollowers.
  • Algorithms matter: Engagement is more important than ever when it comes to social media channels like Facebook and Instagram that have implemented an algorithm method to control what shows up in a user’s feed. Just because a person or business has 50,000 followers does not mean 50,000 people will see their posts. Simply put, the more people that comment, like and most importantly, share a post, the more people that will actually see it in their feeds. When it comes to social media sites that use algorithms, businesses should encourage employees, friends and family to engage with their posts, especially within the first few hours after posting. This will greatly improve your post’s reach, and overtime you will build an organic following of engaged fans.
  • Influencer’s demographics: Before pitching to influencers, always ask for their social media demographics, so you can gauge whether their followers are in line with your target audience. Do they live in the region your business is targeting? Are they in the age and income bracket you are attempting to reach? Are they the appropriate gender for your brand? All of this matters when considering whether to work with an influencer.

Social media is not going away. In fact, you will likely see even more social platforms pop up in the years to come. When it comes to turning social media fans into paying customers, engagement matters. It is still a numbers game, but the numbers you should be looking at are your engagement numbers not your follow count.

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