Friday, July 15, 2011

Research shows links, not conversation, lead to high Twitter follower counts

According to research by Dan Zarella – a social media scientist at Hubspot – engaging in thoughtful conversation with your followers on Twitter does NOT result in more people following you. (For more on Zarella’s research, click here) For many, myself included, this is somewhat earth-shattering information. For years now, we’ve been preaching a strategy of “engage, engage, engage and social media success will be yours!” Were we all wrong? Does consistent conversation not help, but actually damage your overall social media value? Not necessarily. I believe there is a fatal flaw in reaching that conclusion from Zarella’s research (especially from a fundraising standpoint).

In a related post about his link/follower/reply ratio data, Zarella says…

“If you are a marketer, there is no point in pursuing a twitter strategy that doesn’t include getting as many followers as possible.”

No point in pursuing a strategy that doesn’t lead to the highest follower count possible? So 5,000 people who don’t even remember they’re following you is better than 500 who talk about you on a weekly basis to their friends and family? If that’s the case, there are plenty of snake-oil salesmen who’d be happy to help you reach your goal of attracting “10,000 followers in one week!”

Make no mistake, providing quality content is an essential tactic to any successful social media strategy. I would surmise that’s the best takeaway from Zarella’s numbers. It is, after all, solid data and that’s something that should never be ignored or carelessly discarded. But we’re not talking about an “either/or” scenario with social media. Do both. Provide quality content via links and then talk about those links in meaningful conversations with the followers who engage you. High follower counts are something we all want, but the quality and influence of each follower is something that can’t be ignored. Those quality relationships are the ones which will be most impactful in helping you and your organization achieve its goals via social media.

For more on how a strategy of engagement leads to increased giving, please read this previous post that includes a Q and A from Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.