Slow Social Media Growth

(Why You Should Want It!)

A brand’s quest for growth on social media is a powerful driver behind online marketing decisions. As companies and brands compete to capture audience attention across the social media universe, 50 million Business Pages have sprung up on Facebook. Social media users are actively responding to this trend, with 49% of monthly Twitter users following at least one brand and 60% of Instagram users saying they’ve learned about a product or service through the app. It’s easy to get caught up in these mind-boggling stats and think that effective marketing is all about massive numbers. However, size isn’t the silver bullet that will make a campaign successful. Nor does it tell the whole story when it comes to social media marketing. Marketing experts know that effective branding is about creating connection and conversation, not just expanding reach. That usually means gradual, organic, and – yes – slow social media growth.

Every brand needs to pursue gradual, sustainable growth on social media.

Social media marketing strategies that wield influence through authentic engagement (like Influencer campaigns) are the best way to build strong relationships with your target audience. In a world of instant gratification, don’t overlook campaigns that are designed to grow gradually and organically. Here’s what to remember about social media marketing strategies: there’s no such thing as an overnight success. The vast majority of viral videos or tweets only seem to come out of nowhere. Take a closer look and you’ll find that successful brands have had an active presence on their platform(s) of choice for a significant time. If a company’s content does go viral by pure chance, audiences will dissipate if there isn’t more quality content to convince them to stay. Think of the YouTubers or Instagram accounts that are the most followed in any given industry. Influencers and content creators put out regular, high quality content that keeps people coming back for more. And it works: 50% of 18-34 year old YouTube subscribers said they would stop what they were doing to watch a new video by their favorite creator.

The bottom line is, you’re not investing your dollars and your time to be a flash in the pan. Organic growth entails interacting with audiences, communicating the culture of your brand (not just the products for sale), and understanding the needs and wants of the online community. The brand and its audience are responding to each other in real time, sharing content that is meaningful to them. It’s no small effort to grow this way; but the pay off is worth it! Build a sustainable social media presence based on meaningful engagement, and your brand will be here to stay.

Sustainability and engagement ≠ large follower numbers.

If you plan to take anything away from this article, it should be that a sustainable presence is not defined by audience size. This is a common misconception when it comes to influencer campaigns, and social media marketing in general. Audience size is one metric among many when it comes to social media campaigns, and should be understood for what it can and can’t do for a company. Large followings do raise the visibility of your brand and increase promotional opportunities. However, influencers with large followings will often have existing brand partnerships across several industries at the same time, and probably won’t tailor their content to your industry or niche.

Many mega-influencers, or influencers with more than one million followers, do not carry the degree of impact that their reach would suggest to the casual observer. This is because users follow them for entertainment value – not because they are seen as authorities on products or services. In fact, there’s evidence that after a certain threshold of followers is reached, an influencer’s engagement rate begins to drop. Moreover, a company’s own social media accounts may not experience instantaneous growth in followers, even with an otherwise successful influencer campaign. Follower growth usually occurs naturally as the conversation around a product increases and brand awareness deepens.

The more revealing metric that companies should pay attention to is engagement. The most common, “quick take” way to calculate a campaign’s engagement rate is: (likes + comments + shares) / number of followers. Tracking this measure over time will give you an idea of the level of interaction that an audience has with posted content, as well as the type of content that increases or decreases engagement. The type of social network used may also impact this measure. 2016 research from Smart Insights has shown that Instagram has 60-70 average interactions per 1,000 followers, far outpacing Facebook at around 6 average interactions per 1,000 followers, and LinkedIn at 2-4 average interactions per 1,000 followers. Learning to evaluate the quality of engagement will help to allocate resources in the best way possible.

Social media platforms are starting to build-in tools that respond to this need to see beyond follower count. In September of this year, Instagram announced its plans to implement a new sponsored content feature. This tool allows an influencer working with a company to tag that company's account, resulting in relevant posts having the subheading “Paid partnership with [X].” Consequently, all users will be aware of the influencer’s advertising relationships. For brands, once an influencer tags a company, the influencer’s analytics (including reach and engagement) become visible to that brand. For the first time, a company will be able to see an influencer’s engagement statistics on the platform. This is the latest sign that users and marketers alike are hungry for more transparent and authentic commercial partnerships.

Black hat methods not only fail to demonstrate results, but can negatively impact your brand.

As we’ve discussed, a large following means little if the influencer can’t impact tangible online behavior. If companies try to chase large followings above all else, they are more likely to consider ill-advised black hat social media practices in their marketing campaigns.

What are “black hat” social media tactics? Essentially they're unethical ways to enhance social media statistics, and usually fall outside a platform’s guidelines for proper use. Let’s look at some of the most common black hat practices:

  • Buying fake followers, comments, retweets and likes – paying individuals or companies to follow accounts or write comments to make a campaign seem larger than it is (usually in hopes that real followers will come once the hype has started). Click farms can even be employed to raise the visibility of specific products or content by driving fake traffic to a website or page.
  • Creating fake social media profiles – companies pretending to be real people, in order to share or post promotional content, and gather information on real users.
  • Writing false reviews for products or services – whether it’s writing positive reviews about a company’s own products, or negative reviews about a competitor; false reviews are all about harming or helping a brand through dishonest content.

Everyone knows that trying to game the system is not fair play...

But the temptation is there when a business is under pressure to show growth or to generate online ad revenues. For a fee, a company can find a service to artificially boost activity across its social media platforms. Overnight, a company’s Instagram followers can shoot up from a few hundred to a few thousand. A slew of positive reviews can suddenly appear on Facebook pages, giving the illusion of customer satisfaction.

Although quick success on social media may seem like a boost to the company at first, fake campaigns simply don’t work and can actually damage your brand. Because black hat social media activity isn’t actually linked to a real rise in brand awareness, it doesn’t increase demand for your product or service. It doesn’t drive sales, and it gives no information about the online behavior of target customers. As a result, precious marketing dollars can be squandered without making any real gains. Better to spend your budget on results that will help you achieve real growth.

Also, keep in mind that a company can’t buy authenticity. All marketing experts know that credibility is crucial to the success of a brand. Once a company is known to use black hat techniques, social media users won’t believe the content that the firm produces (much less engage with it). Companies who try and buy their way to social media relevance lose the ability to truly influence the behavior of customers, because their online presence is ultimately just smoke and mirrors. What’s more, these companies won’t be able to compete in the long run with those firms that have nurtured real relationships with a consumer base.

Successful influencer campaigns focus on organic growth and engaged followers.

A successful social media campaign achieves what dubious or inadequate campaigns only pretend to do. They grow an organically engaged audience around brand culture, encouraging dialogue between regular followers and building credibility for products and services. Expert influencers are adept at these interactions because they understand their audience and how to produce relevant content. They fiercely value authenticity and take the time to make strong profiles that will resonate. This strategy pays off, as the influencers produce results that only come with a consistent record of relevance.

Digiday attributes the steady growth outlook for luxury menswear to social media influencers, who have succeeded in raising the visibility and status of men’s fashion. Influencers used apps like Instagram to share images of their personal style and trends they loved, even when most of the industry’s focus was on women’s fashion. Over time, they shifted consumer preferences and popularized high-end menswear with technology-savvy young men, helping to raise the value of the market by an estimated 14% by 2020. Authentic influencer campaigns are increasingly impacting their wider industries. The Influencer-packed Pinterest is responsible for 25% of all retail website referrals, and 55% of Pinterest users visit the site to make or plan purchases.

The luxury menswear example is a great illustration of what expert marketers have long known: the best, most reliable results from influencer marketing on social media happen gradually. This is especially true if the company is entering into an untapped market or a new stage of growth.

One major reason sustainable online growth tends to be gradual is due to the need for high quality content. As the saying goes: content is king. The right content needs to be produced with consistent quality, and presented to the right people. Good campaigns avoid the “scattershot” method of marketing, where generic content is churned out at a steady pace in hopes of reaching as wide an audience as possible. This approach will easily get you lost in today’s 24-hour social media feeds! Furthermore, you may be missing the very audience that you want to reach. This is because different demographics tend to have a platform of choice. Although Facebook continues to be the most widely used social media site overall, 32% of teenagers think Instagram is the most important social network, and 81% of millennials check Twitter once a day at minimum. An influencer campaign should employ timely and relevant knowledge about your target demographic in order to respond to content preferences while staying true to their identity. A great influencer can strike this balance.

When looking for the right influencer for a campaign, the focus should be on real content that can create genuine conversation. The content should also be presented in the way that your audience prefers. For example, to encourage the maximum amount of shares, find the optimal text to image ratios for content. BuzzSumo recently found that an image once every 75-100 words were shared twice as much as posts with fewer pictures. Also, that Facebook posts with images experience 2.3X more engagement than those without images.

The goal is to create a positive feedback loop between the company and its online audience, each side responding to content that connects the interests of both sides. The company benefits from real time information on customer feedback and boosted revenues, while the consumer benefits from products and services that can adapt to their wants and needs.

It may take some trial and error to understand what followers’ content needs are. And even if a company has a good idea of what followers want to see at one point in time, that could change with the latest product launch or trending hashtag. To make sure they are on top of their audience’s content needs, a company should consider adopting a content marketing plan. This topic is worthy of its own article; but in brief, typical plans can include a profile of the target audience, identification of the platforms that will be used for specific content, a content production schedule, and engagement targets (along with a strategy to measure them). The plan should also anticipate how a target customer can be moved from brand awareness to conversion. Is the goal of the social media content to boost sales? Drive visitors to a website? Raise foot traffic at an event? Depending on how an influencer fits into your brand’s overall social media strategy, they could be involved in any or all aspects of the content plan.

Influencer Marketing Companies use industry expertise to build your brand.

Do your brand justice – don’t cut corners when building a sound, authentic social media strategy. This is where influencer marketing companies add value to businesses. They bring their expertise, experience, and vast network of social media resources to bear on taking a brand’s online presence to the next level. A company can focus on doing what they do best, like making game-changing products or serving their consumer base, while at the same time leveraging the expertise of social media professionals to grow their brand value online.

An Influencer Marketing Company worth its salt has advanced knowledge of “white hat” social media growth tactics. White hat methods (unlike black hat tactics) fall within the rules of social media platforms, and seek to achieve marketing goals through real growth strategies that are above-board. White hat techniques are well known, and most companies already use them regularly. They include practices like keyword research, blog posts, and building mutually beneficial relationships with Influencers. Contrary to the black hat approach, there is no deception. Also, although follower growth is relatively slower, the community tends to stick with your brand over time.

SocianSelect is a leader in harnessing the value of influencer marketing for brands in various industries; including men's and women's apparel, cosmetic & beauty, and health & wellness brands. We work with experienced influencers that have a track record of strong follower engagement. We’re very particular about the influencers with whom we partner, accepting only a small minority of those that apply. Only those that make the grade in terms of content quality and professionalism contribute to our clients' social media campaigns. With us you can tailor your campaign according to your brand’s goals and needs. Our company also ensures that influencer impact is measured and reported. Our Influencer Marketing Dashboard gives companies the analytics they need to monitor organic brand engagement, review curated comments, and make use of original influencer content.

By putting a solid, customized social media strategy in place, SocianSelect helps companies find and grow an online audience that is genuinely interested in the value they bring to the marketplace. We believe your brand is worth investing the time it takes to connect with like-minded people all around the world, and we want to help you do it right.

  • Our friend Helen Lamb contributed to this Influencer Marketing Guide on the benefits of slow social media growth.
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