The PR BlogDigital PRSocial Media ManagementCritical Mass: How Many Social Media Followers Do You Need?

Critical Mass: How Many Social Media Followers Do You Need?

Why it makes business sense to go for critical mass.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

How many fol­low­ers, fans, and sub­scribers equal crit­ic­al mass?

Everyone wants more fol­low­ers on social media.
Businesses, too.

At the same time, mar­ket­ing experts are shout­ing at the top of their lungs that the num­ber of fol­low­ers does­n’t mat­ter; it’s all about hav­ing the right fol­low­ers. And this is all accom­pan­ied by anxious whis­pers in the office hall­ways about who has bought their fol­low­ers and who hasn’t.

Do your num­ber of fol­low­ers, fans, and sub­scribers matter?

Critical Mass in Social Media

Well, the num­ber of fol­low­ers, fans, and sub­scribers does­n’t mat­ter — to a degree. You could have 100,000 fake fol­low­ers on Twitter, and it would­n’t mat­ter if your stat­ist­ics tell you that 5,000 saw your last tweet because they were all bots anyway. 

Or, you could have 16,000 fol­low­ers as I do, but I’m not as act­ive there as I once was — which the algorithm does­n’t like. The actu­al num­ber of fol­low­ers, fans, and sub­scribers mat­ters very little.

Too many fol­low­ers, fans, and sub­scribers can be prob­lem­at­ic if your brand loses momentum. If you get 100 Facebook likes per week on aver­age, it’s bet­ter to have 50 fans (200% engage­ment) than 5,000 (2% engagement).

So, all those mar­ket­ing experts aren’t wrong per se. But some­thing must be said about simply hav­ing too few fol­low­ers as a business.

Return on Engagement vs Following Size

Suppose a busi­ness hires one per­son to run all its social chan­nels, which costs 2,000€ per week (includ­ing taxes, rent­al fees, con­tent soft­ware licens­ing etc.). How many fol­low­ers must this employ­ee engage each week to break even?

There are many ways to attrib­ute value to social media mar­ket­ing, and the right choice depends on the business. 

The most com­mon approach is cal­cu­lat­ing the altern­at­ive cost for the brand’s organ­ic reach. How much would it cost to reach all those people with advert­ising? This is, in many ways, an out­dated (and hated) mod­el, but that’s beside the point for this blog post; the mat­ter is that there are bet­ter or worse ways to attrib­ute value to your online mar­ket­ing efforts — but it’s some­thing that most busi­nesses have to do.

If you have to reach 100,000 people to con­vert cus­tom­ers to a value of 2,000€ per week, it mat­ters how many fans you have at the begin­ning of that week.

Critical Mass (of Quality Followers)

A brand’s total aver­age organ­ic reach tends to be stable. Social net­work algorithms change, but usu­ally not that fast. 

Engagement rates fluc­tu­ate with con­tent qual­ity and com­pet­i­tion, but not that much. Most social fol­low­er volumes tend to increase, but not that much. Conversion rates vary with traffic qual­ity and UIX, but usu­ally not much.

Whether or not you start the week with a big enough bulk of social media fol­low­ers, you can (espe­cially with Facebook Zero) pay for some of your weekly reaches. Still, every cent must be earned back into your busi­ness with interest — soon­er or later.

Diffusion of Innovation - Critical Mass
The dif­fu­sion of the innov­a­tion curve.

This allows us to approx­im­ate a spe­cif­ic num­ber of fol­low­ers you need to break even fin­an­cially. This num­ber of fol­low­ers is what is referred to as crit­ic­al mass. 

Assuming that con­ver­sion rates and fol­low­er reach ratios stay stable, we can approx­im­ate how many fol­low­ers a brand needs to break even.

Conversions needed to hit break-even / the aver­age fol­low­er reach ratio = your brand’s crit­ic­al mass of followers.

How To Calculate Critical Mass in Social Media

Calculating crit­ic­al mass is straight­for­ward (and not an exact sci­ence). For example:

I’ve estim­ated that my freel­ance agency, Spin Factory, needs two qual­ity leads every four weeks to sus­tain the busi­ness. To get this from con­tent- and inbound mar­ket­ing via social media alone, I need to expose my mes­saging to 1,200 qual­ity fol­low­ers weekly.

My social reach is about 8%, mean­ing I need a base of 15,000 social media fol­low­ers (15,000 fol­low­ers x 8% pen­et­ra­tion = 1,200 exposures).

Hence, 15,000 high-qual­ity social media fol­low­ers rep­res­ent the crit­ic­al mass for Spin Factory. 

Approximating your brand’s crit­ic­al mass in social media is no exact sci­ence — and it’s no guar­an­tee. But we must make a much deep­er and more busi­ness-crit­ic­al point about a brand’s crit­ic­al mass in social media. 1Not all social accounts are equally valu­able to a busi­ness. For me, blog read­ers and sub­scribers far out­weigh Facebook and Twitter fol­low­ers. Unfortunately, not all fol­low­ers are human beings, and … Continue read­ing

Your Social Media Strategy Before Critical Mass

Almost every brand that starts on social media will lose money. This is simply because their social accounts haven’t yet reached crit­ic­al mass. This leads us to the fol­low­ing key insights:

  • 1. At the start, invest in con­tent volume. Investing in aggress­ive social media strategies to reach crit­ic­al mass is essen­tial. You’ll need to pro­duce sig­ni­fic­ant volumes of con­tent to grow fast enough. 2Read also: How Content Themes Work — And Why You Should Use Them
  • 2. Accept a neg­at­ive ROI in the begin­ning. Key stake­hold­ers must be made aware of the crit­ic­al mass chal­lenge. They must get a chance to under­stand how invest­ments in this space scale. 3Read also: Why ROI and PR Mix Like Oil and Water
  • 3. Don’t try to cheat the sys­tem with ghost fol­low­ers. If you acquire ghost fol­low­ers, your con­ver­sion rates will decrease, and you’ll be forced to gain even more fol­low­ers. 4Read also: How Ghost Followers Destroy Your Social Accounts
  • 4. When you reach crit­ic­al mass, invest in qual­ity. The brand’s aggress­ive invest­ments must cool off when you get crit­ic­al mass. Now you should focus on engage­ment qual­ity instead of growth. 5Read also: “For Content!”

Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing it with oth­er PR- and com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

PR Resource: Avoid Ghost Followers

How To Avoid Ghost Followers

Inactive and pass­ive fol­low­ers, ghost fol­low­ers, will des­troy your engage­ment scores and there under­mine your social media reach and growth are a few rules of thumb for keep­ing clear of ghost followers:

  • Grow organ­ic­ally from the start. Having a small but highly engaged com­munity is bet­ter than attract­ing huge bulks of ghost fol­low­ers — espe­cially if you share your author­ity with them by enga­ging with them back.
  • Stay con­sist­ent in one niche. Attracting a homo­gen­ous audi­ence (in terms of what exact con­tent they typ­ic­ally will engage with) is crit­ic­al for long-term suc­cess in social media. For more insight, see also the fol­low­er contract.
  • Engage stra­tegic­ally wise. Who you engage with (fol­low, like, com­ment, share) will send neces­sary sig­nals to the algorithm. Ensure to engage con­sist­ently with the par­tic­u­lar audi­ence you want to attract.
  • Remove or unsub­scribe ghosts. When pos­sible, pro­act­ively remove inact­ive fol­low­ers by either elim­in­at­ing or unsub­scrib­ing them. Not all social net­works allow for this, but you should use this tac­tic wherever it’s applicable.

Learn more: How Ghost Followers Destroy Your Social Media Accounts

PR Resource: The Follower Contract

The Follower Contract

Many brands must rethink their approach to hav­ing fol­low­ers, fans, and sub­scribers. Having a brand com­munity is your priv­ilege, not theirs. How can you hon­our their engagement?

Think of every single fol­low­er, fan, and sub­scriber hav­ing this agree­ment with your brand:

Dear Brand,

  • Yes, I’m now fol­low­ing you. Congratulations (to you).
  • I fol­lowed you based on what you’ve demon­strated in the past, so don’t be sur­prised if I’ll stop enga­ging (or unfol­low­ing) if you do oth­er stuff.
  • You now have my per­mis­sion to provide me with the type of con­tent that first attrac­ted me to your brand.
  • I, the fol­low­er, will determ­ine any involve­ment on a future case-by-case basis.
  • My fol­low is not a ‘pay­ment’ for your past accom­plish­ments; my fol­low is an ‘advance pay­ment’ for what I expect from you in the future.
  • It would be best if you always pre­sup­posed that I’m inter­ested in myself and my friends first and then, maybe, in your brand.
  • Until we part ways, I expect you to be clear about my poten­tial involve­ment in your cause.

Best regards,
Your New Follower

Read also: The Follower Contract

1 Not all social accounts are equally valu­able to a busi­ness. For me, blog read­ers and sub­scribers far out­weigh Facebook and Twitter fol­low­ers. Unfortunately, not all fol­low­ers are human beings, and you should beware of ghost fol­low­ers, i.e. bots, click farm accounts, auto­mated fol­low­er soft­ware etc. Too many fake fol­low­ers will neg­at­ively impact your chances of suc­cess­fully nego­ti­at­ing social media algorithms.
2 Read also: How Content Themes Work — And Why You Should Use Them
3 Read also: Why ROI and PR Mix Like Oil and Water
4 Read also: How Ghost Followers Destroy Your Social Accounts
5 Read also: “For Content!”
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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