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 by Jerry Silfwer (Instagram)

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 actual 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. In contrast, I have half my Twitter volume of followers on Instagram, where I am active at the moment, but thousands of per cent more engagement.

The actual number of followers, fans, and subscribers matters very little.

Too many followers, fans, and subscribers can be a problem 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 there’s still something to 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 itself.

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 This is in many ways an outdated (and hated) model, but that’s beside the point for this blog post; the matter is that there are better or worse ways to attribute value to your online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. Social follower volumes tend to go up in most cases, but not that much. Conversion rates vary with traffic quality and UIX, but usually not that 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 have my messaging exposed 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.

Read 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.

Read 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.

Read 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.

Read also: “For Content!”

Bonus 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.

Read also: How Ghost Followers Destroy Your Social Media Accounts

Bonus 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.
  • Any potential involvement on my part will be determined by me, the follower, 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.
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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