The Public Relations 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

tl:dr;
The value of having a social media following can be calculated in different ways. The same is true for calculating the cost of growing a social media following and cultivating those relationships. Whatever measuring approach you chose, know that there is a break even point and that that point is your critical mass. Best practice is to focus on growth to surpass critical mass and, then, focus on cultivating those relationships.
2021
This post was originally published in 2019, and since then, several social media networks have geared their algorithms towards scoring pieces of content individually—regardless of the content creator's following size. This silent shift makes the sentiment of this article even more prominent—investing first in growth and then in true relationships is even more important than ever before.
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How many fol­low­ers equal crit­ic­al mass?

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?
Well, to some extent.

Here we go:

Critical Mass in Social Media

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. 

You could have 16,000 fol­low­ers like 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. However, some­thing must be said about a busi­ness with too few followers.

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, how many fans you have at the begin­ning of that week matters.

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 the spe­cif­ic num­ber of fol­low­ers needed to break even fin­an­cially. This num­ber is referred to as crit­ic­al mass.

Assuming that con­ver­sion rates and fol­low­er reach ratios stay stable, we can approx­im­ate the num­ber of 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. However, we must make a 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:

  • 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. 2Silfwer, J. (2020, April 21). The Content Themes PR Strategy: Focused Birds Gets Worms. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​c​o​n​t​e​n​t​-​t​h​e​m​e​s​-​p​r​-​s​t​r​a​t​e​gy/
  • 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. 3Silfwer, J. (2022, June 30). Why ROI and PR Mix Like Oil and Water. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​r​oi/
  • Don’t 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. 4Silfwer, J. (2019, August 12). How Ghost Followers Destroy Your Social Accounts. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​g​h​o​s​t​-​f​o​l​l​o​w​e​rs/

Your Social Media Strategy After Critical Mass

When your organ­isa­tion has reached crit­ic­al mass in terms of social media fol­low­ing volume, it’s time to shift gears and change the approach:

  • At crit­ic­al mass, invest in qual­ity con­tent. The brand’s aggress­ive invest­ments must cool off when you get crit­ic­al mass. Now, you should focus on engage­ment qual­ity instead of growth. 5Silfwer, J. (2022, September 22). “For Content!” Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​f​o​r​-​c​o​n​t​e​nt/
  • Adopt an inbound-first mind­set for pri­or­it­ies. Avoid the leaky fun­nel prob­lem by ensur­ing no inbound sig­nals get lost because they’re too valu­able to dis­reg­ard. 6Silfwer, J. (2015, March 9). Inbound Shift PR Strategy: Beauty From Within. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​i​n​b​o​u​n​d​-​s​h​i​f​t​-​p​r​-​s​t​r​a​t​e​gy/
  • Stop try­ing to grow; try earn­ing more love instead. When reach­ing crit­ic­al mass, the best growth strategy is hav­ing your exist­ing social media fol­low­ers impact the social media algorithms and attract new fol­low­ers. 7Silfwer, J. (2021, May 15). Social Media Algorithms and How They Rule Our Lives. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​s​o​c​i​a​l​-​m​e​d​i​a​-​a​l​g​o​r​i​t​h​ms/
Signature - Jerry Silfwer - Doctor Spin

Thanks for read­ing. Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing art­icles with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tions and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. You might also con­sider my PR ser­vices or speak­ing engage­ments.

PR Resource: Free Social Media PR Course

ANNOTATIONS
ANNOTATIONS
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 Silfwer, J. (2020, April 21). The Content Themes PR Strategy: Focused Birds Gets Worms. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​c​o​n​t​e​n​t​-​t​h​e​m​e​s​-​p​r​-​s​t​r​a​t​e​gy/
3 Silfwer, J. (2022, June 30). Why ROI and PR Mix Like Oil and Water. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​r​oi/
4 Silfwer, J. (2019, August 12). How Ghost Followers Destroy Your Social Accounts. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​g​h​o​s​t​-​f​o​l​l​o​w​e​rs/
5 Silfwer, J. (2022, September 22). “For Content!” Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​f​o​r​-​c​o​n​t​e​nt/
6 Silfwer, J. (2015, March 9). Inbound Shift PR Strategy: Beauty From Within. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​i​n​b​o​u​n​d​-​s​h​i​f​t​-​p​r​-​s​t​r​a​t​e​gy/
7 Silfwer, J. (2021, May 15). Social Media Algorithms and How They Rule Our Lives. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​s​o​c​i​a​l​-​m​e​d​i​a​-​a​l​g​o​r​i​t​h​ms/
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.
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The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that there is more to life than strategic communication.

The cover photo has

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