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Following Others In Social Media As A Growth Strategy… Let’s Talk

Posted by on Sep 13, 2012

I’d actually like this one to open up into a discussion of some sort because I’m wondering if someone can convince me that I might be wrong. Yeah, it’ll be hard to do I know, but if someone has other ways of thinking about it that make sense, I’m open to hearing it.

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About six weeks ago I wrote a post titled What Will You Do For More Followers, and I added a video to the mix. First, although I ended up getting probably the appropriate number of comments to views of the video, it’s only been viewed 22 times; come on people, I ain’t making these things because of my good looks! lol Go ahead, watch the video; I know it’s 10 minutes long so watch at least some of it, okay? Don’t make me beg.

Anyway, on Sherryl Petty’s blog Keep Up With The Web, she had a guest post almost a month ago where the writer’s topic was How To Grow Your Google+ Followers. One of his recommendations stirred something in me, which happens often. It was to follow people at random and try to follow people in your niche.

Me being me, I commented, and since I wrote it I’m going to quote a small part of it here:

I always end up asking myself this question whenever someone makes it a point in an article and now I’m going to ask you this… what’s the deal with following people in one’s niche? I mean, I know the expectation is that if you do this those people will get to know you and you’ll make connections with those people.

However, experiments have proven that most of the time people in your niche don’t want to connect with you because they’re worried you’ll take potential customers away from them. In the area of leadership, which I write a lot about on one of my blogs, I’ve found only one person who seems to not be threatened by my visiting his blog, as he visits mine often as well. The others… well, half the time they won’t even approve the comments, and other times they never respond, and don’t ever visit my blog.

Of course some of you remember my post talking about commenting on similarly niched blogs and how it seems to be a failed concept. However, this is something a bit different. The question here is in growing one’s connections on Google+, and you might as well add Twitter to this conversation because it’s almost the same recommendation I’ve seen on other blogs.

Here’s the question. How do you feel about following a lot of people with the intention of trying to get more people to follow you? Here’s my take on it, just to establish a baseline.

I think when you first get to a place such as G+ or Twitter, the first thing you do is look for people you already know that are there. That will help you at least get established to some degree. What I did after that when I first got on Twitter was see who they were connected to and if I knew any of those people, I followed them as well. It wasn’t until much later when I started following some people who were talking about things I was interested in, but I still can’t say 4 years later that I’ve gone out of my way to find people in any of my niches, if you will, that I follow, or went looking to follow.

When I got to G+ it was pretty much the same thing. I went looking for people I already knew first, which I knew a lot more people in 2011 than I did before, and few of them were local. Then things started to take off, but it was mainly people following me and my connecting with them later on. And the only niche, if you will, that I really have is that many of the people I’m connected with are bloggers. That’s it; they aren’t even mainly people in my fields of expertise, but bloggers in general.

So I have people I’m connected with, but the numbers are relatively small. As I received a request to connect with someone a few days ago on Twitter that is in one of my niches, someone with 75% fewer tweets than me but is following and has followers around 25,000, it got me wondering if, as I wondered before, are my social media standards too strict for what I’m trying to do? Yes, personally I’m very comfortable with doing things my way, but does business suffer in some fashion because I’m not “everywhere” for “everyone”?

And there’s the conundrum, and thus why I throw the question out there. I know some of you have fewer connections than I do, but some of you have way more as well. Hopefully this will be an interesting discussion, and I ask you to see what others have to say on this topic as well when you come to comment (I know you’re coming lol). I’m really interested in knowing your thoughts; someone go get Marcus Sheridan and tell him to get into this discussion as well (heck, while you’re at it, go get Chris Brogan, as I bet he’ll offer some great perspective also).
 

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25 Comments »

Carl:

Generally, you are right, usually the strategy is to connect with contacts you already have. For businesses existing customers, after that, being active and social is a way to induce social ripples between existing friends and their friends.

September 13th, 2012 | 11:31 AM

That’s what I believe Carl. However, I’m coming into it with an open mind because someone might present an argument or point that’s legitimate to overcome my thinking.

I doubt it though. 🙂

September 13th, 2012 | 12:33 PM
Carl:

You are right, social science is very complicated and quite often some radical strategy may hit a trend and bring more success. Unfortunately not always quality wins, but again it is all about consistency.

September 14th, 2012 | 12:22 AM
Mitchell Allen:

Hey Mitch, I watched the insightful video and commented. Building on that response, which essentially boils down to experimentation, I’d have to add here that you may just be in a hyper-competitive niche.

Real agents are another bunch that don’t always like to share and interact. So much so that I find it refreshing when I discover a real estate blog that understands the power of networking.

Perhaps then, part of the experimental process is to measure the IMPACT of niche following vs. random following vs. “tribal” following. I suppose a fourth category – pre-existing network reciprocal following – ought to be studied, as well.

For my part, I have followed other programmers. As a group, they’re usually self-centered, like I am. We broadcast our status on the networks: Widget 2000 nearing release! Etc.

I have followed writers. Writers tend to be far more sociable. As well, they are not nearly as self-centered. They promote others far more often than they promote themselves.

I did a random follower experiment and regretted it. As you said in your video, most of them were not even real people! The whole thing was a waste of time and only inflated my numbers on Twitter.

I’m not part of any tribes, but I did experiment with BlogEngage and JustRetweet. For my money, a guest posting strategy would be just as effective.

Finally, reciprocal following of friends. Again, referring to your video, you mentioned that that is the default behavior when we first join a network. Just as we seek out a familiar face or two at social gatherings, it just makes us more comfortable as we get our bearings.

Now, which of these lead to real growth? Only your experiments will determine the answer! I think the measure is the number of new, ENGAGED followers came from these distinct efforts.

Cheers,

Mitch

September 13th, 2012 | 5:19 PM

That’s great stuff Mitch. What I have found is that friends don’t necessarily help for growth all that much, but it’s a great way to get started. It’s an interesting conundrum that people who know you won’t be interested in what you do just because it’s you, even if they’re interested in what you do.

I’ve followed tons of local people, commented on their blogs, and they either don’t comment back at all because they’re really not into the blogging community, if you will, and don’t even think about following anyone back to their blog. That’s been proven with my local blog; I have a couple of people who write often, but the majority just doesn’t care. Overall, I have more comments from people I don’t know than people I do know.

And that’s the thing about just up and following people, even if you know each other. Everyone is more busy with their own lives than to care about us. So we put our information out there for, well, others who don’t know us initially, but maybe we’re hitting them at the time where what we have to say means something in their lives. Total hit and miss, yet, as we said on that other post, have to be in the game.

September 13th, 2012 | 6:40 PM

Mitch,
My Twitter strategy closely resembles yours. I have only 448 followers, and I follow 245. Here is my dilemma. I receive more than 1,000 tweets every day. I retweet some, reply to a few, and my eyes glaze over from most of the tweets.

I am beginning to wonder, “What is value in having thousands of followers?” There is no way I can imagine how to glean the value from the tweets that would come from so many followers.

Help me out. How can I manage a growth strategy that returns value?

September 13th, 2012 | 10:09 PM

Actually Roger, you want thousands of followers; what you probably don’t want to do is have to follow thousands of people to get there.

With my general strategy, I’m connected to people who will talk to others. Even if they haven’t specifically talked to me, if I know they’re willing to engage me if the moment comes up that’s good enough for me.

Now, with the other group, well, those are people that probably aren’t reading lots of my tweets anyway. However, it shows up in their stream, which means the possibly is great that someone else following them will see it. And if it’s a topic they like, they might decide to follow you as well. And they might come to your site, etc, etc. So, by default, having lots of followers turns out to be a great thing.

Now, can you measure your ROI? Depends on what you do. I tend to believe if your business is brick & mortar and you’re using things such as 4Sq, then you’ll know. You can also track how many people come to your site via Twitter through analytic tools like the one Google has. For this site and my main business blog, Twitter is my #4 referrer; that’s not so bad. I need to promote my main business on there more often though, as I almost never do; that’s a failing of mine.

September 13th, 2012 | 10:30 PM

I watched the video and commented so now you can make that 23. Excellent video by the way.

Twitter is still something I’m trying to figure out. I’m not sure I see a consistent impacting value to it though I have gotten minor responses from some of my tweets. Personally I read very few tweets from others.

Nearly all of the social media sites are about the same for me: I’m signed up, but I’m not on them much. Aside from my blogs I’m probably on certain LinkedIn discussions more than anything.

The more numbers I get the less I care about having them. I can’t be attentive to all of them so I guess I need to mostly focus on doing what I do and let the other part develop as it will.

Lee
Arlee Bird recently posted…Marketing Trends Then, Now, and the Future: Guest Hijacker Renée PawlishMy Profile

September 13th, 2012 | 10:30 PM

Thanks for watching the video Lee; you da man! As for the social media sites, the thing is if you don’t use them, or have a strategy for using them, they’re not going to bring you what you might be looking for. If you see the comment I left Roger, you’ll see that it’s my 4th highest referrer for this blog and my business blog. However, if it’s not what you’re looking for then just do your thing and things will happen in your own way.

September 13th, 2012 | 11:09 PM
Radu:

Hey Mitch, long time no see.
I have a facebook account, especially created for social interacting and promoting. I have some traffic coming from this account but is countless and the results are beyond expectation. You have to be active a lot of time and when you draw the line it seems that if you don’t have a viral thing it can be only counter productive.

September 14th, 2012 | 7:33 AM

Hi Radu. True, we have to be active if we expect to get anything from social media. I address the specific action of just following people because they’re influential or because they’re in your niche, no matter whether they interact or not. There’s this thing about specificity that allows us to decide what works best for us, which I embrace, without the “add everyone no matter what because you might get a nugget”. To me that’s like putting $1,000 down on the lottery because you might get 3 numbers and win $5.

September 14th, 2012 | 11:01 PM
Jeevan Jacob John:

I am a strict guy, especially when it comes to following people on Social media. When I started out, I was relaxed, trying to get more followers through mass following. It works, but what’s the use?

Is it the number that really matter?

That’s why I started a new twitter account when I moved to my new blog in January. I now have less than 1 tenth of followers I had with my old twitter account, but I have more real connections and relationships than ever 😀

And that’s what that matters, right?

September 14th, 2012 | 10:39 AM

Thanks for your comment Jeevan and your philosophy seems to match with mine. Do I want higher numbers of connections? Absolutely. But will my following someone who not only won’t talk to me but probably isn’t ever seeing what I’m putting out going to benefit me? Probably not. Engagement; that’s what social media is supposed to be about.

September 14th, 2012 | 11:04 PM
Lee:

Hi this has been very insightful reading both the post and the comments. As I am one of the dinosaurs who hasn’t even got a twitter account yet. Today is the first day I have had time to start my social media side of my marketing strategy for my blog.

So for great info thanks lee

September 16th, 2012 | 5:31 AM

Good luck with it Lee; you certainly don’t look old enough to be a dinosaur. lol

September 16th, 2012 | 9:59 AM
Gregory Urbano:

First I would say that Google + differs from twitter in the interaction dept. more people in your niche may follow you on twitter to see what you are up to, blogging about. They may fear following you on a more exposed media like Google Plus for fear of being “seen” following or commenting there. That is just my two cents, and that ain’t much!
My thing is to try and just get any traction on google plus, I dont care who they are!
I follow you because you are about the most intelligent, un hyped person in your niche. I find your information sometimes relevant to my needs and generally entertaining!
Greg
Gregory Urbano recently posted…Car Shows, Constructive Criticism and thinking I should have been a Car and Driver Photographer!My Profile

September 22nd, 2012 | 10:27 AM

Thanks for that George; I’d blush if I blushed. lol And that’s an interesting point about following people on G+; we can all see it pretty easily. Still, as a strategy I just don’t see it for the most part, following people just because they might be prominent. But following people who might share what you’re interested in, always.

September 22nd, 2012 | 2:09 PM

Hi Mitch, we’ve talked about this in the past and I agree with some of it and reject a little as well. A theme of ours it seems. lol

I guess it depends on what we’re trying to achieve with social media. Are we trying to have fun and make friends or build a business? Luckily, in this case anyway, I think we can have our cake and eat it too. (What a stupid saying, who started that?) I just wonder if we don’t tend to limit our business due to self-imposed standards. I don’t feel anyone following the masses has compromised their integrity, not at all. As you know, I don’t follow the masses or my numbers would be much higher, but I don’t fault those trying to play the game and get ahead. Business is business and if that’s their goal that I’m okay with it.

So what about us, the rest of us that is? I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly what you eluded to, “are my social media standards too strict”? I think most of us can agree that SEO has changed so drastically that social media is more important than ever. Google takes social media, sharing and a ton of other social factors into account and that doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon.

So what’s important? Real interaction? Number of retweets and shares? Likes and comments? I don’t know, few people not on Google’s payroll know, if anyone. The person with 75% fewer tweets but a lot more followers, who’s better suited for search traffic via social signals? I say you are simply because I know you but I also know you could engage those 25,000 or even 200,000+ followers better than most could. So most never see your tweets, so what? If it’s a numbers game and all about percentage, aren’t we far better off plying with larger numbers? The answer is no if it’s all about pride or fun but if it’s about business, we don’t want to get hung up on misplaced standards. I’m not saying that’s what you are doing but I’ve spun my wheels far too long to keep snubbing ‘those people’ as I watch them climb the online business latter. I know you feel differently. I’m not willing to compromise my integrity but there is room for growth without selling our soul.
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September 24th, 2012 | 1:01 AM

Great comment Brian. And we did talk about this earlier so you know part of what I’m going to say already, but maybe you’ll hear it in a different way.

Overall I think it’s a failed strategy for one reason only. Following someone who never talks to you is like trying to join a clique in high school where you’re the lowest on the social rung but made it in anyway. You never get to talk, you’re not spoken to, but you’re expected to conform. Maybe one day one of the cool kids will say something to you but can your ego handle that sort of thing? Is there a loss of pride because you’re not being proactive while hoping someone notices you?

Now, if those people are social and talk to “regular” people and you’re following them, that’s cool. If you’re following them because they offer you information you like or need to know, that’s cool. But if you’re following them hoping they’ll make you famous by association only… suddenly you’re Tom Arnold when he was with Roseanne. True, he made it on his own eventually, but initially who respected this guy? For that matter who respects him now? lol

That’s all I’m saying. My hope is that people are in the right mind when they decide to follow someone. But seriously, who’s getting any real benefit out of being one of 2 million people following The Biebs when he’s only following a hundred or so back?

September 24th, 2012 | 1:10 AM

I think we both have the same idea, just different ways of looking at it, if that makes sense. I enjoy what I do and don’t want to risk that but there are ways of building rapid growth without losing the joy we get from it. We’ve both watched an amazing number of blogs disappear over the years, my feed reader was filled with dead blogs; I know yours was too. I think that’s because they allowed bossiness to get in the way of joy and they couldn’t sustain long term. The people that went that route and keep doing it probably get their joy from building business more than real interaction. There’s nothing wrong with that, we’re all different. Our challenge is to grow big while still maintaining the fun side we enjoy now.

Let’s take Twitter, for example. If having two hundred thousand followers is good but following those people are bad, then we have a growth problem. Sure, we can try to become very respected and even famous but how long will that take? What if we look at ways of engaging with those we can and ignoring the rest? Let me explain… What if you followed every REAL and active person back but followed a list you created? We simply create a list of a few hundred followers that interact with us and as new followers interact, they are added to the list. Lists are a great feature of Twitter’s and if used correctly can be pretty powerful. I don’t believe all of the ‘big boys’ are following their main feed, they are following a list they’ve created on Twitter. Ideally, whenever someone interacts with you, you simply add them to the list you follow. If you attempt to engage and are ignored, they don’t get on the list.

September 24th, 2012 | 1:36 AM

We’re talking the same thing yet in different ways. For context, you were talking earlier about seeing people on Twitter or Empire Avenue and just adding them to a list, seeing if they were social, and making determinations later based on that. I vete people up front on Twitter by looking at least at their last 100 posts to see if they talk to anyone so I avoid just adding people for that sake. I do that same thing with everyone that I notice is now following me on Twitter, or even people I check out on Empire Avenue in considering whether or not I’ll connect with them on Twitter or anywhere else.

The thing is I don’t follow anyone just because they’re popular with the possibility that they might talk to me. I check them all out up front; you’re doing it on the back end. At some point we end up in the same place, or at least close to the same place. In comparing numbers, I have a 4 – 1 ratio between the number of followers I have versus the 1.07 to 1 ratio you have, and I’m talking more often to the people I’m connected with than you are, 63,000 tweets to 9,200 tweets. And we’re pretty close to equal as far as the amount of traffic Twitter sends us. So, different methods, similar results, only I’m closer to the vest in who I follow.

When all is said and done you’re doing what I do, only with a lot more effort. Neither of us is continuing to follow someone who won’t ever talk to us without a good reason; I think I’m following 3 entities that I know won’t talk to me or follow me back, and 2 of those are news sources. So we’re just discussing semantics, not really drastically diverse beliefs. And that’s pretty cool.

September 24th, 2012 | 2:10 AM

Hey Mitch,

Well, you KNOW I commented and watched your video so let’s continue this discussion here.

I think for people who are just coming online and really haven’t made any connections, following people in your niche is the best suggestion because you can learn from them and meet other people through their contacts who are interested in the same things.

From there you should make your own connections of course but we all know that a lot of the areas in the online industry, people just aren’t having success. Because you are following or connecting with people in your own niche, those people through building relationships will come to like and trust you so you have a much better opportunity to bring them over to what you’re doing.

Now that’s the way it should work and in the past has worked.

What people don’t seem to understand that you aren’t really their competition because although you share the same type of content, people will either connect with you or they won’t. They may speak to you and think, huh… I don’t care for that guy for some reason. It’s usually a personal thing and that goes back to what I share a lot. We aren’t going to like everyone we meet online.

But because relationships are so crucial to you actually making connections that’s where it all needs to start.

As you mentioned, there are more people on the social sites I’m afraid that aren’t interested in making those connections but to me, I wouldn’t let that bother me at all. They aren’t your potential prospect anyway because who wants to be connected to people like that right!

I’m all about making connections and I quit “following” people a few years back. I only connect with those now that I’ve made some type of contact with through blogging, videos, groups or tribes.

This one is still a fine line I think but thanks for bringing this topic to the forefront.

Enjoy your day now.

~Adrienne
Adrienne recently posted…The 3 Most Important TasksMy Profile

October 8th, 2012 | 11:16 AM

Great stuff Adrienne! We’re together on this following thing, and you’re right, if someone is new to social media (and there’s still a lot of those folks for sure), then finding people to follow initially to get comfortable works. As I said with Twitter, I followed people I knew personally and then a few people I’d heard of, just to get going. Now things have turned the other way, and I like that better because it means I’m more “in the know” and also better connected because I have rules for who I follow.

Still, following people with the express intention of trying to attract others within the stream to grow one’s own numbers is… well, I’m not quite sure. I will say that I think the effort and the results don’t match up, and I’d find another way to do it.

October 8th, 2012 | 11:47 AM

Hi Mitch,

I really find this an interesting and controversial topic. Its hard to decide which to do sometimes. I’ve been on twitter for two years now with around 80 followers and following 120 or so.
In my case my blog is weeks old and most of my traffic come from facebook and twitter, I’ll say equal numbers. On realizing this, I felt following more people to get more followers would be wise, as I would get more exposure, but I somehow couldn’t bring myself to follow people randomly.

What I found was this. There are a few people interested in what I publish, and when they see my shortlink on twitter, they retweet posts they love, then I find a few more people who saw the retweeted post retweeting because they find it useful. I follow these people and add them to a private list. Just so I can keep tabs on the conversational guys I follow.

Also there is this platform I checked out, kred I believe is the name, its like klout with a different algorithm. It shows you a persons openness to conversations on twitter along with their influence. I think its one way to go instead of having to follow their tweets and see if they respond to others.

frankly, I’m still confused on the issue. I basically follow people I think would be relevant to me. Although some of them turn out to be “social snubs” lol.

October 8th, 2012 | 2:08 PM

Hi Osaze; thanks for commenting.

Here’s some advice for you. Since you have a small follower count it wouldn’t hurt you to find people who you’re interested in to follow. At the same time it wouldn’t hurt if you could find a way to start talking to the people you’re connected to, because sometimes that’s how other people find you, as they’re following the people you’re talking to.

My main thought is that there’s a limit on how well that kind of strategy will work long time. To get established, it make sense to follow a lot of people, but you need to check two things. One, are you interested in what they have to say, and two, do they either share links from other people or talk to other people.

There are some people or entities you might follow where you value the information they give you rather than if they’ll talk to you or not. For instance, I follow some news sources that I know won’t talk to me or share any of my information, but it gives me what I want to know.

Overall, each of us finds our way of connecting with more people in these different spaces, and hopefully it works.

October 8th, 2012 | 5:19 PM