After he lost the 2012 presidential election, Governor Mitt Romney lost a staggering amount of Facebook followers. He shed so many fans that an entire website was established to chronicle his social media losses– the site features charts and a real-time loss counter. Mashable reported that on the Saturday after the election, Romney was losing 847 Facebook fans/friends per hour. Strictly speaking, Governor Romney is not a business in and of himself, but there’s something that business owners can take away from this—those people were fairweather followers. He didn’t win and they were done. They no longer wanted to read about him or engage with him because it was over. The trend ended.
As soon as Governor Romney lost, those fans jumped ship and abandoned him. He became irrelevant to those people almost immediately. As a business owner, webmaster or entrepreneur, you’re not in the election-winning game, you’re in the relevancy game. There are, however, some lessons to be taken from this whole thing. Some people will only follow your site or business through social media outlets when times are good, when it’s trendy or when they’re circling like vultures for cheap/free product. Those people are not valuable followers.
Let’s look at an example that’s a little more pertinent to the small business/web world than the Romney election machine’s loss.
A few months ago, my friend and his fiancé entered a contest to win $10,000 or so in wedding-related prizes. This included photography, flowers, catering and makeup. As his friend, I was happy to help him win the contest—until I heard the rules and criteria. I had to ‘like’ each separate company (flower company, wedding photographer, makeup company, etc.) on Facebook and comment on a photo of him on each company’s page. I snapped into grumbling mode.
“They just want Facebook likes. You can ‘unlike’ them as soon as the contest is over,” my friend explained.
So my entire group of friends liked those pages and participated in that odd, manipulative approximation of voting. My friend and his fiancé did not win the contest. Everyone who voted, except for me, instantly unliked all five of those pages because they didn’t want, as they perceived it, the spam.
I faced something of a moral dilemma after that. To me, a follow on Twitter or a like on Facebook means something—I only do it when I mean it. In this case, however, I clicked ‘like’ without meaning it. It was with a heavy heart that I unliked each page, never to return again. Those were good, local companies—but they weren’t relevant to me for more than a few days. They gained nothing from me or any of my friends. What was the point?
I felt bad about unliking those companies. They didn’t do anything wrong exactly, they just engaged in some experimental social media marketing. Though there’s nothing unusual about contests, this particular challenge was conducted in a counterproductive way. I assume no one else that unclicked the like button felt an iota of pity or remorse, so I was in the minority there. That means that a Facebook like is even more casual and fleeting for people other than me.
What does that imply for these businesses?
• No Value – These ‘sunshine friends’ are inherently without value. They are either outside of the business’ demographic or following a trend. Whatever the case may be, their interest in that company will bleed out. There will be no conversation, no engagement and no conversion. They’re just numbers—by their own choice.
• Skewed Numbers – This leads to another problem with fairweather followers. They totally skew your numbers. If a contest or an event has those noncommittal people flooding in, your numbers are going to look great—but will they mean anything? If they don’t reflect any actual engagement or conversion, then the answer is no.
• False Hope – The worst thing about having sunshine fans is that it gives you a sense of false hope. It looks like your numbers are up. It looks like you’re finally growing and being noticed. When those new fans don’t respond or stop following you, it’s a haymaker to the entire company’s ego.
If your social media person/department is especially savvy, then s/he can separate the ‘good’ numbers versus the ‘bad’ numbers, but when it comes to investment of time vs. return, is there a point in having ‘bad’ numbers at all?
Let’s look at things from that fleeting fan’s perspective. If they just clicked on ‘like’ or ‘follow’ to win a small contest, help a friend out or because they were only half-interested in something you might become, then anything you post through social media outlets is noise to them. It’s spam. They couldn’t care less about you and what you have to say or offer.
• No Conversion – If a follower finds you annoying or has thoughts about dropping you any moment, then you’re not going to gain anything. They won’t buy your product, they won’t subscribe to your email list and they won’t be in it for the long haul. Their brief spurt of interest means nothing to your business. They’re people who wouldn’t have responded with legitimate interest anyway so, in a sense, you’re just torturing yourself.
• Obligation – There are also people who will stick it out because they feel obligated. I’m sometimes one of those people. In many ways, this is a more tragic scenario for both the follower and the business. That’s because the follower is noise (false data) to the business, the business is noise (spam) to the follower and no one has the good sense to call it off.
Now, there might be those of you that are saying, “Well Dustin, even if you unliked that wedding photographer after you got fed up with their status updates, won’t they be the first person you think of when you need a wedding photographer’s services?”
And my answer to that is a resounding “possibly.”
Chances are good that I will go with whichever photographer someone else picks, just because wedding photography will never be something I’m interested in. It’s not without value (obviously), but it’s not relevant to me—so it’s just noise.
Let’s take a look at another quick example. Say there’s an ad on the right side of my Facebook feed from a company I don’t know. Or it could be a picture someone shared. It doesn’t matter. That photo or ad claims that it will let me watch a preview for Fallout 4 if I click the like button—and it’s lying. There’s no Fallout trailer, just a bunch of reposts and noise. There’s a difference between this and a legitimate contest, but the results are the same. A regular Facebook user might put up with the spam. A savvy Facebook user might hide the company’s updates or tweets. Then there’s another type of Facebook user entirely—the kind that’s going to unlike the company and harbor resentment.
This a shadier method than the contest, but the results are the same. You’re gaining followers that are going to scroll past you, going to hide you or going to leave you. They’re just imaginary numbers.
The Real Deal
You’ve probably got it by now—these fairweather followers aren’t valuable to your site or business. They’re kind of like that friend-of-a-friend who you agree to let sleep on your couch for two weeks. He eats all of your food, gives your cat a green mohawk and then leaves forever. That social media follower might view you the same way.
Fortunately, there are real followers—people who actually care about your website, your mission and your product. These followers don’t come when you do a quick cash in on a current event or contest that caters to people who have no interest in what you do. That should be obvious, but some people don’t pick up on it. Social media is about branding and engagement—it’s not about force, coercion or trickery. Those methods only result in heartbreak.
Relevancy is important. When you target people who are completely outside of your demographic and bribe them to like or follow you through some form of skullduggery or another, those aren’t real followers. They’re going to leave and neither of you are going to get anything out of it. Engaging people isn’t always easy, but numbers that are inflated and meaningless are a detriment to your social media efforts, regardless of how appealing they look on the page. Target your demographic. Take it as it comes. Don’t focus on people who are never going to care about you. It’s about converting the people who actually care, not posting to thousands of people that have hidden your status updates.
In the social media world, fans, friends and followers are hard-earned if they’re actually interested in what you do. When people are engaged, they become real friends—and Real friends don’t click unlike.
This guest post was by Dustin Verburg who is a writer and musician based in Boise, ID. When he’s not playing guitar or hopelessly wrapped up in joke Twitter accounts, Dustin writes about his social media experiences, internet ethics and white hat SEO. He writes for Page One Power, a relevancy first Link Building Firm.