Follower Count: How to Stop the Obesession

Within the space of ten years, a brand new metric for popularity and influence has been born: the follower count. Facebook followers. Twitter and Instagram followers. As a writer it’s easy to become obsessed with increasing our follower count, but social media consultant Andrea Dunlop offers a different perspective in her article Stop Focusing on Follower Count: 5 Better Approaches for Improving Social Media Use, which we have excerpted here:

As an author and social media marketer, I spend a lot of time thinking about the intersection of books and social media. I also know intimately the fatigue and overwhelm that comes from feeling like you have to be not only creating great work, but forever seeking new and ingenious ways to promote it. The quickest way to tire yourself out in this process is to set your eye on the wrong target, creating a Sisyphean struggle that is more likely to leave you feeling defeated than accomplishing even the most modest of marketing goals.

When I ask most clients what their goals are in hiring me, I usually get some version of “to get more followers and sell more books.” I encourage them to think both bigger and more deeply about social media. Here’s why: You know those folks you see on Twitter who have 20,000 followers, but are following 21,000 people? This is a perfect example of when follower count becomes absolutely meaningless as a metric. How could anyone have even the tiniest interactions with that many people on a regular basis? They can’t.

Numbers are helpful as a part of the picture; I’m all for tracking follow count, engagement, web traffic, conversions, Amazon ranking—these are all helpful indicators of progress. But becoming too obsessed with numbers ignores the social aspect of social media. Would you walk into a party with the sole mission of making twenty new friends? More likely, we go into social situations (even those specifically meant for networking) hoping to deepen our connections with our existing circle, meet some new and interesting people, learn some new things, and open the door to future opportunities and collaborations. Here’s how this translates to your strategic social media efforts as an author.

1. Conduct market research

In ye olden days before social media, more of marketing was guesswork. But now there’s so much data on who’s reading, buying, and talking about which books, it’s mind-boggling. Before your mind gets too boggled, here’s how to drill down and get some helpful insights:

  • Start with a list of ten or so books that fall into the category of what we industry types call “comp titles”—books that have a similar audience to yours.
  • Look up these titles on social media, as well as Amazon and Goodreads. This will give you a concrete idea of who your audience is and how they’re discussing the books, as well as what else they’re reading, and what else they’re interested in.
  • If you’re in the pitching stage, this can help you find and research agents and publishers (most of whom are active on social media).
  • Once your book is on sale, this can help you narrow your audience by looking at people who bought your books and seeing what else they bought, giving you real info on which books share an audience with yours: if you see several that pop up again and again, read them! It’s an amazing opportunity for insight into how readers are interpreting your books.

You have many more marketing tools at your disposal than authors in the past. Don’t overlook them.

2. Connect with influencers

You’ve probably heard of influencer marketing, but what is it and how can you use it? Influencer marketing sometimes refers to massive global brands paying thousands of dollars to an Instagram star with a million followers for product placement, but it can also work on a much smaller level. Many brands take advantage of the potential reach of bloggers, You Tubers, and podcasters who’ve built sizable followings, and authors should too.

First, let’s define an “influencer.” Really, it’s anyone on social media who has a following they’re regularly engaged with. One of the things I love about social media is that it makes “word of mouth” marketing—that much ballyhooed but often elusive magic—visible and quantifiable. You can see people getting excited about things their friends (or “friends”) love. Obviously, the bigger the person’s following—so long as it’s a truly engaged following—the more reach you’ll get, but don’t discount those who have a smaller but engaged audience. Check out places like the #bookstagram hashtag on Instagram to find a plethora of these folks. A word to the wise: These relationships are most meaningful when built over time, so be present by engaging (liking and commenting on posts), so that you’re not reaching out of the blue when you pitch them.

Check back soon for part two of this series as Ms. Dunlop discusses networking, increasing your social media activity and that old tried and true method of word-of-mouth marketing.

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