Blog Post

5 Ways to Build Your Followings in the Top Social Networks

The traditional marketing formula — on television, on the web and in print advertising — seems to be: Got people? Insert marketing message. But social media is a different beast altogether; here’s why:

  • Lack of consistent platform. Each social network functions in its own way. There isn’t a set of agreed-upon industry standards for marketing or advertising in social networks. Even if there were, every company that develops and hosts a social network sets up their own rules.
  • Emphasis on community. Social networks may reside on websites but they are much more akin to online communities; they’re considered “non-commercial spaces” where marketing is frowned upon. While old-fashioned courtesy still applies, you can’t just “join” any conversation.
  • Users are jaded. We’ve all seen the decline of the banner ad. As web users become even more active as social media users, they are becoming more overwhelmed by marketing messages daily and less likely to click on anything they don’t recognize from anyone whom they don’t know at least peripherally.
  • Users are listening to connections. Increasingly, people are getting their product and service recommendations from their peers, real-life friends, colleagues and even more distantly related social network friends, fans and followers than from ads.

As we ramp up our marketing efforts in social networks, what we’re all trying to do now is to become a trusted connection with a large number of people who are either our current customers, our potential customers or who can be evangelists connecting us to our target audience. Who do we think we are?

People Following People

It stands to reason that because people use social networks to connect with other people, making sure that your brand’s social media identity is tied to a person or people will increase the likelihood someone will follow your company or organization on Twitter or Facebook and the like. That’s not to say that a firmly established big brand or an organization with a large constituency cannot ramp up their friends, fans and followers quickly. But most smaller brands or new brands will struggle.

Sure, you can buy followers, but having 10,000 new followers you just purchased won’t provide long-term benefits, particularly not in building deeper relationships with your customer base and converting them into evangelists. How do you build a meaningful following?

People Following You

The challenge of building a following in the more popular networks — Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn — is that those platforms differ greatly. What you do on Twitter to gain followers usually won’t work on Facebook. Trying the same tactics on LinkedIn could be the kiss of death to your professional social reputation. Here’s a breakdown of some of the ways you can build a following and where those tactics are best put to use:

Tactic Facebook Twitter LinkedIn
Follow a lot of people in the hope that they will follow you back. You can’t follow people using a Facebook Page. You risk creating a bad impression if you follow many more people than the number of people following you back. You devalue your LinkedIn account by following too many people with whom you have no real-life connection.
Post frequently. You need to strike a balance once you find the rhythm that doesn’t overwhelm and annoy your “fans.” On a Facebook Page, posting daily or at most a few times a day could suffice. You need to find the right rhythm for Twitter, which has a much faster pace than Facebook. Your tweets can disappear quickly depending on the configuration of your follower’s Twitterstream. You may be speaking into an abyss as many of your connections probably don’t use LinkedIn for messaging in the same way they might Facebook or Twitter. Or you may annoy them if your posts are too frequent.
Broadcast a message to your followers asking them to refer people to you. You can broadcast messages to your Fans. Unfortunately, these go into a remote part of the recipients’ Facebook inboxes called Updates, which most people don’t see. You can also post this message to your Wall but be prepared for mixed responses. Every tweet broadcasts to your followers. However, you are at the mercy of how often someone checks their Twitterstream, how many people they follow and how often they notice you. An occasional plea for follower referrals isn’t too onerous on Twitter. You can broadcast to up to 50 of your connections. This should be done very strategically. Never abuse the Inbox of your LinkedIn connections, because LinkedIn operates not on the basis of mutual connections, not on  a “follower” basis.
Mention others to get them to notice you. In your Facebook updates, you can reference someone else and also tag them so they notice your updates. However, note that this pulls from your personal Facebook account, not your Page. Used thoughtfully, @-ing someone in your Twiterstream who hasn’t followed you yet is a surefire way to get noticed. To get followed? Only if they find you relevant or valuable in some way. Or if they have their account set to autofollow, which means less relevance for you. It’s always great to give kudos in any setting, professional networks included. Mentions of others in your LinkedIn updates, however, don’t broadcast.
Consistently post valuable information. Your Page fans will appreciate this. Note that you should alternate between updates that have links and ones that don’t. Those with links can be shared, those without cannot. Your Twitter followers will appreciate this. Make sure you compose your tweets at least 15-20 characters shorter than 140 so people have room to retweet you in different ways. Your LinkedIn contacts will appreciate this — at least those who pay attention to their LinkedIn news feeds.
Buy an ad. Facebook Social Ads (not to be mistaken with their skyscraper ads) can be surprisingly effective for building a fan base. However, that base is only as relevant as you are able to target your ad. The more you hone in, the better quality the fans. Twitter is toying with Promoted Trends and Promoted Tweets. You can try them, but the jury is still out on their effectiveness. LinkedIn offers LinkedIn Direct Ads. I haven’t tried these out myself but they appear to be similar to Facebook Social Ads with the ability to target by job title, industry, geography and more.

Not every tactic for building your social network followings will bring relevant friends, fans and followers to you. Relevance often comes when someone makes a conscious and deliberate choice to follow you after perusing what you have to offer, or if they recognize you or they are referred to you by someone they know.

How are you building your followings on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn? What is working and what falls flat for you?

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Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Social Media in the Enterprise

10 Responses to “5 Ways to Build Your Followings in the Top Social Networks”

  1. I am excited about social media as a tool to advance my yard safety awareness campaign featuring Rescue Rick the Grass Cut Man and Yard Safety Crusaders. Thank you for sharing this article on social media content strategy. Think yard safety and enjoy the show!

  2. I think that the most important take away for this article is to remember that all of the networks have different cultures surrounding them. What works on one network doesn’t work on another.

    Switching a traditional marketing mindset away from broadcast and towards consistent engagement in conversation can be very difficult for most. Really like the way you show some of the basic tactics working differently on just three of the popular networks.

  3. Great tips, Aliza! I agree with Doug — lack of a clear content strategy can make social media efforts fruitless. I also continue to find that once meaty content IS in place (like a solid business blog), many don’t know how to market that content effectively on the networks. For example, LinkedIn has a plethora of ways to promote your blog. Some handy tips for those who are interested!