Everyone loves metrics, and when they're available it can be very tempting to live or die with by them without first asking yourself, "Are these the right metrics?" If your social media consultant or manager points first to your Twitter follower count when you ask how things are going, you have a problem. Since follower count is front and center on Twitter, it's become the de facto way to tell how important an account it is. It's time to move on.
Here are three main reasons:
1. They're not all listening.
You've bought into this follower idea because you like the idea that 10,000 (or what-have-you) people are reading your tweets. Let me disabuse you of this notion. Many people follow thousands if not tens of thousands of people... they're not really paying attention to most of them. It's all too easy to follow someone and then never notice them again.
2. Some followers are worth more than others.
Are you getting retweeted by an industry leader or your cousin? Follower count doesn't say anything about how influential your followers are. Getting the ear of one influential people in your field could be worth hundreds of thousands of followers (or customers). Don't just look at your follower count number, look at who those people are. How many people listen to them? Are they important in your industry?
3. Measuring follower count creates the wrong incentives.
If all you use to judge your social media program is followers, that's all you'll get. Increasing followers without regard to business value is easy. You can have giveaways, discounts and prizes for new followers. Be wary of those who call this "engaging your audience," the only thing you've engaged is their desire for free stuff. Don't get me wrong, sometimes discounts and contests can be a valuable tool to meet particular goals, but that goal should not be follower count. Think about what your business objective really is and and set specific metrics and tactics to match.
I'm not advocating banning follower count altogether, but it should just be one metric of many. The real goals depend on your business. It might be retweets, clicks, signups or how many people are talking about your brand. You already know what matters to you, social media should just be another tool to achieve that.
Megan Berry is Marketing Manager for Klout. Klout measures influence across the social web. She also contributes to Mashable and The Huffington Post. You can follow her on Twitter at @meganberry.