Fair Weather Followers; Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Aplomb

As an owner of a small business I've had to learn to tackle the world of social media over the past year. While it is a powerful an effective tool for any fledgeling entrepreneur, I also worry that it is doing as much harm as good. In the interest a clarity I'm going to break this one up into three posts. Here is part One and part Two.

Part Three: Fair Weather Followers; Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Aplomb

Establishing the real impact and value of your business is important. Especially if it is a business that you have built yourself. If you have poured your heart and soul into a company, and that company is a reflection of your self, you want to know that people value what you have built. If you do any kind of business online this value is almost always measured by a series of customer interactions. This day and age your quality is measured by the number of "likes" (or follows/retweets/shares/upvotes/repins/or favorites) you can bank in a given day. When people try to establish the importance of their venture they might start by saying "I've got 120K followers on my Facebook page." Which sounds impressive. When they speak, over one-hundred thousand people will listen. That's power, right?

This actually reminds me of a phenomena that has started to die out recently. Up until the late nineties when two business persons met at a conference (kind of like the internet but with worse coffee) they might introduce themselves by saying something like:

"Bob Dallas, I own a sprocket factory in Boise that employs over 5000 people."

"Hi Bob, I'm Frank Newhart. I own a cog  franchise with 130 locations in the Tri-State area."

Theses numbers sound impressive when you hear them, but when you really think about what they are saying it's pretty meaningless. Are those 130 locations profitable? Are the 5000 people working for you doing good work? Do they care about their jobs? Take this example:

"Hi, I'm Bob Dallas. I have a company where 5000 people are doing work that could have been done by 1000. We are very inefficient and 4500 of them are just working there while they try to find something better."

A little less impressive, right?  Recently, internet industry gurus have caught on to this problem and have introduced a new set of metrics. It's called "conversions". A conversion basically means, I ask/you do. If I post a message, you share it. If I offer a coupon, you buy something. If I tweet something humorous you favorite it. The iGurus assume this to mean that your customers are engaging you and that all those Follows are adding up to dollars. This is the fundamental idea behind social marketing. It almost makes sense. Until you start to look at comparative analytics.

Analytics are a set of tools that let me see how the conversion process (gee, that sounds kind of menacing) is going. When I say "check out this page" how many people actually do? When I send out an email I can see the percentage of people that opened it (kind-of-but-not-really but that's another story). You can also set some comparative analytics whereby you identify as an industry and you can see how your rates compare to others in your field. That is when the truth really starts to set in. In my industry, an average mailing list blast has an open rate of 24% and a conversion rate of 4%.  That is the rate set by industry leaders that have office buildings full of people who's sole purpose is to figure out ways to get you to click a link. That's pretty weak.

So 120K followers might sound impressive, but when you break it down it's not so great. Of those 120K followers 91K will ignore what you have to say completely. 115K of them will not be willing to use your coupon, click share, or comment on something you've posted.

So enough of the hypotheticals. Let's take a look at my Instagram account. At the time of this post I have 533 followers. Through my extensively insecure, self-doubting research I have concluded that this number is less than companies of equal mass in my field. If I further break that down, using common sense analytics, I can safely assume that  I can subtract a given percentage of those people right off the bat because they will never buy anything from me. These are people who will scroll past my pictures without reading what I wrote. People who are my kinda-friends but don't want to buying anything right now. People who followed me because I followed them.  (I see the follow-for-a-follow technique as the equivalent of bailing water into each others sinking ships.) People who are looking to copy my designs, ideas, or dumb jokes. People who need a little inspiration and are just looking at pretty pictures. People who don't speak my language. People who set up an Instagram account, followed my feed, and then never logged on again. And finally perverts (because any given population on the internet is at least partly kinky weirdos). I feel it's safe to assume that about 10-15% of the people that follow me will actually commit to buying something. Which, according to my analytics account, sets me well above the industry standard. So all that work for about 50 people. Why even bother?

Here is why I bother. Of those 50ish people that are willing to be "converted"  two of them saw a post on Instagram, showed up at one of my events, bought what I had posted, and then hung around (literally) to act as human ballast for my tent while a wicked storm blew in. (You know who you are if you are reading this. Thanks again!). Another one of those 50 people saw something I had posted and drove from Akron to Cleveland (30+ minutes) so that he could pay me in cash and therefore save me the credit card processing fees. Of those 50ish people well over 90% are returning customers (I still use restaurant lingo and call them my regulars). I know this because I know their names and faces.  I've met them. I've engaged in actual human interaction.

Sure, I could inflate my numbers by posting vapid lifestyle photographs in my feed. I could repost unoriginal material because it looks good and will earn me some likes. I could conduct surveys where I don't bother reading the answers so long as I can count a higher number of interactions. I could offer give-aways and gain (and then promptly loose) 100 followers in the hopes that a small percentage will stick around.

I don't though. Not just because it makes me feel cheesy, not because I'd rather be making stuff than posting about it, but because I'm not concerned about growing the percentage of fair weather followers on my feed. I'm more concerned about finding that 10% that will stand around in the rain with me.

My take away from all this. Be honest. Work hard. Make good shit. Of all the people in this world only a small percentage will get what you do. If you focus on staying true to what you do they will find you. Everything else is just noise and worry.


(P.S. Bob Dallas and Frank Newhart are just figments of my imagination and weren't harmed during the making of this post. If you are actually named Bob Dallas or Frank Newhart I'm not writing about you it's merely coincidence, but seriously, you should check out my Pinterest account. You might find something useful there.)