Practical Ecommerce

Fans and Followers: The Social Media Numbers Game

Momentum is a valuable force. A business owner that has customer-generated momentum is in a desirable position. Author Malcolm Gladwell famously described the point at which growth becomes exponential–and momentum becomes unstoppable–as The Tipping Point.

Recently I listened as a successful business owner described her own tipping point. It was the point at which, several years ago, her email subscriber list reached 5,000 individuals. From there her sales grew from tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars and eventually millions, she said.

This is all anecdotal information, of course. And there are a myriad of factors that go into creating a successful business that go beyond an email newsletter or a large customer base. But customer-generated momentum is powerful. And it’s readily accessible thanks to social media.

That, to a large degree, is why businesses create Twitter accounts and encourage Twitter “followers.” For the same reason, in many cases, businesses create a fans page on Facebook. Increasing the number of company followers and fans—while not a guarantee of success—can certainly facilitate it.

So what is the tipping point for social media? How many fans and followers do you need before your popularity–and, in turn, your potential customer base–grows exponentially? It’s something I explored with social media scientist Dan Zarrella, who recently published The Social Media Marketing Book.

Hard Numbers

Zarrella prides himself on being a scientist. He uses reams of data and research in his book. But when it comes to the tipping point of social media, he is upfront that there isn’t

Dan Zarrella

Dan Zarrella

a particular number that is the same for everybody. He does say, “I definitely notice that once a brand gets to a certain level of popularity it’s a lot easier to go forward from there.”

In his own experience as both an author and as the inbound marketing manager at Internet marketing firm HubSpot, Zarrella has made these observations about numbers on his social media accounts.

  • There is a Twitter hump. “When I started on Twitter I got to 1,000 followers after a couple of months. And then between 1,000 and 2,000 it was really slow and really hard to get up past that.” Zarrella says that once he got to 2,000 the number of followers “just took off.”

  • There is a Facebook hump. There is a hump to get over with Facebook as well but Zarrella believes it’s a smaller number, perhaps 1,000 fans. “Because you tend to be more engaged with someone on Facebook than you would be with someone you’re following [on Twitter],” he says.

  • It’s different than email marketing. Zarrella notes that the number of your fans and followers is—unlike with an email list– publicly known. Unless you tell your email subscribers, they have no idea how many people read your newsletters. The point, he says, is “there’s a level of social proof that goes along with it [fans and followers.]” In short, your popularity gives you credibility that can further enhance your popularity.

  • Ratios matter. It’s not only the number of people that are following you that tells something about you. The number of people you follow tells something about you too. An individual is best served to follow fewer people than are following him or her, otherwise there is a sense of desperation that can be conveyed. A politician, however, would be best served to maintain a one-to-one ratio of “followers” and “following” because he or she wants to appear accessible and down to earth. Zarrella puts a large brand name in the same category as a politician because, he says, “you don’t want to appear aloof.”

Following more people than are following you, says Zarrella, is dangerous. If not enough people, “are liking what you’re saying to follow you back…that’s questionable.”

A Note on Selling

As has been mentioned in a previous Practical eCommerce article on social media, you should communicate with social media, as opposed to sell. Zarrella agrees with the spirit of that rule but argues that there are certain methods of selling that Social Media Marketing Book Cover aren’t offensive. If, for example, you release a promo code to your fans and followers, you are seen as providing a helpful service.

Zarrella also likes the emergence of Twitter contests that can be both helpful and fun. Recently he even used one on his own site. He simply wrote on his site, “I’ll give a free copy of my book, The Social Media Marketing Book to five random people who ReTweet this post .” In doing so, he increased his Twitter presence, advertised his book, and potentially increased his sales.

Summing Up

There is no hard number for Facebook fans or Twitter followers that will ensure success for your business. But there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that there is a tipping point for social media. In Zarrella’s experience, that tipping point was somewhere around the number 2,000. Keep in mind, however, that ratios are important too. You don’t want to lose credibility by following 10,000 people in the hope you can get 2,000 to follow or become fans of your business.


Kevin Patrick Allen
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