The biggest challenge faced by social media professionals entering an organization who is at the onset of social media integration will be confronting the popular misconception that “likes” on Facebook & followers on Twitter is the measure of social media success.

When social media first started to gain attention as a new business opportunity, it stands to reason that in absence of true measurement tools, the only number a business or organization could understand easily, and “measure” would be the number of followers, or fans.

Many organizations, due to lack of familiarity or understanding of social, are convinced that there is success in the numbers; that “likes” or followers equal reach, and that if they attain high subscription – whether it be on Twitter, Google Plus, or Facebook – that this will equal success.

The Wrong Numbers.

Social business is still in the early stages, as new technology and strategy intertwine to find stronger measures of success on various levels – depending on the needs or focus of a campaign or brand – organizations have to either hire social media professionals that they will trust to use their expertise to guide a strategy beyond flat figures like “numbers of likes”   OR invest in learning about social media themselves. To measure or judge success based on “likes” is simply indulging in ignorance at the cost of your organization.


The idea is about as sound as corralling 500 or 1000 people into a warehouse full of sealed boxes with your logo on them and thinking all of a sudden your sales are going to soar. Yes, you have 1000 people in a warehouse, but none of them know what they are doing there, none of them know why they are there, and they certainly aren’t going to become your greatest supporters if you just leave them there with nothing to do. They’ve seen your logo,  but they can’t even understand the product or what you are selling.

What will they do? They will walk in (read: click like) poke around a little, wait to see if anything else is happening (read: “what’s in it for me”) and if they don’t get some interaction, stimulation or feedback, well, they will then say goodbye.

Opportunity Lost

What’s left behind is the trace of a lost prospect. In the social media world, that’s a “Like” or a “Follow” with nothing else connected to it. If you hire someone whose success is measured by the number of fans they can “corral” onto your fan page and nothing else, what you will essentially be doing is throwing your money out the window. I can not begin to tell you how many senior management people at well established reputable organizations have told me the story of how well they are doing in social media. When I ask them about it, they always cite the number of fans or followers they have. They are glowing with pride. Their limited knowledge on the subject has led them to believe that this is the measure of success.  It’s time for an awakening: This number means nothing. Unless you find a way to marry it with some engagement.

A Question for You.

How many pages do you “like”? If I asked you right now to share with me the last page in your “Likes” that you actually visited, would you even be able to tell me? A “Like” on its own is useless – you need to keep that “fan” to coming back. In fact, if you know whats good for your organization you want to make things so interesting that your “fan” is going to come back again and again because you’ve given them something they value. Not only will they come back, but they will want to share, thereby growing your number of followers or fans for the right reasons.

The Numbers In Action

At the #140 Conference Montreal, Stephanie Baron of Jezam Interactive, formerly of Leucan (An organization for children with cancer) shares two excellent examples that really demonstrate just how insignificant the number of likes becomes when you need action. In the video below, Stephanie covers two cases, one of which is the French Presidential Election of 2012, the other from  The Aviva Community Fund Competition when she tried to move 15,000 fans into action to help children with cancer. What do you think were the results? 

The Proof: The Value of Active Support vs. Crowds of Zombies

Case #1:

The French Election. In the 2012 presidential election, Nicolas Sarkozy had approx. 40,000 Likes going into the election. Francois Hollande had approx. 7,000. Did the number of “Likes” on Facebook indicate the true popularity of the candidates? It is clear that if the number of likes on Facebook indicated popularity, acceptance, or true fans, the French election would have surely turned out differently.

Case #2:

The Aviva Community Fund Competition – Leucan’s Participation based on 15,000 Fans. With 15,000 Fans, the organization chose to focus on increasing likes rather than engagement. When the opportunity presented itself to participate in the Aviva Community Fund Competition, which awards help to community organizations based on the support generated via social media,  Leucan was not able to move the 15000 fans to come up with the votes necessary to have a chance at the award. All they needed was a click a day from just a few hundred of their fans over two weeks, yet it was impossible for them to attain. The organizations that won the money from the competition had significantly less likes, but had fans who were willing to take action, rather than just “Like” and run. The cost of focusing on numbers of likes, vs. quality of engagement was high in this case, they lost a chance to provide children with Cancer a summer camp.

The Honeymoon is Over

It is not in the numbers that you find success, but rather in the quality of the fans or followers and their level of engagement. Mindless fans – the Zombies – are good for show, but they aren’t going to “show you the money”.  The cases above give simple but pretty clear examples. The honeymoon is over and it’s time to stop swooning over how many people “Like” you, and start thinking about what that means and how active they are with your organization. If you want numbers to track, look into some real ROI metrics. There is no easy way to measure Social Media, but in the cases above – it really came down to something simple: Were the people moved to take action beyond the  “Like”?

  • Are you still running around trying to get every one of your friends and their mother to “like” your organization’s fan page?
  • It’s time to have a reality check – if you’re only chasing numbers, you’re running in circles.
  • What’s your real strategy?


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