How to grow a social media following? A simple enough question. With a multitude of answers and a gazillion experts claiming to be able to enlighten you – for a price.
I’ve grown various channels for different types of clients and can honestly say, there is no magic trick or simple answer so let me get you started with the basics – for free.
Bear in mind that social media channels are for creating networks. You wouldn’t go to a networking event, stand in the middle of the room and keep shouting at everybody about whatever you wanted to sell (I hope). You would mingle, get to know people and build connections. Any successful ‘sell’ would be subtle and relevant to the conversation. The same applies to social media.
Before you start, you need to be clear about a couple of things:
1. Which channel do you want to grow and why?
Presumably, you’ve chosen a channel because you know that your potential customers/audience use it. That’s the easy part. Then you need to be clear about why you want to grow your followers. Do you have products or services to sell? Do you want to position yourself as an authority or influencer? Do you want to change perceptions to enhance reputation? Or do you just feel as though you ought to be there for credibility?
Having clear goals and defined channels from the outset will not only enable you to focus on what you need to post but will also enable you to measure how effective you are. And remember – you don’t have to be visible everywhere. Better to grow one channel well and achieve what you set out to.
‘Your time has a price’
2. Why are your target audience there?
This may seem obvious but take time to understand. Don’t assume that everybody is on the same channel for the same purpose nor that it will fit with what you want to achieve. Twitter has lots of very active healthcare accounts but the debates can rage at a level you may not feel comfortable with – especially if you’re a private provider of any kind.
LinkedIn is usually the obvious choice for B2B but it really does depend on the industry and what you’re looking to achieve. Always put yourself in the shoes of your audience, why are they there and how will they feel about you making an appearance?
3. How much time and budget do you have?
How much time do you have to spend and how quickly do you want to grow your following? Most people want to grow quickly but don’t have masses of time to spend on it. Equally they may not have allocated budget to employ somebody else to do it for them.
Don’t underestimate the time required to quickly and properly grow a social channel. If this means taking your time away from other business-critical activities then you may need to find the budget to employ somebody. Your time has a price and it’s probably higher than the cost of employing somebody.
‘you don’t want to post when your audience are asleep’
Once you’ve decided the where, why and how…
Create a schedule of posts. I always like to schedule a month ahead. It means the task is then ticked off your list for another month and you can always change your posts as you go. And use a scheduler – Hootsuite, Sprout Social, Facebook scheduler. There are many scheduling tools out there, all of them reasonably easy to use and some of which are free.
Frequency and timings of posts will depend on your goals and the channel – Twitter posts have a longevity of about 17 seconds so it’s vital to get your timing and frequency right. If you’ve an international audience, you’ll need to think about the timing of posts more carefully – you don’t want to post when your audience are asleep. As a rule of thumb, as long as you’re posting interesting, relevant content then daily is a good start.
The type of content you post will of course be dependent on your audience and objectives but don’t think that you have to create all original content. Curating and sharing things that will be of interest to your audience will work too. Make sure that it’s relevant to the channel. Anything for Instagram should be visually appealing, LinkedIn more oriented towards professional development. Think about why your customer uses the channel so that you can ensure your content is of interest and relevant. It’s always best to create personas for your customers – this will help to ensure your posts are on message. And make sure that your posts are not all self-promotion. Nobody wants to be sold to all the time.
Engage with others and don’t forget to encourage colleagues/advocates to do the same. Engaging might be likes, shares, comments – on your posts and those of others. It’s vital that you encourage engagement offline too. I was responsible for growing a healthcare client’s LinkedIn from circa 2K to 10K and whilst I did all of the above, I also emailed individuals in the company every time we posted, asking them to engage with our posts. The more they did, the more we grew.
Hashtags will help you to be found by potential new followers but getting your hashtag strategy right will take legwork. You need to balance volumes against how high up in the feed you’re likely to appear against others with larger follower numbers or higher engagement. Creating a hashtag that applies only to you is great – but good luck finding one that’s unique. It can be better to jump on somebody else’s bandwagon or adopt one and get more people involved.
Measure, measure and measure again in order to drill down to what matters. The great thing with social is that the analytics mean you can keep constant tabs on what’s working or not and tweak as you go. Remember that engagement will keep you visible. And as long as you don’t get it absolutely wrong (it happens…) then you won’t go wrong!
And one last small but very significant detail… be realistic about how fast your growth can or needs, to be. I worked with a niche vintage fashion business that had tens of thousands of followers on Instagram but only a minuscule proportion of those would ever be customers.
Angela Norton-Bilsby is a freelance marketing and communications professional with a talent for telling it how it is. If you like her no-nonsense approach then you can find her on LinkedIn or firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘Activate your followers, don’t just collect them like stamps.’