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Social networks: does bigger mean better?

In a recent post on his blog, Mike Arauz challenged the assumption that the more followers/fans you have, the better.

He says that by maintaining the quality of your relationships while limiting their quantity, you could improve the business value of your brand.

This is an interesting idea, but one that doesn’t feel quite right. While the quality of interaction with your customers is most certainly valuable, in the time-poor and fickle world of the internet, the scale of the interest a business draws counts for just as much as the quality of the interactions it generates.

Much of the appeal of the internet lies in its diversity, particularly in the scale of diversity. Chris Anderson’s oft-used analogy of the Long Tail graph is a useful device for explaining the appeal of the net. The graph starts at a peak, the first 20% of the x scale indicating the lowest common denominator outlets that produce content of a variety that appeals to many. This tapers away rapidly, immediately, and almost entirely, to show the much smaller audiences that niche outlets cater to. It continues at this level indefinitely-the sum of these niche audiences far outweighing that of the larger ones.

And the graph just refers to individual niches. Anyone person aligns themselves with a number of such outlets online. For every collection of online niches like yours or theirs, there are billions of other combinations that cater to the millions of people who use the net.

The long tail analogy is the kind of big picture idea that tempts ideas like Arauz’s, ie the quality particular to a niche is more important than the quantity of attention drawn by the larger portals.

But it’s important to remember that, even at the small end of the graph, the numbers are still considerable. When there are so many different niches to overturn and explore, there needs to be something that draws attention to your social media presence.

When a user lands on your Facebook page, and they’re unimpressed by the number of fans you have, they’re not going to stick around long enough to find out how superb the quality of your customer/audience interactions are. If you have many followers, what you say has added weight. Sad but true: it pays to be popular online.

Why do businesses use the internet? They want to expose their brand to as many people as possible. How do you manage this using social media? You need followers and fans, and you need as many as you can manage. #




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