I did my first social media course in 2009. I can't remember the name of the instructor in the videos, suffice to say, social media marketing was still relatively new and was being heralded as a panacea for brands. I've always been sceptical about drinking the kool-aid (whether I was working as a strategist at a boutique (read: small) agency or as a copywriter at a local community radio station) so I approached this new form of marketing with the same pragmatism I'd use with someone trying to sell me TopTV.
The reason for this context is because something stood out for me all those years ago; something I find some social media gurus (or other bullshit titles we give each other) still hold onto today – applying an arbitrary ratio to Twitter’s follow-follower number set. The instructor said that brands should only follow 1 account for every 5 accounts that follow them. I don’t agree with this general rule, and while brands need to be evaluated on a case by case merit, here are 5 reasons why brands should follow back or follow first.
1) It enhances brand loyalty.
I am less likely to unfollow a brand if that brand follows me. Perhaps its guilt or optimism (that the content will become less spammy/shitty/irrelevant) but I’ve hesitated to unfollow at times because I appreciated the fact that the brand was following me. I am also more likely to engage with a brand that follows me, or ramp up my replies to a brand that I want to ‘notice’ me and follow back.
2) It opens up Direct Messages as a viable communication channel.
Perhaps it is because I’m in the industry and empathise with other social media people that I prefer to complain to a brand via DM, especially if the complaint is of a sensitive nature. When brands follow back, I can use this channel.
3) It assists search.
Brands that follow back come up faster in searches, and appear in ‘followers you know’ and ‘who to follow’ lists when you are scouting out a third party’s profile. Visibility is quite important as social is often premised on relevance. Does help with affinity as well (especially when it comes to brand positioning)
4 4) It gives the brand access to their followers thoughts.
By following someone, you are opting-in to receive their thoughts, peeves and opinions (even if it is what people project themselves to be). Yes, you don’t have to follow someone to read their thoughts (provided their account is public) but that is laborious. Social’s differentiator is that it is two-way communication so why treat it as just a broadcast channel? If the brand’s sum total of its twitter engagement was only based on responding to people who @mentioned the brand first, then they are still stuck in the basics of social media.
5) It imbues status. As sceptical as I tell people I am (in blogposts that are longer than they should be), I get chuffed when my role models follow me back. I remember when Riaad Moosa followed me back, I was like ‘now I can tick that off a very sad bucket list’. Following back is a great way to reward brand advocates. I work on some cool brands, and I sometimes forget that while I may be a little jaded, it may mean a ton to others when a brand follows them back. Now if only Hashim Amla and Rockstar Games wouldn’t be so coy and follow me back too!
I’m always keen to chat about social media and my experiences (all of my failures) over the years, so hit me up on the Twitter! and let me know what you think about this piece.