Friends & Family - The Risky Secret Sauce in your Small Business’ Social Media Strategy

Woman hands using mobile smartphone in the street with icon social media and social network. Woman hands using mobile smartphone in the street with icon social media and social network.

Let’s talk a little bit about the elephant in the room. No doubt you’ll have seen many learned people describing follower-count as a vanity metric, and you may even have noticed that I previously said it’s not our priority. So is it important at all? Well, yes. Yes, it is!

Wait, what? It wasn’t important last week, but this week it is?

Well, I never said it wasn’t important, just not our priority! From a business point of view, the number of followers you have isn’t important in its own right. It’s not something to be chased for the sake of having more followers than your competitors. The best advice I can give is to think of your follower count as a consequence rather than a cause. Why are people following your account, or other people’s accounts?

In the early days, your follower count will grow mostly through goodwill. Your friends and family will be interested in what it is you’re doing, and they’ll support you in this small way. Personally, I think that’s a good thing. I saw one webinar where the advice given was not to invite friends and family to like your facebook page. Once you’re well-established that’s fair enough, but early days you need all the support you can get. The distinction comes down to engagement. If you’re selling a product or service, is it really your friends and family who will buy that product or service from you? In most cases, no, not really. But who will sing your praises and boost your brand before you have a large customer base? The social media algorithms prioritise your content (the posts you create or share) by how interested people are likely to be in it. When you first launch your business or social media account, those people are likely to be your nearest and dearest. I’d absolutely encourage you to invite as many of your friends as sensibly possible to like or follow your account. Obviously spare anybody who you know definitely wouldn’t be interested in what you’ve got to offer. Otherwise, it’s just spammy, and ain’t nobody got time for that.

A small, engaged, community is far better than a massive follower-count that doesn’t interact with you or your brand. As your besties get involved, the buzz it generates will convince the algorithms that what you’re saying is of interest to groups of people. On facebook and instagram, it will start to present your posts to 2nd degree contacts – your friends’ friends. Twitter does something similar, and may even suggest your account as one to follow. These 2nd degree contacts may be interested in your product or service, rather than your personal adventure, and you are likely to gain followers who have the potential to become customers. You may otherwise never have made these connections.

If your business is already up and running, but you’re new to Social Media (or just never did much to boost your presence) then it’s definitely worth encouraging your existing customers to follow you. Returning customers are already advocates to one degree or another, and they’ll be most interested in hearing from you. It’s not a bad idea to speak to your customers through whatever channels you currently communicate (email, phone, face to face) and use freebies or discounts to entice them to follow you on social media. Again, as with your friends and family, you should see a ripple effect of gaining previously unknown followers from the buzz created by this engaged audience.

Once you’re in that realm of having strangers as followers, the trick is to keep them. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Keep your posts relevant to your industry – not always selling, but talking about themes and trends within that industry, and generally being an interesting authority. At this point, a growing follower count is a sign that people value what you have to say about the area you operate in. If your follower count happens to pass one of your competitors, then you know you’re doing something right. One word of advice though, as mentioned when I spoke about Tone of Voice – make sure you’re famous in a way that converts. Being hilariously funny may gain you followers, without boosting sales. 

One final word of advice – do not under any circumstances pay for new followers. I’m not talking about running ad campaigns to boost your following – that’s a completely legit and viable strategy that we’ll cover another time. I’m talking about those social media accounts that offer to find you 1000 followers every month for £20, £50, £80 or more. I’ve spoken with some small business owners who thought it an affordable business expense. However small the amount, don’t be fooled. If you spend £20 to make £200, that’s great. But what are you going to make from your 1000 new followers?

Sadly, you’re most likely to make a loss. Not just in terms of paying the fee or subscription without corresponding sales, but in terms of the dilution of your social media engagement. Most of the followers you gain won’t be real accounts – they’re generally bots set up for the sole purpose of following accounts who have paid to be followed. In some circumstances you’ll have signed up to a “like for like” scheme, where real humans will follow your account in exchange for you following them, but that’s as far as it goes. Hardly any of those accounts will engage with your content (they’re too busy looking out for their own). And guess what the social media algorithms do in that case? You got it. As your amazing content is pushed out to a disinterested audience, your reach will actually decrease. The same 80 friends and family may continue to rave about how good you are, but as they now represent a tiny percentage of your followers (say 1% of the 8,000 followers that cost you £160, £400, £640 or more) they’ll be shouting into the wind. The social media platforms will think your amazing content is dull as dishwater, and will bury it. You’ll see little-to-no return on your investment, and you’ll actually undo all of your hard work.

So there we have it!

  • Absolutely do invite your friends and family to like your social accounts. If they cease to be interested in your business activities, they’ll quietly fall away as engaged followers replace them.
  • Absolutely do invite existing customers to follow you. They already want what you’re selling!
  • Absolutely do not pay for followers! You’ll waste money, and damage your brand.

As ever, please let me know your opinions. What are your thoughts on the importance of followers as a metric, and what works for you in terms of attracting the right audience?

Don’t forget: #KeepSocialSocial