How to build a social following

With social playing such an important role today in your overall online marketing efforts, it’s important to get things right the first time.  As the old saying goes, first impressions matter.  Getting a do-over in today’s face-paced online business environment is tough, especially when everything you do is recorded, archived and essentially available to anyone willing to search almost forever.

Now you might be tempted to blast straight ahead in your quest to grow followers and friends.  Maybe you’ve heard that these data points matter to the search engines, and you’re looking for the fastest way to thousands of new fans? Well, slow your roll my friend.  The surest way to develop the right type of followers and friends is to deliver the goods.  No shortcuts.

Delivering the goods means impressing people enough that they want to connect with you.  Bring people value and they will follow.  From the dawn of time this axiom has been true and it remains true in the glare of social’s spotlight as well.  As you prove your value to people, they will follow you, friend you, spread your word and recommend others join the crowd as well.  If you WOW these people every day, they will remain loyal and help boost your profile online.

I won’t lie to you – this takes work.  It takes time.  It takes dedication.

If you’re tempted to take a shortcut, think of this.  What good are fake friends?  How much value do false followers add?  The answer here is … none.  You see, it’s not simply the number of friends or followers you have that signals value to a search engine.  It expands to include patterns and volume of sharing.  Retweets count, as do shares, Likes, etc.  False friends that have been paid to “Like” something or fake followers on Twitter don’t show patterns of behavior that look normal.  They look spikey and abnormal, so we simply ignore them.

The bottom line here is if you pay a service to provide a boost to your numbers, it’s going to be a waste of money.  Fake friends don’t share your posts.  They don’t retweet your tweets.  They don’t click on your links.  They simply cost you money and offer no return.

The Mechanics of Building a Following

Let’s take a look at what it requires to build a following on social spaces.  This list is broad, but applies to almost all social spaces online today.

  • Build a plan – sit down and write out a plan around how you plan to approach engaging via social media.  Figure out why you’re engaging, who you’re planning to engage with and what value you will bring them.  Part of your plan needs to include a schedule for your postings as well.  
  • Choose your handle wisely – for most this is an easy step as the account is tied to a business.  Avoid the temptation to use your personal account, however, as information you share personally may not interest your business followers.  Don’t sweat it if you cannot secure the handle you want most.  Simply select another reasonable handle and get focused on your work.
  • Get started and don’t stop – remember that plan mentioned above, well, here is where you put it to work.  By planning what you will share in advance, it dramatically speeds up your process of publishing content and reduces the amount of work you need to do.  Writing posts, finding links and building tweets become much faster if you remain focused on your planned topic.  Knowing exactly when you’re going to post helps plan your day or week so you can easily build the content.
  • Be consistent – plan for vacations, holidays and time away.  Your followers want to hear from you, and you have to remain reliable for them.  Nothing hurts your relationship with followers like random posts and proving you’re unreliable.
  • Bring value – skip jokes of the day, skip positive affirmations and skip posts about your lunch.  People following you have agreed to trade their time for something of value.  You will need to test posts to determine what “value” is, but a safe starting point is something with a link to useful content.  Bring your followers useful content and they will remain loyal.  Bring them useless information and they will stop paying attention.  A “no post without a link” policy is a reasonable starting point for fresh posts/tweets.
  • Be responsive – if people reach out to you directly, respond.  Thank them for retweets and sharing your information.  They didn’t need to share, but felt what you posted was valuable enough to send to their friends and followers.  Respect that and acknowledge it.
  • Limit the selling – if all you do is send messages selling your product or service, people will quickly tune out.  While you may feel that 25% discount on your product is value, if that’s all you communicate about, people will tune out.  It’s fine to mention your product when relevant, or to even schedule posts about your own product, but be sure to balance that with other information which is not focused around selling your product.
  • Track your links – when shortening URLs for sharing, be sure to use a service that allows tracking of clicks on those URLs.  This will help you understand what items people are actually clicking on, allowing you to fine tune what you deliver, focusing on only successful patterns.
  • Install social sharing icons – be sure to install social sharing icons on your own website.  Making it easy for visitors to your website to share you content can dramatically increase how far and fast your content spreads socially.

While this list isn’t exhaustive, it should get you started.  Social is about relationships.  It’s about forming the relationship based on value and respect.  The good news is anyone can apply the steps above to their own product, service or website.  Just be sure to remember that as with all good things, building a social profile and following takes time.  Avoid the temptation to take shortcuts, invest your time wisely and you’ll find success.

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