I have been struggling with one aspect of social media.  Is it a good thing to have thousands of followers – on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and so on?

When I started out in social media I was quite clear in my own mind that the aim should be about forming meaningful relationships.  If the people you ‘meet’ through social media are eventually to become customers, then you need to be forming relationships with quality, relevant people – not just looking for anyone who wants to have big numbers on their Twitter account.

Some time ago, Nick Bramley told me his rules for connecting with someone on LinkedIn.  He said he would only link with someone who

–        he would meet and have a drink with after a meeting

–        he was happy to recommend to his clients

–        he would do business with

I like these, they feel right.

Then I went to a number of conferences and courses and people I respect started explaining why large numbers can be good.

  1.  The case for building large numbers of followers in social media
  • Thomas Power spoke at the CIPR Northern Conference.  In his talk he put his Twitter account on screen and I spotted he had 18,000 plus followers and is following 17,000 people back.  I asked if he knew the people he was following and his eyebrows shot up – no, of course not.  He has an automated system which follows people back when they follow him
  • Liz Cable of Reach Further gave an excellent course at Bradford University School of Management.  Liz has an impressive 7,000+ followers.  Her argument was that if she asks her community for help, information, contacts then she expects around 10 people to come back to her with any one request.  If you have a few hundred followers then you will be lucky to get one person responding
  • Michelle Beckett of Linked2Success gave a similar example.  She has 3,000 direct contacts.  This connects her to 1.2 million people through secondary contacts and to 13.8m people through the groups she belongs to.  That is an impressive network to belong to?  It must have an intrinsic value
  1.  Why you want quality relationships

When I was at Liz Cable’s event, I raised my concern about the numbers game.  Robert Whitehead of Shulmans solicitors, a fellow delegate, said he thought it was ‘consensual spam’.  What a great phrase and I really felt he was right.

Then I came across Karen Clark of My Business Presence in the States.  She wrote a blog which clarified my thoughts – I spotted it in a discussion group, Social Media Club, on Linkedin.

Karen says you should grow organically and she recommends being ‘picky’ about who you link with – and make sure they have the same values as you do.  Her blog created quite a discussion and virtually everyone commenting agreed that organic and quality is best.

  1.  Link with people who have the same values

I’ve come full circle. After being seduced momentarily by the idea of numbers, I’m now firmly back in the quality relationship camp. Clients and journalists rate my judgement as to the quality of people I do business with. That reputation takes years to build – I’m not going to destroy it for the sake of vanity.  Having 15,000 followers means nothing to me.  I want to associate with people who will mean something important to me.

Have you made a decision about this yet?  I would love to hear other views.