HubSpot recently wrote that “reach” (your number of Twitter followers and Facebook “likes”) is the number 1 way to measure social media ROI, saying:
The number of Twitter followers, Facebook fans, LinkedIn group members, etc. you have is directly related to your social media success.
I wish they would have expanded on this. Because I find it hard to believe.
Twitter: Follow Me (Blindly)
The thing is, Twitter is full of accounts who follow other people with no intention of ever reading their tweets, ever. Many are powered by programs which automatically follow anyone deemed to be part of their target audience (usually determined by whom they’re already following), or just indiscriminately follow everyone, blasting the follow-shotgun drunkenly around in all directions. The thing is: They don’t care about you or your tweets; they’re only hoping you’ll follow them back so they can do one or all of the following:
- Advertise to you.
- Appear to be some kind of Twitter big shot with oh-so-many followers.
- Sell the account, with its 10,000 followers, to someone else. (Yes, these services exist. I’m not linking to them.)
There’s also no shortage of people who do this manually, over time — people who follow thousands of other users. There are not even enough hours in the day for them to read what their followers tweet.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with following a gazillion people on Twitter, or that it’s misusing the service. What I’m saying is: obviously, many many Tweets go unread, and that fact does not jive with a belief in an ROI-predictive “reach” which is based on a number of followers. 
Facebook: You Really Like Me?
Like us on Facebook, and get this coupon! When we reach 3000 likes, we’ll donate to this charity!
How many Facebook campaigns attempt to motivate people to like them for reasons other than actually liking their product or service? (Many, from what I’ve seen.)
Is there a good chance this person is going to want to chat with you and other passionate users about, let’s say, mountain bikes (yeah, your company sells mountain bikes) once they’ve clicked whatever they had to click to get their Starbucks coupon?
Because, if not … well, how is this more valuable than just buying a big list of email addresses from some shady company, and firing up the spam cannon?
Give me a big stack of coupons, or freemiums, or funny kitty videos, and I’ll give you a big stack of Facebook “likes.” Even if you’re giving away something relevant to your business, all the “likes” in the world won’t mean anything if the people don’t actually, you know, like you. It does not mean all your future updates and messages will “reach” them It only means you’ve paid, in time or money, to get their attention for a few seconds: a convoluted, expensive advertisement.
Can We Get Around Reach, Please?
Followers and “likes” are not true measurements of reach. A company with 500 followers, 50% of whom are engaged and interested in their product, has more reach than one with 10,000 followers where only 1% are interested. And how many of each company’s followers are computer programs? Self-promoters just looking for a follow-back? Imaginary hot chicks “lookin’ for cool people lolz”?
“Reach” in the sense the word is being tossed around is actually how many people theoretically could have seen your message. (And by all appearances, quite a few people didn’t.) It’s not a useful metric; it will not help you determine whether you’re wasting your time not.
Anyone who dedicates time and resources to “focusing more of your social media efforts on generating new fans and followers,” as HubSpot recommends, should first ask them (or anyone else, for that matter) to connect the dots and show the causation (not correlation) between more social network pals and success. My fear is that it actually works in reverse, and that fans and followers are not the cause of successful social media use, but can be a result of it.
But then, I’m not a marketer, so by all means: set me straight.