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There's an invisible follower contract between brands and their online following. If you could read such a contract, what would it say?

by JERRY SILVER // Twitter, Facebook, Instagram
Digital PR specialist and CEO at Spin Factory

Why do people follow brands on social media?

Most businesses aren’t paying much attention to the why question.

Instead, they focus more on the how — how do I get people to follow?

But the how is easier to answer if you understand the why.

In each single act of following, there’s a critical time displacement:

You follow (now) on faith (future) from trust (past).

Or, in another way of putting it:

There’s an invisible contract between the brand and the follower. Now, if such a contract were visible, what would it say?

Here goes:

The Follower Contract

Dear brand,

(I) Yes, I’m now following you.

(II) You now have my permission to provide me with the information I expected to get the day I decided to follow.

(III) Any potential involvement on my part will be determined by me, the follower, on a future case-by-case basis.

(IV) My follow isn’t “payment” for your past accomplishments; my follow is rather “advance payment” for what I’m expecting from you in the future.

(V) I followed you based on what you’ve demonstrated in the past, so don’t be surprised if I’m not too happy about any sudden changes in direction.

(VI) You should presuppose that I’m first and foremost interested in myself, then in what we might accomplish together, and then, maybe, in your interests.

(VII) Until we part ways, I expect you to be clear about my potential involvement in your cause and how any engagement on my part will be worthy of my attention.

Best regards,
Your follower

The Follower Contract in Social Media

When it comes to respecting the follower contract in social media, let’s take a look at some mistakes commonly made by businesses:

Example 1 — A brand decides to increase their Facebook audience quickly, so they focus on paid ads for free giveaways and sweepstakes. This strategy attracts a critical mass of people expecting free stuff. But what happens when the brand suddenly starts asking these followers to spend money?

Example 2 — A brand decides to focus on growing their reach on social media platforms, so they allocate their budget on acquiring new followers. What happens when these new followers discover that the brand has allocated 0% budget on their existing followers1?

Example 3 — A brand decides to apply a huge variety of campaigns and updates in their digital channels where each initiative is attracting different types of followers. The brand “succeeds” in building a community of people all expecting different things. What happens when the brand asks their community for a coherent action?

The answer to all of the questions above is:

Nothing good.

So how can you steer clear from breaching these follower contracts?

How to Respect Follower Contracts

There are three fundamental insights for how to gain the right following while at the same time recognizing their expectations:

1. Building a following should be considered a long-term strategy — Establishing a relationship takes time, but successful relationships are a worthwhile investment.

2. Your primary value proposition must stay consistent over time — Earning trust (past), persuading new followers (now), and delivering as promised (future) will require a clear and constant message.

3. Having the right community matters more than big numbers — Having many followers looks good from the outside, but if you can’t ask them for the support you need, what good are they?

Now, you could, for instance, decide to follow me via email. What will you get? Well, you’ll get more of these types of articles coming your way in the future — nothing more, nothing less.

Notes:

  1. See also Inbound Marketing — A New Paradigm for Marketing.

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Behind the keyboard:

Jerry Silver is the author of Doctor Spin, a PR blog that's been around for 15+ years. Via his agency Spin Factory, Jerry is advising brands on how to adapt to a 'digital first' world. In 2016, Cision Scandinavia named him "PR Influencer of the Year". Jerry lives in Stockholm, Sweden with his wife Lisah, news anchor and television host, and their three-year-old son, Jack.

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