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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 in 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?

Whatever the specific answer is, there’s always an expectation involved. An expectation of a certain kind of value to appreciate.

In each and every single act of following, there’s a fundamental time displacement:

You follow (present) 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? And what happens when you breach it?

Here goes:

The Follower Contract

Dear brand,

(I) Yes, I’m now a follower.

(II) My decision to follow you doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m in any way supporting you or your cause.

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

(IV) I didn’t “pay you” with my follow for your past accomplishments; my follow should be seen as “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 is “successful” and the brand quickly grows a critical mass of followers. So now they have a huge audience of people expecting free stuff. 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 100% of their budget on acquiring new followers. What happens when these new followers discover that the brand has allocated 0% budget on their existing followers?

Example 3 — A brand decides to apply a huge variety of campaigns and updates in their digital channels where each and every initiative is attracting new 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 basic insights for how to gain the right following while at the same time respecting their expectations:

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

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

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.

If you’re good with that, make sure to subscribe!

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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. His fascination for corporate communication and human psychology runs deep. Via his own agency Spin Factory, every day's spent on coaching people and organizations 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, journalist and television host, and their two-year-old son, Jack.

Interested in Jerry’s services or speaking engagements? Learn more.

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