Why do people follow brands on social media?

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

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

Or, in another way of putting it:

There’s an invisible contract between a brand and its social following. This contract can be described as a summary of the reasons a person has for following a specific brand.

Let’s take a closer look:

The Follower Contract

Now, if a “follower contract” were an actual document, then, what would it say?

Maybe something like this:

Dear brand,

§1 — Yes, I’m now following you.

§2 — You now have my permission to provide me with the information I expected to get the day I decided to follow.

§3 — Any potential involvement on my part will be determined by me, the follower, on a future case-by-case basis.

§4 — My follow is not a “payment” for your past accomplishments; my follow is rather an “advance payment” for what I’m expecting from you in the future.

§5 — 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.

§6 — 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.

§7 — Until we part ways, I expect you to be clear about my potential involvement in your cause and exactly how it will be worthy of my engagement.

Best regards,
Your follower

Common Follower Contract Fails in Social Media

When it comes to respecting the follower contract in social media, let’s take a look at some of the most common mistakes:

Typical “Follower Contract” Fail #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 (“Freeloaders”). But what happens when the brand suddenly starts asking these followers to spend their money instead? Best case scenario? Nothing.

Typical “Follower Contract” Fail #2 — A brand decides to focus on growing their reach on social media platforms, so they allocate their entire budget on acquiring new followers. But, what happens when all these new followers discover that the brand has allocated 0% budget to keeping their existing followers happy? Nothing good.

Typical “Follower Contract” Fail #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 heterogenic community of people all expecting different things. However, when the brand asks their community for a specific action, their request will subsequently only be relevant to a fraction of their following.

All of the above “fail” scenarios has one devastating side-effect:

Your passive followers will, through their lack of activity, damage your brand’s algorithmic momentum.

In attracting the wrong audience, the brand has quite literally messed up their chances for social media success. So, how can you steer clear of breaching “follower contracts”?

How to Respect Follower Contracts

There are three fundamental principles to gaining the right type of followers in social media:

1. Putting out relevant messages outweighs frequency — Establishing a relationship takes time, but successful relationships are a worthwhile investment1.

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 large reach 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.

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  1. See also Inbound Marketing is a New Paradigm.