Why do people follow brands on social media?

There’s an invisible contract between a brand and its social following. This contract can be described as a total sum of whatever reasons a person has for following a specific brand. However, many brands find it difficult to continuously engage their audience.

One might argue that passive followers wouldn’t be the end of the world as long as they convert into customers at a reasonable rate. But there’s a bigger issue with passive followers — and it has to do with reach.

Passive social followers will, via their lack of activity, severely damage your brand’s algorithmic momentum.

What does this mean for a brand? It means that long-term inconsistency will inevitable result in passive followers. And there’s a reason why inconsistency is kryptonite to engagement.

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

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

Inconsistency isn’t just sloppy social media marketing; it’s a breach of trust. And trust is a valuable commodity which takes a long time to establish. Now, if such a “follower contract” were an actual document, then, what would it say? Maybe something like this:

Dear brand,

  • Yes, I’m now following you. Congratulations.
  • I followed you based on what you’ve demonstrated in the past, so don’t be surprised if I’m not happy about any changes in direction.
  • You now have my permission to provide me with the type of content that first attracted me to your brand.
  • Any potential involvement on my part will be determined by me, the follower, on a future case-by-case basis.
  • My follow is not a “payment” for your past accomplishments; my follow is an “advance payment” for what I’m expecting from you in the future.
  • You should presuppose that I’m first and foremost interested in myself, and then, maybe, in your business.
  • Until we part ways, I expect you to be clear about my potential involvement in your cause.

Best regards,
Your follower

Common Follower Contract Fails

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

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.

The result? When then the brand suddenly starts asking these followers to spend their money, their followers lash out.

A brand decides to focus on growing their reach on social media platforms, so they allocate their entire budget on acquiring new followers.

The result? When all these followers discover that the brand has allocated exactly 0% budget to existing fans, they’ll ignore the brand.

A brand decides to apply a variety of digital campaigns where each initiative is attracting different types of followers. The brand “succeeds” in building a community of people all expecting different things.

The result? When the brand asks their community for specific actions applicable to a small fraction of their following — crickets.

How to Respect Follower Contracts

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”?

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 1investment

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.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash.


  1. See also Inbound Marketing is a New Paradigm.

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