What’s your social media follower count?
Whether you like it or not, people do look at your numbers.
Other users consider your numbers when deciding whether they should follow you or not.
Influencers look at your numbers to determine if you’re worth partnering with.
You probably look at your numbers to determine whether you’re succeeding as a brand.
Even though a high number isn’t necessarily reflective of the quality of your brand or content, your numbers do matter.
So how do you grow your following?
It’s the million-dollar question that everyone wants the answer to. So I’m going to answer it today.
Why is it so hard to build followers on social media?
There’s usually one big piece of advice that most marketers will give when someone asks, “How do I get more social media followers?”
It’s this: Produce more content.
While content is a great way to grow your influence on social media, it’s not a perfect strategy.
Social audiences can be fickle when it comes to content. If you’re not posting exactly what they want, they probably won’t engage with you.
Researchers at Rutgers University found that there are only nine types of content you can produce:
But when you boil it down, these content categories leave you with just two options:
-You can talk about yourself, which makes you what Rutgers calls a “Meformer.”
-Or, you can share information that benefits others, which makes you an “Informer.”
Your brand is either about self-promotion or about giving back to the community.
Can you guess which one is the most successful for social media growth in the long run?
Yeah, you guessed right. Informing is the long-term winner.
That’s because most people these days (especially younger social users) want value out of the brands they follow.
They’re not following a brand so they can see sales pitches all day long. They’re in it because they believe in what a brand has to offer.
So what does that say about getting more followers?
It means that it’s not about the type of content you’re producing. It’s about who you are as a brand.
You need to grow your social following in a way that says, “Hey, we’re trustworthy and reliable.”
But that doesn’t mean relying solely on organic traffic.
Here’s how to build up an authentic social media following using strategies that actually work.
1. Make your brand follow-worthy
People today want to find meaning in the brands they follow.
It’s not enough to have flashy ads or a ton of content. If you’re inauthentic or sleazy in your approach to marketing, you won’t get very far.
Millennials, for example, are some of the most brand-loyal followers you can get:
But they can also be a difficult “catch.”
Millennials tend to follow brands that have some sort of social impact.
In a 2015 study from Nielson, 73% of millennials they surveyed indicated that they would be willing to spend more on a product if it came from a sustainable brand.
Additionally, 81% expected their favorite brands to be socially responsible.
When Sprout Socials released its “Championing Change in the Age of Social Media” report, they found that the majority of social media users wanted brands to speak out on social and political issues.
So what does this mean for you?
For starters, it simply means that if you want to build an impact with younger audiences, you have to find a way to engage with them on their level.
Whether that means tweeting at your Congressperson or not is up to you.
But start cultivating a brand image that says, “We care.”
2. Follow other brands, influencers, and users
As a practical step, following other socially-conscious brands is a good place to start.
You want to avoid the whole “follow/unfollow” game, though. You don’t want to follow people just to get follows back and then unfollow them.
It’s pretty obvious when this is happening because you’ll see a disproportionately high number under “following” with a lower number of followers.
The whole point of growing your social following is to get real, authentic people to engage with your brand.
So you don’t just want to subscribe to a ton of brands with no purpose.
Instead, break down your search for users into three distinct categories:
- People you know
- People you sort of know
- People you probably should know
Most social sites will give you recommendations for people you may know or for brands that might appeal to you based on who you already follow.
Twitter’s algorithm is usually pretty good at finding users who are likely to engage with you, so take advantage of this feature whenever you’re on your account.
For instance, it might recommend other accounts you should follow based on your own tweets:
When you get recommendations like this, follow them.
But then send a quick message to a few of the people you follow (you don’t have to message all of them, just choose a few).
Say hi, let them know why you followed, and start forming a relationship with that influencer.
This will give you some credibility with their audience while you’re establishing your following.
You can also use a tool like Tweepi (for Twitter) to see suggested followers who might be in your wheelhouse.
It will look at your social activity and your current followers and then suggest actions to take.
Take advantage of all of the resources at your disposal to find other socially-conscious brands that you can follow.
3. Retweet or share another brand’s content
Let me get this out of the way and say that you don’t want to steal content.
That’s a big no-no.
For the most part, when you’re posting content, it should be original.
While I’m not really here to talk about content, I have to mention that you do need posts. So how do you get them without spending hours creating content?
From time to time, you can repost and share content from other influencers whom you appreciate, of course.
Here’s an example of a “regram” from Instagram:
You’ll notice that they tag the original owner of the image, and they included the hashtag “regram” to signify that it was reposted content.
This is an easy way to show love for other users (or your own followers) without creating something new.
You can also share posts on Facebook and retweet on Twitter.
The reason this works to build a following is that you’re co-building relationships with anyone whose content you share.
In most cases, your “share” shows up on their social media page.
It makes them aware of you and gives you the opportunity to connect with them.
Again, it’s a long-game way to build your following, and there’s no guarantee that every post you share successfully gain you new followers.
But it will help you build relationships with other influencers while you’re getting your post count up.
And, generally speaking, more posts = more followers.
4. Cross-post your social content
You want to make it easy for people to find your social content.
If people can’t find you, they can’t follow you.
One way to make your content more visible is to use cross-promotion across all of your social channels.
Here’s an example:
You’ll notice that Buffer includes all of their other social profiles on their Facebook page.
If someone engages with them on Facebook, they’re more likely to engage with them on Instagram or YouTube because those links are right there.
Buffer is also doing something smart here because they’re leveraging visual content from Instagram to bolster their Facebook page.
A BuzzSumo study that looked at more than one billion Facebook posts found that images that users post to Facebook via Instagram receive more engagement than natively-published content.
So every time they post to Instagram, both platforms win.
Really, Buffer wins.
But by linking the two together, they create a powerhouse of content that encourages followers from both platforms to engage.
You can cross-promote your content in other ways, too.
HubSpot, for example, promoted their Snapchat account on Facebook as an announcement.
The point here is to leverage the followers you already have on one platform to grow another.
You don’t always have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to growing a social media following.
Take the followers you already have and get them to follow you somewhere new.
5. Get involved in social communities
Of course, if you do want entirely new followers, there are ways to find them organically (or at least more authentically than buying them).
The best way to “court” followers is to become a member of a social community or group.
LinkedIn, for instance, has groups. They’re simply communities of brands and LinkedIn users who have the same interests or are part of the same industry.
To find relevant groups, go to the Groups homepage (it’s separate from your LinkedIn profile).
Click “Discover” at the top of the page to see your suggested groups.
You can ask to join a group via the “Ask to Join” button under the group description.
The more active you are in the group (the more you provide insights, share content, etc.), the more members will likely follow you back.
If you’re not sure how to start, check out this article: “The Definitive Guide to LinkedIn Groups for Marketing.”
Twitter also has a feature like groups that they call “chats” or “tweet chats.”
These are pre-scheduled chats using specific hashtags at specific times. You can find the schedule here.
If you want to a host a chat, you can use a website like Twubs to register a hashtag and host your chat.
Twitter chats work well to build a following because you’re there to engage with others, not just to spectate.
You’re not self-promoting, and you’re not there to shout at people to follow you.
The whole reason you’re participating is to give insights and input. There’s no way to build a better following than by being genuinely valuable to someone else.
If you want to find more relevant chats to participate in, here’s an easy-to-read and thorough listing of available chats.
6. Start answering common questions
Another way to actively engage users is by answering questions rather than posting content.
There are many ways you can do this.
If you find a question that you know the answer to, you can respond with a link back to your social channels or other content on your website.
You’re not only providing something practical for someone else, but you’re also promoting your social media channels, too.
You can also answer questions on “abandoned” Facebook posts.
If there are brands that don’t respond to questions that you know the answers to, then why not leave a comment from your business page?
I frequently get comments on my own pages that I can’t always answer due to time constraints, but I sometimes see people jump in to respond.
The idea isn’t necessarily to poach the followers of your competitors.
It’s simply a way to engage potential followers and be helpful.
If they see that you’re responsive and knowledgeable and that you follow the same people they do (instant trust, right?), they might give you a follow.
Alternatively, you can host your own Q&A sessions on Twitter.
You simply create a hashtag and respond to questions for a short amount of time.
There is a word of caution with a Twitter Q&A, however.
You want to be careful that you don’t respond to rude or inappropriate questions and that you pick some talking points.
Otherwise, you could end up harming your brand image.
But, generally speaking, Q&A sessions are a great way to connect with your followers.
7. Utilize paid ads
Paid ads don’t have to be gimmicky or unauthentic.
There are ways to market your brand without sacrificing that quality that your followers want.
The key is to create an advertising strategy geared toward engagement rather than self-promotion.
Take a look at this ad, for example:
This is by no means a bad ad. It got good engagement (1K likes).
But it’s very clearly a sales ad. It might even be a retargeting ad for someone who already visited the site.
If that pops up on your feed, you know what to do with it, right? Either you’re going to click (and browse or buy), or you’re going to ignore it.
Compare it to this ad:
Again, there’s nothing wrong with this ad at all.
It exists to promote content. But it’s not necessarily selling you anything.
Now take a look at this ad:
It’s a little in-between, right?
There’s plenty to engage with (“Like Page” in the upper right-hand corner, “Learn More” at the bottom right, and a link in the middle), and it clearly wants you to engage.
But it’s not quite salesy.
I would consider this ad to be a good blend of authentic and promotional.
It’s giving you something you kind of want (forcing engagement) without coming off like the company overtly needs your business.
That should be the goal of the majority of the ads that you use to grow your following.
If you’re selling a product, sales ads work. If you’re raising brand awareness, content-based ads or videos work fine.
But if you’re trying to get people to engage with you on a level of trust (it does take trust to follow someone on social media), then you have to hit the right blend.
To create ads that are in the “blended” zone, here’s what you want to do.
- Look at your Facebook Audience Insights for information about your audience, the communities they engage with, their demographics, and their hobbies and interests.
- Send out some surveys to see if your audience wants to learn about any specific topics or if they’re craving any specific type of content.
- Look into your most engaging content with a social media analytics tool so you can pinpoint further behaviors.
When you have this data, you should be able to see what kind of content is the most engaging for your potential audience.
Then, create ads around that content.
8. Track your social traffic
Part of the process for both social ad creation and organic growth will involve tracking your social metrics.
You want to know where your followers are coming from and how they are engaging with you.
If you don’t already have a system in place for this, there are several tools you can use.
First, start with Google Analytics. That should be a given.
Look for the social platforms that are already giving your website traffic.
For example, if you know that you have a lot of referral traffic from Twitter but not from LinkedIn, then you might start by doing some of the Twitter-focused things in this post first and skip LinkedIn Groups.
You can find your social traffic information by going to Acquisition > Social on your dashboard.
Next, you might want to use a free tool like Followerwonk.
This will give you detailed breakdowns of your Twitter followers (or someone else’s) and their activity on the site.
You can see stats like when they come online (so you know posting times), what categories they fall into, total tweets, follower counts, and so on.
A tool like this can be helpful for recognizing trends so you know when to engage, answer questions, and so on.
You might also want to follow popular trends and hashtags. A tool like Keyhole can help with that.
It gives you a preview of popular hashtags, keywords, and accounts as well as information like reach, top posts, and shares.
You can use this to keep an eye on your competitors to see what they’re doing.
This might be helpful if you’re going to respond to questions (“abandoned posts”) or simply want to know what other people in your space are doing.
These tools should get you started, but there are more tools out there depending on your needs.
The goal of monitoring your social metrics is simply to point you in the right direction.
If you know where people are hanging out, you know where you have to be to get noticed.
9. Be amazing outside of social media
Consider these names: Katy Perry, Barack Obama, Ellen Degeneres, and Gary Vaynerchuk.
What do some of the biggest names in social media have in common (other than the fact that they have a lot of followers)?
They are doing some pretty amazing things outside of their social media platforms.
Katy Perry is not only an award-winning, platinum-selling artist. She’s also a shoe-design mogul, and she partners with charities all around the world.
Obama was the president of the United States.
These people are living their lives. They’re not just social media brands.
You have to be the same way.
Roy Povarchik puts it this way: The biggest names on social media are also big names in the news.
I see a lot of brands that spend too much time worrying about their social media following while neglecting other aspects of their brand that are more important.
When you’re out there doing cool things, you’re going to get attention.
Yes, you can use the other strategies on this list to help propel yourself into the media. There are plenty of things you can do to actively pursue getting new followers, especially you aren’t the president of the United States.
But the point is that it’s okay to go out and do something amazing first.
Then worry about followers.
You’ve probably noticed that a lot of these tips aren’t for instant growth.
While there are ways to grow your brand by hundreds of followers a day, there’s value in the slow burn.
When you take time to build up your brand by leveraging influencers, sharing content that matters, and focusing on your own brand’s message, you get authentic followers.
This means that people are in it for the long haul.
It means that your followers will eventually convert.
You didn’t use sneaky “tricks” or tactics to get them to follow you. You just had a really great brand.
I’ll take a great brand with 1,000 converting followers over one with a million half-hearted followers any day.
What have you done to grow your following without creating content?