Membership drives versus organic growth

You’ve seen these kinds of calls before:

“Help me get to 1000 likes” or “Only 20 away from 2k followers, help me get there!”…

As I am sure you can guess, I have no real love for these, and I have a sense you don’t either. In fact I’m certain that none of my friends, followers, or fans really care about your counts. The higher your numbers are has no bearing on the value I get from following you. And therein lies the crux of this post: value.

I’ve been seeing a recent uptick on posts of this nature, as well as “real-life” membership drives for professional associations. Be it on-line or off, the issue is still the same: what value will I get from following you or joining your association? In fact one real-world professional association I became aware of in the past two weeks is so focused on building membership that they’ve seemingly completely forgotten to add any value to being part of the association, resulting in an actual decline in membership; a result which obviously runs counter to their intent.

Let me exemplify the fallacy of focusing on membership or follower counts by showing you a trend graph of a person I used to follow on Twitter (obfuscating to protect the guilty). When follower counts are all that matter, this is the kind of behaviour you will see:


Note the 35k+ follower spike on a single day. Yes, I am fairly certain he bought those followers. More importantly, in less than three months he also lost all those users as well. This simple trend graph shows perfectly how focusing on one particular metric can generate misguided behaviours and not only miss the end goal, but cause more pain and unnecessary churn around irrelevant results. Membership drives only incentivize one behaviour: to grow the numbers. Instead, focusing on the right behaviours will and incentivizing the right activities or tasks will not only show positive growth in your overall numbers, but will make that growth sustainable as well.

Let me show you what solid, organic growth looks like when you focus on the content and not just follower counts or membership drives:


What you see above is continued and sustainable growth as Kelly reaches more and more people, real people, who are more likely to engage and even reshare her content; all of which provides greater results and gets closer to her end goal. Having 40K followers is fine, but if only 100 of those ever interact with you or even read your content, what good are the other 39.9k? I’d much rather have an active and engaged audience of 1k followers who are more inclined to listen to what I have to say.

I will concede, however, that numbers do matter to some extent. After all, if no one is seeing your awesome content, there’s no hope for growth. Getting your counts up a bit higher so more people will have access and visibility to the amazing stuff you’re writing is indeed a factor you need to consider. But the focus solely on follower counts is a misguided one at best. The real key is to build the right behaviours of engagement and amazing content which provides value to your followers to the point where they want to share it out to their followers as well. I’m guessing the user shown above didn’t have the content to keep his newly found audience (assuming they were real people accounts to begin with).

The initial concern then is to ensure you are building the right behaviours, the right content and sharing it with the right people. I can buy followers to simply boost my numbers, but are those followers who will be getting value from me? Nope. Are they even real followers? Likely not. So rather than trying to build large numbers in a truncated time frame, let’s focus on solid organic growth of our networks based on compelling and exciting content that’s worth sharing, talking about, or implementing in your own test and production environments (oops, my software support background just slipped out there a bit).

I’ve used the phrase “content marketing” previously, and I am seeing it build momentum in the past few months… for good reason: audiences (your social following or association membership base) are demanding your channels show value. If you aren’t providing value, they’ll drop you and go where they will find value. There are so many channels and so much noise inundating us from all sides, it is content which is king and content which will bring those follower numbers others so desperately want.

Let’s recap:

  • Membership drives can build numbers but don’t reward the right behaviours or actions and
  • We have a choice: we can accrue followers or we can curate a valuable and effective network. Curating a network will result in accruing followers.
  • Social Business is not a numbers game. Anyone can buy followers (those of us with integrity wouldn’t, but we easily could).
  • Content is the way to drive traffic and increase visibility, as well as build your own thought leadership and digital eminence.
  • Encourage and incentivize the right behaviour, and the follower counts will steadily climb up and to the right.