Why Follower Count Doesn’t Matter (That Much)

The “follower count” has long been the preferred vanity metric of social media.

How many followers your business or personal page had indicated how successful you were at marketing. 

At first, it was the number of “Likes” that a company page on Facebook had. Then it was Twitter followers. Now, LinkedIn, TikTok, Instagram, etc., all have metrics that signify how many people subscribe to your social media profile.

But here’s the secret – your follower count doesn’t matter (that much).

Yes, it is a social signal. People will equate followers with authority.

Yes, it does impact the total reach of your content.

But since about 2014, most social media platforms limit the amount of organic reach you can have to your follower list. No matter if you have 100 or 10,000 followers, only a portion of that list will organically see your content.

So while it’s nice to see your follower count increase, it will not dramatically increase your success in social media. In this article, we’ll discuss how reach works, and what you should focus on. 

How Reach Actually Works

When it comes to reach, or the number of people that see your content, a few primary drivers determine it. Social media sites each have their own algorithms and ways of determining reach, but they are generally based on the following three factors:

  1. Content Type and Quality
  2. Follower Sampling
  3. Relevance to User

Let’s explore all of these in more detail. 

Content Type and Quality

The first major determinant of your content’s reach is the content type and quality. 

For each post you make, the social media platform algorithms try to determine the quality of what you post. As they want to keep users on their platform, they promote great content over so-so-content. 

The algorithms try to answer these questions:

  • What kind of content is it? – Most platforms have different content types you can choose from. Video, text, image, polls, etc., are all standard options. Generally speaking, video and images are better at “thumb-stopping” people when scrolling on feeds. But all post types can perform well. 
  • Is it spammy? – Social media platforms actively try to discourage spammy posts. If your content features many external links or promotions of products/sales, they will likely throttle the reach. 
  • Is it readable? – Social media websites serve a general audience. This means the content you create needs to be readable and consumable by most people. Most social media platforms will check for grammar, formatting, and general reading level of content. 

The real key here is to focus on creating quality content. Try to incorporate creative graphics or videos where possible, and be aware of your usage of external links. 

Follower Sampling

The next method they use to determine reach is follower sampling. This is the practice of showing your posts to only a portion of your followers to sample the content’s engagement. 

This was a BIG change that Facebook made in 2014. Previously, ALL of your followers saw all your posts. However, to encourage more paid advertising content, Facebook (and now most social media platforms) limits your organic reach by sampling your content to a small subset of your followers. 

If your sampled followers engage with your content by Liking, Commenting, or Reposting, then your posts will be shown organically to an additional portion of your followers. 

follower count sampling

What does this mean? It means that most of your followers, who elected to subscribe to your content, will only see some of your posts. However, the more you can increase your engagement, the more likely you will expand your organic reach to your audience.

Relevance to User

And finally, there is your relevance to the individual user. Social media platforms are trying to personalize every piece of content that a user sees. They know that serving relevant content to users will keep them engaged longer.

There are a few main methods that social sites use to determine relevance:

  • Connection Closeness – This measures how close the connection is to you and your brand. Does the person follow you? Do you follow them back? How many mutual connections do you have? These all affect the level of connection closeness. 
  • Past Interactions – The more users interact with your content, the more likely they will see future content. Most algorithms see past interactions as an endorsement for the kind of content that the user wants to see in the future. 
  • Topic Interest – Social media platforms also match topic interests to the content shown. If somebody is interested in investing, for example, they will try to display more content related to investing.

The key takeaway is to ensure you are intentional about the content you create. You need to understand your audience and their interests to increase your engagement. 

Focus on Engagement, Not Followers

So does the follower count matter? Kind of… You still need to have some followers to have a foundation for your social media success. However, the more important metric to focus on is engagement.

The more people you can engage with, the further the reach of your content. 

And in fact, too many unengaged followers is a bad thing. If you buy followers or promote to the wrong people, you’ll hurt your organic content’s reach through poor sampling and relevancy. 

I suggest intentionally creating quality content that educates, inspires, or entertains your audience. If you build your followers thoughtfully, you’ll naturally have better engagement with your ongoing content.

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