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Optical Illusions: why it's not all about having loads of followers when it comes to SME marketing.

Updated: Sep 30, 2022

Sales and Marketing can be very much a numbers game. So can running a business in itself – if you're reading this then I don't have to tell you that. Yet for all the importance placed on numbers however, we can sometimes be almost a bit too taken in by them. Duped even. If you're starting out marketing your small or micro business, this is definitely something that you need to be aware of.

I need to grow my followers

Look. There's nothing wrong with having tens of thousands of followers. There's certainly nothing wrong with having millions of them. If it's something you can pull off, more power to you. However, if you're starting out on the road to marketing, try not to get caught up in the thinking that 'I have to have X thousand followers' because so-and-so has. Numbers can mean a lot, but they can also be meaningless. I'll give you an example. A few years ago I was analysing online reach for a small business. The owner was understandably quite excited when I gave them the considerably high figure. Of course they were, why wouldn't they be, I hear you say. Well, all was not as it seemed. Yes, they did have a very high reach figure in theory. However, when I drilled down into the makeup of this audience, it turned out a sizeable amount where located in (1) the other side of the world to where this brand was being marketed and (2) completely the wrong demographic for what was essentially a B2B brand operating in Ireland. So, while yes, having a high audience number was attractive from an optics point of view, in terms of probable Sales conversions it was way off the mark.

Organic Followers Versus Paid

On the other hand, I was once involved in running the social media presence for a voluntary organisation. They had perhaps a third of the followers of the earlier example. And yet, audience engagement was far higher. Why might this be? Well, for one thing, most of the followers had been gained organically - at this point we hadn't even run any paid ad campaigns. The majority were real people who had supported us in real life. A far less impressive follower figure from an optics point of view, granted, but in terms of true, marketable value this 'brand' ran rings the one with three times the followers of which the majority weren't even the right demographic. Strangely, many big companies continue to 'buy' followers, generally bots, when these will have obviously have no marketable value; a bot is hardly going to buy your product, are they? This is an optical illusion at its finest. Don't fall into this trap.

Social Media Engagement can trump Social Media Followers

Indeed, sometimes the analytics speak for themselves. I recall an occasion where I checked the Facebook Insights tool to see how the brand I was looking after was doing against the competition. Curiously, despite having the lowest followership of a group of 5, it actually ranked No.2 in terms of weekly audience engagement. In one case, it had 100 times the amount of engagement of a competitor that had over twice the amount of followers.


Don't be disheartened if you're struggling to amass thousands of followers. It's not the be all and end all. What's more important (and valuable) from a small business marketing perspective is that you attract authentic, real life followers that are likely to engage and support your business. Look at this way, if you're running a garage in a little village in Mayo do you really care whether or not you have thousands of followers on the other side of the world? Would that really help? Surely a small bunch of locals, buying and endorsing your services, would be much more valuable?

Looking to get more out of your social media or indeed expand your business' marketing strategy in general? Drop me a line and let's see if we can come up with a plan.

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