Numbers Matter

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Numbers Matter
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I’ve heard well-respected social media folks say, “Don’t pay attention to the number of followers you have.” and “it doesn’t matter how many fans you have”. They’re wrong. If it didn’t matter, we wouldn’t be counting them. We count everything… and we judge everyone by the numbers we see. Let me explain.

Currently, there’s a backlash over Klout and the algorithm changes they made. The proprietary influence scoring methodology changed and people’s Klout scores dropped – most to the tune about 10 points, with many dropping up to 20 points. Klout defends the move by providing feedback that the new algorithm changes provide a more accurate indication of someone’s online influence.

People don’t care about accuracy. They care about numbers.

I don’t doubt that Klout’s intentions were great . A drop from a Klout score last week at 71 to a Klout score of 61 this week technically means nothing since the number itself is simply a gauge of relevance.

The reality, though, is that the numerical score is something that was important to many people to guage their influence and interaction online. Had Klout adjusted the algorithm a pinch at a time over a few months, they probably wouldn’t have gotten the backlash. But if I’m aligning my efforts with someone similar and their score remained consistent but mine dropped… the appearance of the quality of the system goes into question. That is what happened… and Klout is now trying to dig out.

In my opinion, Klout would have been better off simply increasing the scale rather than reducing the scores. If the scale was 100 before, they should have simply increased it to 115. The adjustment would have made the change in people’s Klout scores insignificant. I hope this blows over, I’m still a fan of what Klout is trying to achieve (although I still think it’s a partial score since it doesn’t take search or traffic stats into consideration).

Numbers matter

If you don’t believe that numbers matter, you’re kidding yourself. Often times, we have clients that have 0 fans, 0 followers, 0 retweets, 0 views, 0 likes, etc. One of our recent clients had an amazing video online that was professionally recorded and provided a very cool demonstration of their product. The problem was that there was about 11 views of the video.

Very few people take the time to watch a video with 11 views.

So, we did what others would call blasphemous. After a few months and a few hundred views, I went out and purchased 10,000 views and 1,000 likes from a service. It’s not illegal and it doesn’t violate anyone terms of service. It does sound shady, though. Within 2 weeks, it moved the YouTube video up to 10,000 views. A week later and the video is now sitting at over 12,000 views and a couple dozen more likes. Same video, same content, now adding 2,000 views per week instead of dozens.

People ARE Influenced by Numbers

Folks with ~50,000 followers can add 50 followers a day to Twitter. For someone new to Twitter, adding 50 followers in a month would be great… but that’s simply not going to happen. I don’t care how fantastic their content is… the growth for the average Twitter user will be proportional to their current following. If they want to accelerate their growth, they need to bump up their numbers. Again, the purists will argue that buying followers is terrible. That’s easy for them to say when they have thousands of followers already.

Numbers Don’t Add Up

The problem with numbers is that they don’t always add up. I love the example below… an autofollow account on Twitter. Not only does it have a higher influence score than me, it’s also influential on Klout itself (ironically, it’s also influential on employment and the stock market).

Blogging Popularity and Numbers

Manipulating numbers is easy. I remember when the gold standard to popularity on a blog was your Feedburner number of subscribers. Gmail came on the scene and allowed people to have email addresses with a comment in the email address. For example, if my email address is name@domain.com, I can use name+1@domain.com, name+2@domain.com, name+3@domain.com, etc. A few bloggers caught onto this and simply wrote scripts to subscribe tens of thousands of subscribers to their own Feedburner email.

The result? Their blogs grew in popularity overnight. Some of them were even able to sell advertising and sponsorships based on the inflated numbers. As a test, I bought a blog post on one of the blogs and I got a few hundred responses out of the blog’s hundreds of thousands of subscribers. It confirmed my suspicions. They had inflated their numbers.

Years later, my blog is still growing in popularity and readership. It’s become a popular blog by anyone’s standards. But… those blogs that cheated are still ahead of mine on most ranking sites. They had the content to backup the growth, so they did well. Do I regret not cheating like they did? Actually, yes. I do regret it. I should have taken advantage of those opportunities when they arose.

You Can Buy Any Numbers

You can buy anything. Followers, Fans, Retweets, Likes, Pageviews, YouTube Views, YouTube likes… there are services all over the web. I’ve tested a ton of these systems and some work better than others. The question, in my opinion, isn’t whether these are morally right or not… the question is one of investment. Can buying numbers actually increase the visibility and popularity of your products or services online? Sometimes… it’s dependent on whether what your promoting holds up!

I have friends of mine who are horrified that I’ve paid for these services, but a week later they are asking me to promote an event or product that they have. Pretty fascinating… they think it’s somehow morally wrong but then reach out when they could benefit from it.

Should You Buy Numbers?

I don’t believe that buying numbers is wrong… it’s a marketing investment just like anything else. The issue is whether or not you are going to be able to capitalize on that investment and provide content that’s able to grow that following. If you don’t, you lost the money. No harm, no foul to anyone is done… other than your pocketbook.

Note: I do believe that it’s fraudulent to sell advertising based on numbers that you know aren’t real.

Many people will disagree with me vehemently on this topic. What is advertising and marketing at its core? If everything depended on organic growth, we’d all be out of work in the marketing industry.

Am I manipulating popularity and consumer behavior if I buy fans? Yes!

Am I manipulating popularity when I hire a professional designer to develop a brand to make it appear to be a much larger company than it is? Yes!

Marketing is all about developing a picture in the prospects’ head that they need your service. Marketing is also about taking advantage of consumer behaviors to increase business results. I can’t help that the majority of people don’t pay attention to small numbers… but I can change the numbers so that they do pay attention!

Marketing gets people in your door. It’s your responsibility to set expectations and exceed them with your clients. If your marketing sets expectations you can’t keep, then you’re lying and it’s wrong. But if you buy a bunch of YouTube views, your video goes viral, and you sell a ton of product to happy customers because of it, it was a great marketing investment.

Our investment in these services is rare. It’s only when we are working with a person, product or service that we know will do well that we invest. Or when we are working with a client that needs to get a promotion off the ground quickly. In all situations, we usually use the services as a kickstart to get them growing. Once they grow, there’s no need to continue.

You would be amazed at how well it works – I’d encourage you to try it yourself… buy 5,000 of something and watch how it accelerates growth.

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