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Following and Likes versus Influence: Know the Difference


Follower count is one of the most boasted about metric in measuring social media success of business pages. If you’re into influencer marketing, however, you do realize how less you look at following size than other variables like engagement and resonance. The numbers don’t tell the entire story, as influencer marketing research tells us.

We’re not saying you should ignore the number of followers altogether. We’re after the importance of looking at the bigger picture and viewing your social media relevance through a number of lenses. One aspect that even seasoned marketers miss is influence, a term that even in the marketing circle gets misinterpreted.

Don’t get us wrong. The number of a person’s followers is indicative of their relevance and popularity. But that alone is not the sole indicator of relevance. In addition, following size doesn’t necessarily translate into influence. So it’s common to see people with large numbers of followers who fail at convincing their followers into doing something.

This is why when your marketer is so hellbent on increasing the size of your business page on Facebook or Instagram, you have to start wondering what they are up to. Earning people’s likes doesn’t mean earning their trust and agreement. Just because you have fifty thousand followers doesn’t mean you can also send fifty thousand clicks into your website. Even optimistic marketers will see a good fraction of that. A quarter is too much for most.

We do influencer marketing research, and we know even the best influencers can’t mobilize even half of their followers into making an action. Then again, it’s a whole different story when you have the same number of followers with almost zero engagement, let alone conversion.

We can learn a lot from social media influencers in terms of wielding influence online. Understanding what is happening between social influencers and their followers gives us fresh insights into what makes audiences tick.


Likes can be deceiving!

For the average social media user, likes are a telltale sign of popularity or lack thereof. They measure the relevance of pages and posts based on the likes they get. Of course, researchers who have studied the social media behavior of people say a different story. You can have a thousand likes, maybe a hundred thousand. But that doesn’t always mean people actually like what they are liking. Confusing, right?

Let’s try to explain this. People have a number of reasons for liking a tweet or Instagram photo or a YouTube video. It’s probably entertaining. It’s probably informative. Or it’s possibly one of those posts people like in passing. We know the shelf life of most social media posts. Virtually all social media posts leave no lasting impression. They are only good when they are being read, and we’re talking about a good 5 or 10 seconds. Hardly anyone comes back to take a second look. Long content suffer more. People have short attention spans, around 8 seconds. They may like long articles and videos but don’t finish them.

This goes to show you have to be careful when looking at analytics whether you’re a marketer, an entrepreneur, or a social media manager.


Take the following size with a grain of salt.

We look at past the following because it practically doesn’t mean anything. It’s not the essential factor that we use in influencer targeting. If anything, it’s irrelevant. We’ve seen business pages and accounts with large following but meager engagement. There are several reasons why activity just dies down on pages with high numbers of followers. The page may have gone dormant for a long time. The admins probably don’t respond to comments, and followers don’t like that. The page may have become notorious for bad social media practices. These are things to account for when looking for key people in influencer marketing.

Even for active channels, you have to look at the key metrics: comments and shares. Comments are strong indicators of trust, approval, agreement, or conversion. What people say about the post tells so much about audience regard.

When does the follower count actually count? Your followers are only relevant when a substantial number of them are active. That means a significant percentage of them cares about your posts and regularly reads and comments on your content.

In business and politics, we don’t stop at the noise. Yes, people can make a lot of buzz on your social media channels, but when you tell them to do something, the noise fizzles out. This is a common situation, and clients just ask us what went wrong. Just because people follow you and like your posts doesn’t necessarily mean they will subscribe to your newsletter or buy your products. It takes more than asking people to follow you and like your social channels to become your customers.

You need to have a compelling campaign to convert followers into customers and advocates. This is where influence steps in. It’s not determined by the size of your audience alone. It’s determined by the size of the audience you can mobilize to act. This is the glaring truth we have learned in so many years that we’ve done influencer marketing.

When we look at potential influencers, we no longer look at the number of following. That’s the least of our concerns. Influencer marketing research tells us that engagement and conversion are the real metrics that indicate the effectiveness of content and the persuasiveness of the campaign. It’s a mistake to look at follower count and likes. Followers and likes can be bought, negotiated, or requested. So whether following and likes are completely organic is the question that raises the crucial doubt.

Even the size of one’s following is largely organic, the question of niche relevance and resonance still remains. This is why people in politics and show business may not be wise options for influencer targeting. These people have followers who care about their appearance, craft, or public opinion. Their followers become cynical once they talk about brands. So why seek their help for your brand?


As a parting word, we want to stress that it’s not smart or wise to put your brand just anywhere. Putting it in front of a huge audience may work against it if it’s the wrong audience. This creates brand notoriety, one thing you must avoid.


This is why our influencer marketing strategy is geared towards finding the right people in your niche and other related niches, building relationships with them, working with them in a mutually beneficial setting, and giving quality content to their audience. Authorities in your niche know the value of their influence and won’t risk lending it just to anybody. Most importantly, it takes a while to build influence and harness it. Social influencers know that hard fact. Even they had to start from zero.