The Social Media Game

Jun 27, 2013 | Social Media Communities

I used to think acquiring your first 1,000 followers in social media was a sales process. It was a process of engaging one person at a time to achieve a critical mass with market visibility. I don’t think that way anymore.

Social media is a game. You can focus on quality over quantity and do the ‘right things,’ but that is not required to grow a substantial following. It’s how well you play the game.

Follow, unfollow, repeat

How does someone get 10,000, 50,000 or even 100,000 Twitter followers without being a celebrity?

There are a few cases where individuals have worked hard, built their platforms and grown large social media followings. People like Chris Brogan, Amber Naslund and Jay Baer come to mind. They adopted social media early, were prolific content creators, and highly active networkers.

The other side of the social media sphere are the gamers. These individuals use tactics like bulk following and unfollowing to grow their reach. It’s a game of reciprocation.

The process is straightforward:

  1. Follow a bunch of Twitter users, ideally in your sphere of expertise
  2. Hope those new followers return the favor and follow you back
  3. Check 5 to 10 days later, and unfollow everyone who didn’t follow you back
  4. Repeat

In a very short period of time people are generating thousands of Twitter followers using the follow, unfollow approach. Content be damned. It’s all about follower reciprocation.

Size matters, right?

The sad part is the reciprocation game works. I tried it as an experiment on my Twitter account by following and unfollowing 50 people per day.

Before the experiment I had roughly 1,000 followers, and had been at that level for several months. Ten weeks later I have 2,676 followers and I am growing by 250 new followers per week.

To me the process is inauthentic. It feels like I’m gaming the system. People aren’t coming to me, because of my content or reputation. They’re following me, because I followed them. Or they’re staying, because I followed them back. It’s a game of tag.

So why game the system? Because size matters.

We have a perception that size matters. Right or wrong, people look at the number and make a judgement. The bigger the number the more credible the person or the brand appears. Size is a symbol of credibility.

It’s how you play the game

You have a choice:

  1. Play the game
  2. Opt out
  3. Play by your own rules

I don’t think there’s a right way or a wrong way to participate in social media. The game is happening, and you can choose how you want to play it.

I find the Twitter game inauthentic, but I’m playing it out of curiosity. I want to understand how it works, what kind of conversations or engagement I experience at different follower levels, and determine if I can direct a portion of my followers to subscribe to my email newsletter.

I am approaching the game with an agenda and some clear metrics. How are you playing the game?

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Jeremy Miller

Top 30 Brand Guru

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