How do you know if your social media efforts are turning a profit, changing public opinion, or bringing attention to your organization? Conventional wisdom tells you to look at your follower count. Understanding how to manage social media networks seems to boil down to nothing more than playground politics and the belief that if you are popular then more people will like you.

I’m of the belief that number of fans and follower counts mean relatively little. When I first started working for the Marine Corps, their Twitter account had 14,000 followers but several posts would only average 20 clicks. We worked tirelessly over my time there to build engagement and interest in our Twitter account, raising clicks on posts to the thousands. In the beginning however, the low number of clicks showed that people were following, but they were not engaging. A high-profile example of this just occurred when Oreo and rapper, Lil Wayne went head-to-head for a Guinness World Record ( More info ). The company and musician both fought to get the most likes on a Facebook post in 24 hours. At the end of Oreo’s 24 hours 114,619 people had liked the status. Five hours later when Lil Wayne’s time was up, his fans had liked the post 588,243 times. While Weezy (Lil Wayne)’s Facebook page had 4 million more fans, the stunt still proved that the rapper has built more of a loyal, engaged fanbase.

Building loyalty and engagement can be more difficult for products compared to artists, but it can still be done. There are no set directions on how to raise engagement among your followers, and each company will require different content and different resources. However, no matter what company, artist, organization, or business you are, you should always start by analyzing your fanbase. Look at how fans/followers communicate with each other; what language they use, what positives they find about your brand, what posts they are more likely to repost or retweet. Look at the demographic info to see if more of your followers are men or women etc.; and then look to see what hobbies they have in common. If most of your followers are pursuing degrees, find ways to associate your brand with their needs (Ex: If Oreo’s followers were mostly college-age, they can offer snack ideas and discounts around midterms and finals). Like Seth Godin suggested, fanbases on social media have evolved from simple social groups to tribes. Each fanbase has a set of norms and traditions. These characteristics either developed on their own or in part due to how public relations professionals have marketed their product or managed their networks. Marketers need to start highlighting these norms and traditions, and then assimilate into the tribe rather than standing apart from it. If you begin speaking to the needs of your fanbase, rather than just at them, you will begin to build loyalty and engagement. Don’t fear that your fanbase is not in the millions, because even if it is small you can still build engaged and loyal followers whose interest will bring a profit or enhanced success to your organization.