Back in 2012, a study was done and found that the average Twitter user follows 102 people.
As with most things, whether we realize why we do it or not, there is a reason for averages.
In the the context of social media I would say that we follow a number of people based on how much content we want. But there are probably some other factors that come into play.
Some people follow others as a way to try and get more followers themselves. Some might avoid following 100+ people on Twitter as a way to cut back on the sources of information and influence. Some follow a certain number of brands so they don’t miss out on the best deals.
From a business perspective or from a business professional perspective, it’s important to figure out the right number of people to follow.
Let’s get into the different factors that come into play so you can make the best decision.
If you’re a user of social media chances are you’re looking to consume information. It seems to be a natural human compulsion to yearn for information. And luckily for us we live in a time when we can pretty much get any kind of information we want almost instantly.
With social media, the people you follow are the people that provide information. In that sense, it’s your power to determine where your information comes from. You have the power to determine what information you get, where it comes from and whether or not you should make changes.
Also coming into play here is the fact that you can get information overload. When you follow thousands of people on Twitter or on Facebook it’s a challenge to see all the information. If that’s okay with you then you don’t need to worry about it, but if you don’t want to miss anything you can cut back on the number of people you follow.
Building on the information you consume is taking that information and curating. That can be a great way to build followers. This adds another layer of discipline to the number of people you follow and how your organize those people with things like Twitter lists.
Curating content is about what you find interesting, but it’s also about what your target followers will find interesting. If you want people to follow you then you’ll need to be worth following. That’s obvious, but the simple point is that you need to share content that your target audiences wants.
For example, a web designer might follow leaders in the web design industry who share tips and content about new design trends, technology and more.
That’s great for the web designer, but if they want followers who are their target client, perhaps small business owners, they’ll need to share content that those people want. That probably isn’t design-related tips and trends.
So there is a balance there. The designer might want to follow business resources like Inc and MarketingLand to get exposure to information so they can curate it and build a following.
Social Media Listening
Social media listening is probably defined in a few different ways, but for me it’s about listening to influencers in your industry and also listening to your target audience.
The reasons you would do this would be to keep your eye on the pulse of your industry. Going back to the web designer, they would keep track of what the important topics are in the web design industry.
If you want to be an authority in your industry you’ll gain knowledge with your own experience. That’s certainly good, but leaders also pay attention to what’s going on in their industry. That’s known as the pulse.
And one way to do that is to follow the important people as well as your target audience. You can pick up on what’s important, what the concerns are and more.
For example, when an influencer shares an article you can probably bet that it’s important. When a target customer asks a question you can bet that it’s important to them and that others are asking the same question.
You can follow people on social media for the reason of networking, getting to know someone. It might be just to expand your network with no real motive behind it from a business perspective. It could also be a way to connect with potential business partners, clients and more.
This can expand the number of people that you follow.
Finally, there is an element of perception that comes into play on social media. It can look odd on Twitter, for example, if you follow 2,000 people and only have 10 followers. Is it wrong? Probably not if you’re really looking to consume all kinds of information, but your potential followers might think that you’re just trying to get people to follow you back and maybe that you’re not worth following.
It’s something to consider.
Bonus: Regular Unfollowing Audits & Balance
I also want to mention what I consider good for various aspects of life. It’s like spring cleaning. It’s a good time to go through your house and clean it and get rid of things that you no longer need. Those that don’t do this exercise can end up with a glut of whatever it is…things, dirt, etc.
The same practice is good with social media. It’s good to go back and look at the number of people you follow and cut back where it’s a good idea. You might wonder why am I following this person and simply unfollow them.
Doing an audit is a good way to maintain the balance that you’ll need to find with all the factors above.
Depending on what your goals are for social media your priorities will change. If you’re looking to consume information for your own knowledge you might skew more heavily toward following those types of sources and less on social media listening or perception.
If you want to build an audience of your target market you might really be disciplined because of perception while following key people that can help you curate content that your followers will find interesting.
I know this really didn’t provide an exact number for how many people you should follow. But hopefully it’s taken you through a good thought process that you can use to find the right balance.
For me personally, I use Twitter the most and I only follow about 10-20 people. I audit that list from time to time to make sure I’m following the right people. I look for new accounts to follow. I experiment there. I also use a couple lists for listening and curating and for personal interests.
It comes down to identifying your goals with social media and finding the balance among the items above.