Of Pork Bellies and Facebook Fans: Our Strange Fascination with Numbers

by Ken Mueller on April 8, 2011 · 27 comments

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We have an incredibly strange fascination with numbers. Now before I go any further, let me just state up front that I fully understand that all of us are in business to make money. Things like revenue and ROI are important, and yes, money is measured in numbers. (And I’m sure this post will attract at least one person who criticizes me as saying they aren’t important, along with the requisite passive aggressive tweets). But lately I feel as though we are spinning our wheels as we focus so much on numbers and trying to monetize everything we do to squeeze every little last penny out of every task. Again, I’m not saying this is entirely wrong, but it sure seems somewhat misdirected. Let me explain:

The other day Gini Dietrich pointed me to a post by Shonali called Rubbish is as Rubbish Does. The post was a rather well-tempered rant about something in PR circles known as AVE or “ad value equivalency”. If you’re not familiar with the term, AVE is an attempt by some to assign a dollar value to publicity as if it were advertising.

This is just another example of our need to justify everything we do based on numbers and dollars. You know, the old “if it isn’t making dollars it isn’t making sense” argument.

And then after reading Shonali’s post I came upon a seemingly reputable social media site that has created a Facebook business hub of sorts. Part of that hub was a “projects” section. When I clicked on it, I wanted to run the other way screaming. Most of the listings were for people looking for…you guessed it…numbers!

Listing after listing of people offering to pay someone anywhere from $30 to $500 to help them get anything from “1000 Twitter and 100o Facebook Followers” to upwards of 50,000 of each. And in some cases there was very little criteria for who those fans should be…in other words, they just wanted butts in seats. Warm bodies.

Another listing was someone looking for “Facebook fan suppliers” and he was willing to pay $30 per 1000.

Is this what we’ve become? And I say this after just helping a client get more than 1800 new fans in a 24 hour period the other day. The difference being, we know that these are targeted customers who truly do like the brand in question…they aren’t just random people.

I’ve never once in my life had someone come up to me and say, “Hey, Ken, I need friends! Can you get me 1,000 friends by the end of the month?” I’ve also never walked around boasting about how many “real life” friends I have. No one does. I mean, if you actually KNOW the number of friends you have, you’ve got way too much free time on your hands (or you don’t have very many friends…hmmm). And on top of that, do businesses rank their customers and wait on them based on how many friends they have, or how important they are? (Yes, I’m looking at you, Klout).

No, friendships and relationships just happen, and they happen over time. You can’t force them. This isn’t some sort of online dating service. Take my friend Donna. She moved to my area awhile back and used Twitter to begin making friends before she got here. I’m pretty sure that she may have only truly connected with a dozen or so people, and I’m also pretty sure she wouldn’t trade them for “1,000″ random people.

Are people merely commodities? Will we soon be seeing Facebook fans and Twitter followers traded on the Commodities exchange like pork bellies and soy bean oil futures? Probably not, but businesses and marketers need to stop treating them that way.

This love of numbers and the “need” to attach financials to everything is a mindset that brought about the steroid era in baseball.

Do we really need to grow so fast? As I said in my comment on Shonali’s post:

Making money and some sort of ROI analytics are important, but boy we seem to be so worried about numbers…especially in a microwave sorta way. You know how you pop something in the microwave and while it USED to be fast, we stand there tapping our foot because goshdarnit, 30 second isn’t fast enough anymore!

Whatever happened to seeing the cumulative results of things over time? I’ll take something that cooks in the crockpot over the same thing in the microwave any day!

Slow down. Get to know people. Don’t be in a rush to grow your following or fan base so fast. And by all means, don’t feel like you must attach a dollar value to everything you do. And remember, most ROI measurements are rather “immediate” and don’t take into account customer relationships over time. Sometimes a long time.

Are you addicted to numbers? Is there more to life and business than just the bottom line?

 Of Pork Bellies and Facebook Fans: Our Strange Fascination with Numbers
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8 comments
BarbYouchah
BarbYouchah

I always nod my head in agreement when I read your blog Ken. I think too many people get hung up on the word "media" and associate it with marketing. Instead, if the word media was replaced with networking I wonder if the viewpoint would change. It's all about being likable and I don't mean that from a strictly Facebook standpoint. Those wanting to "buy" followers/fans sound like the same knuckleheads that think nothing of flinging business cards around a face to face event and trying to force a relationship. In both cases, these people are largely ignored (except for maybe when they are being laughed at for bad etiquette). Their messages are merely words falling on deaf ears. It's taken me well over a year to amass my nearly 1,100 followers on our hotel Twitter account and I didn't have to beg, borrow or steal to get them. Sure it was hard work but the reward of a fantastic community is well worth it.

Shonali
Shonali

Thanks so much for the shout out, Ken. I love the story about your friend Donna. I think people who are real connectors do just that. @GautamGhosh congratulated me the other day on crossing 10k followers on Twitter, to which I responded, "Yea, bots and all." Perhaps it's different for big businesses than people like me, but I just don't see the point in "buying" fans/followers. What I enjoy most about the social space is being able to talk to people. That's how relationships start and grow, and that takes time.

I mean - look at this post and how you and I connected (thank you @ginidietrich ) - it's a classic example of what you and I are talking about!

I will say that I don't discount numbers completely; let's face it, the wider one's network, the greater the chances of one's message being amplified and distributed. However, just because someone has 20k followers doesn't make them any less valuable than someone with 200 followers (we've all been there); and just because someone has oodles of fans doesn't mean a significant number of them are going to act when called upon to do so. That's where the strength of the message, call to action and relationships come in, IMHO. The meaningful numbers are the ones that show an impact has been made, not simply that a message has been communicated.

I absolutely *hate* the idea of buying and selling people via the example you give... though hasn't Direct Marketing been doing that for years?

CharterHomes
CharterHomes

Great post, Ken. ROI and number of followers are disconnected topics that so often get aggregated together - as in, a social media campaign is successful if and only if it gets 100 new followers to your social media accounts. As Melanie mentioned, just 10 new followers who click through to your website, begin to engage, or actually come in as leads are much more valueable. And let's not forget that the companies willing to "buy" followers above need to put in work to turn these disparate followers into leads!

MelanieG.Snyder
MelanieG.Snyder

This is awesome insight, Ken! THANK YOU! I'm relatively new to the blogosphere and started reading stuff about how to attract "followers" (the terminology alone creeped me out!) and how to get your blog to the top of the "Top 50 blogs" lists . . . I was finding it all very weird and mildly stressful. But you're absolutely right - I'd rather have 10 loyal readers who make the time to actually fully read what I write, and comment thoughtfully, and exchange ideas with me, than 100 or 1000 or (add as many zeroes as you like) who speed-read, toss off a criticism or half-baked response and click away to the next item in their daily feed. I really appreciate you sharing your wisdom on these topics!

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Shonali @GautamGhosh @ginidietrich Thanks for stopping by, Shonali, and even more so, thanks for all the great content you create. Any friend of Gini's is a friend of mine.

Certainly, numbers do have their place, but we often get TOO married to them. I know that over the past few days several friends of pointed out that I'm nearing 100k tweets, (yeah, I talk a lot and I'm rather prolific, but that's part of my philosophy of Twitter, engagement, relationships, etc).

And as to your last point, I think that's where marketers and businesses fall down when it comes to social media. They see the word "media" and begin to foam at the mouth and start thinking of how they have always approached traditional media. As I always stress, ignore the word "media" and focus on the more important word, "social".

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

I think you're right, Kelly. It's much harder to turn random followers into leads than it is to cultivate fewer, yet more solid, followers over time.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@MelanieG.Snyder Thanks, Melanie. Just remember that my opinion is just one of many, and while I believe in what I say, there are a lot of others who take numbers much more seriously, and can probably justify that. I acknowledge that in many ways I'm swimming against the stream of what many might preach, but it's my philosophy of how I'm building my business and am building the businesses of my clients!

Shonali
Shonali

@KenMueller "numbers do have their place, but we often get TOO married to them" - absolutely agree. And thank you for the kind words, I hope to see you often over at "my place" too!

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