Sorry Guys: When It Comes to Your Audience, Size DOES Matter

There’s a gentleman’s agreement in social media that needs to be debunked.

We’re always supposed to judge ourselves by the quality of the conversations we have, rather than the sheer volume of our reach.

Even Gary Vee, who has more Twitter followers than anyone else who’s not “mainstream famous,” preached quality over quantity at #140conf last month.  He believes the number of Direct Messages a person sends on Twitter — thereby implying a true 1-to-1 connection — is a more accurate arbiter of a person’s influence and power than how many generic followers that person blasts with her impersonal messaging.

What Gary wants to know is, how many people are you making time for?

But it’s easy for Gary Vee to say that numbers don’t matter; he already has them.

You don’t.  (Not like Gary does.)

But you want them.

And that’s okay.

Here’s why.

In Our Minds, We’re All Lady Gaga with a Slightly Smaller Wardrobe

First, let’s establish one truth: everybody wants to be heard.*

If we didn’t want to be heard, we’d never open our mouths.  The act of engaging in social media — whether you’re a pro, an amateur or someone who simply tweets to your five actual flesh-and-blood friends — is the act of declaring that what you have to say is worth being heard by someone.

From there, the only place to go is up.

And while it’s true that numbers alone are meaningless, numbers are never alone.  Numbers are indicators.  And in terms of audience, numbers are indicators of your potential.

Dan Zarrella created a graph he calls Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness, which says that in order for a message to be successful, it must be:

  1. Noticed
  2. Considered interesting, and
  3. Acted upon

Obviously, far more messages are noticed than acted upon.  To improve your chances of success, you want to maximize each contact point on Zarrella’s graph — and that starts with maximizing the number of people exposed to your message.

Take iJustine.  She’s followed by over 1 million people on Twitter.  That doesn’t mean everything she tweets is noticed by all 1 million people, but it does mean that what she tweets is, by definition, noticed by more people than what you tweet.

Does that mean iJustine is more important than you are?  No.  It just means she has the potential to be more influential than you do.

But that has more to do with who’s following her, or following you — and why.

It’s Not How Big Your Audience Is, It’s How You Use… er, Inspire It

Let’s say you have a message you believe is worth sharing.  So you broadcast it.

If no one notices your message, you lose.

On the other hand, if everyone notices your message but no one cares… you still lose.

The question is: how likely are people to be interested in what you’re saying and act on it?

That likelihood depends on numerous variables, including:

  • What are you saying?
  • How are you saying it?
  • How reputable are you?
  • How difficult is the action you’ve requested?
  • What’s the payoff for the person taking the action?
  • What’s the payoff for you?

The world would be far more profoundly impacted by three scientists listening to your advice and solving a disease than it would be by all one million of iJustine’s followers donating a dollar to the cause of her choice.

But you probably don’t know three scientists, nor are you likely to provide them with actionable data and convince them to make use of it.

On the other hand, iJustine can direct her thousands of followers to take any number of mundane actions.  And if the composite effect of those mundane actions amounts to something noteworthy, it simultaneously elevates her own public perception as an influencer — which, in turn, extends her reach via expanded awareness.

Thus, although the volume of your reach actually is less important than the quality of your reach, the quality of your reach is dependent on the nature of circumstances.  Yes, your three scientist friends may be able to cure cancer, but they might not be able to help you land a job.  Your million connections, on the other hand, just might.

In which case… why are we all so quick to denounce our desire to amass a large audience?

Everybody’s Jealous of a Size Queen

The bigger a person’s audience becomes, the more likely they are to become demonized.  Not because of what they actually say (or don’t say), but simply because they get noticed.

Getting noticed is the first step toward getting what you want.  And when someone else is getting noticed, it usually means you’re not.

The truth is, you don’t actually envy Chris Brogan, Gary Vee or iJustine because they’re popular; you envy them because the size of the audience they’ve amassed provides them with better odds of achieving their goals than yours does.

And while I’m sure Gary would be every bit as helpful, engaging and invested if he “only” had 10,000 (or even 100) passionate fans of his work, I’m also quite sure that if he “only” had 100 fans, he would want more.

Badly.

Because it’s who we are.

We talk because we want to be talked about.

But why?

That’s your own question to answer.

Maybe you want to make a living doing what you love.

Maybe you want to help others.

Maybe you want to meet interesting people, or go interesting places.

Maybe you just want to know that someone thinks you’re interesting.

With larger audiences comes more potential for interaction.  By default, Chris Brogan knows more interesting people than you do, simply because he knows more people than you do.

Ultimately, the size of your audience is important, but it doesn’t matter; what matters is what you want to do.

And the more people you have paying attention to you, the greater your chances of accomplishing your goal.

So: you want to be successful?  Meet more people.

(And then spend at least some of your time listening to them; you might learn something.)

*NOTE:  Maybe “heard” is the wrong word for you.  Maybe it’s “listened to.”  Maybe it’s “influential.”  Maybe it’s “admired,” “respected” or “appreciated.”  Regardless of your specific motive, any action that can be taken by the masses is an action most of us would like to evoke in as many people as possible, until we grow tired of the response.

And if having too much exposure is a problem… let’s cross that bridge when you get there.

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  • http://www.bloggingtune.com Ramkarthik

    Justin,

    I agree with your point that quantity is more important than quality but in only some cases. I can also give you a case where quality is better than quantity.

    Say I follow people based on few keywords. Let's say “weight loss”. Assuming I followed 10,000 people and 6000 followed me back (just random numbers). People who tweet about weight loss are almost always people who are marketing their website/product. The fact about these people is that they frequently send out tweets but dont read any. Out of 6000, only 1000 might actually see my tweet and since they are also marketers like me, they will obviously pay very little attention. So even though I have 6000 followers, only a few of them actually pay attention to my tweets.

    Now I'm doing the same keyword search for weight loss. But this time, I'm actually find real conversations and questions (which is probably 1 in 80 or 100). I reply to these people and solve their problems and build a relationship. By doing this for a few days or maybe a couple of months, I build 1000 loyal fans. Say I tweet a link to a product, how many out of these 1000 loyal fans will notice my product, buy it and retweet my tweet?

    Do you agree that in this case, I will get more sales by having 1000 loyal followers than 10,000 “not-so-listening but constantly spamming” followers?

    So what is more important is quality+quantity, which is what Gary, Chris Brogan and few others you state in the example have.
    It is not one or the other. It is BOTH.

  • http://www.bloggingtune.com Ramkarthik

    Justin,

    I agree with your point that quantity is more important than quality but in only some cases. I can also give you a case where quality is better than quantity.

    Say I follow people based on few keywords. Let's say “weight loss”. Assuming I followed 10,000 people and 6000 followed me back (just random numbers). People who tweet about weight loss are almost always people who are marketing their website/product. The fact about these people is that they frequently send out tweets but dont read any. Out of 6000, only 1000 might actually see my tweet and since they are also marketers like me, they will obviously pay very little attention. So even though I have 6000 followers, only a few of them actually pay attention to my tweets.

    Now I'm doing the same keyword search for weight loss. But this time, I'm actually find real conversations and questions (which is probably 1 in 80 or 100). I reply to these people and solve their problems and build a relationship. By doing this for a few days or maybe a couple of months, I build 1000 loyal fans. Say I tweet a link to a product, how many out of these 1000 loyal fans will notice my product, buy it and retweet my tweet?

    Do you agree that in this case, I will get more sales by having 1000 loyal followers than 10,000 “not-so-listening but constantly spamming” followers?

    So what is more important is quality+quantity, which is what Gary, Chris Brogan and few others you state in the example have.
    It is not one or the other. It is BOTH.

  • http://tech-glide.blogspot.com ikartik90

    Hi Justin,
    Nice Post. Well I'd like to add up to Ram's comment as I find it exactly right and apt. Well its not simply quantity that matters. Its better said that its quantity with quality that plays the magic. Had it not been the quality of content that iJustine or Chris Borgan delivered, why would such a large mob, at all, be interested in his/her posts? Of course, at the same time, its quantity at the same time that matters because greater number of followers means greater reach of your post and hence greater chances of retweets. Its a self-replicating chain if you carefully watch it. Quality serves you quantity (greater number of followers) that in turn server you quality (greater reach of your article/promotion of your article).

  • http://tech-glide.blogspot.com ikartik90

    Hi Justin,
    Nice Post. Well I'd like to add up to Ram's comment as I find it exactly right and apt. Well its not simply quantity that matters. Its better said that its quantity with quality that plays the magic. Had it not been the quality of content that iJustine or Chris Borgan delivered, why would such a large mob, at all, be interested in his/her posts? Of course, at the same time, its quantity at the same time that matters because greater number of followers means greater reach of your post and hence greater chances of retweets. Its a self-replicating chain if you carefully watch it. Quality serves you quantity (greater number of followers) that in turn server you quality (greater reach of your article/promotion of your article).

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  • Been there

    Or you could simply disappear and people will forget. Their too busy trying to be heard. LOL

  • Been there

    Or you could simply disappear and people will forget. Their too busy trying to be heard. LOL

  • 'scuse typo

    yea yeah, they're

  • 'scuse typo

    yea yeah, they're

  • http://justinkownacki.blogspot.com Justin Kownacki

    I thought you were in the woods with a rifle and some jerky, training
    for your role in the upcoming Red Dawn remake…

  • http://justinkownacki.blogspot.com Justin Kownacki

    I thought you were in the woods with a rifle and some jerky, training
    for your role in the upcoming Red Dawn remake…

  • Locked-n-loaded

    LOL, oh is that the word?
    Nope, we've just came out of the other side of bankruptcy.
    Fresh start, more realistic, none of this hope-n-jive crapola. ;^)

  • Locked-n-loaded

    LOL, oh is that the word?
    Nope, we've just came out of the other side of bankruptcy.
    Fresh start, more realistic, none of this hope-n-jive crapola. ;^)

  • http://justinkownacki.blogspot.com Justin Kownacki

    I know exactly where you're coming from. Fiscal catastrophe makes
    everyone a bit more conscious of numbers, as opposed to just colors
    and shapes.

    Best wishes on the rebound.

    And this time, when you make a thing, ship it. ;)

  • http://justinkownacki.blogspot.com Justin Kownacki

    I know exactly where you're coming from. Fiscal catastrophe makes
    everyone a bit more conscious of numbers, as opposed to just colors
    and shapes.

    Best wishes on the rebound.

    And this time, when you make a thing, ship it. ;)

  • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

    Dude – spot on with this post!

    I think you are calling out something that is VERY relevant. Size of your presence does indeed matter. Twitter for instance, is very much numbers game in that you know that a very small percentage of your total following will ever convert on a deeper relationship with you, and even less on an action you ask them to take. It's a given then that the larger your following, the better your conversion rate.

    Quality of your content and the values you emit into the space around your personal brand are absolutely important, but without size, trees fall in the forest and no one is around to hear them.

    The way you explain this is a wake up call and I hope my followers read, and take it to heart. With mastery of tools comes size. With size comes leverage. With leverage comes just about anything you want.

    Gary, Chris, and all the others who've made it big always forget to talk about how they got there in the first place.

    1. Being first helps.
    2. Lots of hours in presence and relationship building.
    3. Knowing where to find and how to use the best tools.

    Great stuff Justin. You got me all fired up with this one…

  • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

    Dude – spot on with this post!

    I think you are calling out something that is VERY relevant. Size of your presence does indeed matter. Twitter for instance, is very much numbers game in that you know that a very small percentage of your total following will ever convert on a deeper relationship with you, and even less on an action you ask them to take. It's a given then that the larger your following, the better your conversion rate.

    Quality of your content and the values you emit into the space around your personal brand are absolutely important, but without size, trees fall in the forest and no one is around to hear them.

    The way you explain this is a wake up call and I hope my followers read, and take it to heart. With mastery of tools comes size. With size comes leverage. With leverage comes just about anything you want.

    Gary, Chris, and all the others who've made it big always forget to talk about how they got there in the first place.

    1. Being first helps.
    2. Lots of hours in presence and relationship building.
    3. Knowing where to find and how to use the best tools.

    Great stuff Justin. You got me all fired up with this one…

  • http://www.jamiebeckland.com/ Jamie Beckland

    This is part of a bigger set of goals that social media can provide: do you want to maintain relationships, or do you want to develop influence and broadcast potential?

    You're absolutely spot on with this, and I think it's high time to give quantity its fair due. It's easy to say that quantity doesn't matter once you have it. Until then, everyone thinks about how to build volume. It's a different stage in the process, that's all.

  • http://www.jamiebeckland.com/ Jamie Beckland

    This is part of a bigger set of goals that social media can provide: do you want to maintain relationships, or do you want to develop influence and broadcast potential?

    You're absolutely spot on with this, and I think it's high time to give quantity its fair due. It's easy to say that quantity doesn't matter once you have it. Until then, everyone thinks about how to build volume. It's a different stage in the process, that's all.

  • http://barrydewar.wordpress.com/ Barry Dewar

    I'm digging these longer posts Justin. It's good to get more meat around your thoughts which are always pleasantly mis-aligned with aceepted wisdom. You're right of course. Quantity is important but as everyone has said it's useless without quality. I guess it's like racing cars. The biggest engine doesn't always win, you need a good driver too. Brogan et al are great drivers who can handle the power under their twitter hoods (twoods?). They do, however, lean very much towards humilty. This just happens to be rocket-fuel on social media when combined with a sharing of knowledge. It does mean though that they don't always analyse their own influence.

  • http://barrydewar.wordpress.com/ Barry Dewar

    I'm digging these longer posts Justin. It's good to get more meat around your thoughts which are always pleasantly mis-aligned with aceepted wisdom. You're right of course. Quantity is important but as everyone has said it's useless without quality. I guess it's like racing cars. The biggest engine doesn't always win, you need a good driver too. Brogan et al are great drivers who can handle the power under their twitter hoods (twoods?). They do, however, lean very much towards humilty. This just happens to be rocket-fuel on social media when combined with a sharing of knowledge. It does mean though that they don't always analyse their own influence.

  • http://justinkownacki.blogspot.com Justin Kownacki

    I'm glad you're digging my new encyclical style. I figure, if I'm
    only doing one post a week this summer, I might as well make it dense
    enough to stand alone.

    The other reason Brogan, etc., don't analyze their influence? They're
    too busy influencing. There's a lesson there, methinks.

  • http://justinkownacki.blogspot.com Justin Kownacki

    I'm glad you're digging my new encyclical style. I figure, if I'm
    only doing one post a week this summer, I might as well make it dense
    enough to stand alone.

    The other reason Brogan, etc., don't analyze their influence? They're
    too busy influencing. There's a lesson there, methinks.

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  • http://principlesoffailure.blogspot.com/ SHerdegen

    Nice job with this topic Justin. It’s something I think we all struggle with.

    Ultimately, as you say, it’s what we can accomplish with our audience (and for our audience) that makes the difference.

    I’ve been toying with some kind of action-oriented screening process to weed out my passionate followers from those who just following because I followed back.

    Haven’t found the solution yet.

  • http://principlesoffailure.blogspot.com/ SHerdegen

    Nice job with this topic Justin. Itu2019s something I think we all struggle with.nnUltimately, as you say, itu2019s what we can accomplish with our audience (and for our audience) that makes the difference.nnIu2019ve been toying with some kind of action-oriented screening process to weed out my passionate followers from those who just following because I followed back.nnHavenu2019t found the solution yet.n

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