Michelle Sullivan Communications

Social media influence: It’s not the number of friends you have … it’s the quality

We race for numbers because they’re easy to … well … quantify. Number of Facebook ‘friends’ or ‘fans’. Number of Twitter followers.

It reminds me of Valentine’s Day in grade school. I picture cute little Lynn, who, I noticed with the wisdom of a 7 year old, had all the little boys falling all over her, chasing her in the schoolyard, hoping for a kiss. On Valentine’s Day, her box floweth over with cut-out and hand-drawn valentines, courtesy of her young admirers. My box? Not so full. I didn’t envy Lynn, I don’t think, but I was fascinated by the phenomenon, viewing it with the detachment of a young anthropologist, trying to figure out a civilisation known as Boy. Maybe the reason envy didn’t raise its ugly head was that even then I recognized that the value of relationships isn’t in quantity, but in quality. And for me, there was this little boy named Sean …

The true richness of social media comes from connecting with people interested in THE thing you’re interested in. If you’re into green glowing snow-ball abacuses, and there’s only a widow in Wales and a teenager in Chile interested in green glowing snow-ball abacuses too, your goal should be to have them in your network. Not their sister-in-law, your corner store butcher and the odd guy from Turkey you’re following only because he follows you and you don’t want to be rude.

Real ROI comes not from numbers, but on what those numbers do for you. If the 250 other people you have listed as Facebook friends can’t trade abacuses with you — if they never exchange a word with you or bring you anything interesting, whether it be conversation or the trade of an antique abacus you’ve been dying to get your hands on — then give yourself a break. The next time you see someone racing to reach 1 million followers, tell yourself you’re better off with your widow and your teenager.

The same goes if you’re a car manufacturer or sell crafts online. What’s important is the conversion – it’s building a network around people who care. Not about attracting a bunch of people with some shiny promotion, and for all the wrong reasons. Yes, by joining your Facebook page they’ll automatically let the 200 people in their network know they have. But when you realize that people surround themselves with people a lot like them, chances are that your page won’t interest those 200 people either. You don’t want dead weight. You want a tribe, not a bunch of meaningly numbers.

Unless you’re trying to break a Guiness record or are a social media guru with a book deal in the works. Then, maybe, numbers count.


  1. Marie-Louise Gariépy

    2010.12.16 @ 12:38

    Merci Michelle, un billet que j’avais besoin de lire précisément maintenant. You are quality indeed 🙂

  2. Amber

    2011.02.04 @ 15:43

    I recently went through my “following’ list on Twitter and stopped following those that never actually tweet. I also stopped following those that I realized were not benefiting me at all to follow. On top of that, I stopped immediately following those who follow me back. I realized that I need to make connections with, like you said, those who have the same interests as I do, especially in the professional world of journalism and public relations (my major).
    Thanks for the read,

  3. Quality is better than Quantity. « Jordan Staggs

    2011.02.04 @ 16:30

    […] To read the whole article, Michelle Sullivan Communications […]

  4. Sarah

    2011.04.07 @ 14:05

    I think a lot of people miss the point when their goal is to quantity over quality. We see this demonstrated often in social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. I enjoyed reading your blog and I think if people come to learn the value of quality over quantity, they will enjoy these social media networks even more. I use Facebook a lot but one day I realized I had 900 « friends » in which I probably regularly talked to about 10. I decided to do some in-house cleaning and keep only the necessary people who I frequently communicated with. As far as twitter, I definitely agree with you about following people are share your common interests and passions. You should never feel obligated to follow someone because they decided to follow you. Thanks for the post!- Sarah

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