Ok, let’s be clear – obviously there are way more than 10 things that are more important than a follower count. Things like being a good human, cutting down on single-use plastics and naps being amongst the most significant IMO – but still, to many of us, our follower counts can feel like a Really Big Deal.
It’s not hard to understand why. From our first day of nursery or primary school we are taught to take part in a numerical framework. From quiz scores and birthday cards to paycheques and friends we’re taught to keep track and aim high, with everything – with the single exception of our weight on the scales – being better if it’s big.
I’m not here to talk you out of caring about your follower count – I’m pretty sure that’s beyond the scope of a single blog post, and besides, I’m not exactly immune to it myself. But when I catch myself falling into the trap of giving a crap about that number, I remind myself of all the measures and metrics on social media that are far more significant – to business owners, to creatives, and to anyone else who knows what they’re talking about.
Here’s my top 8.
8 things that are more important than your follower count
1. Your comment rate. In my book and my Insta Retreat class I talk a lot about images – why they’re the currency of Instagram, and how and why they need to grab our audience’s attention. But once you’ve grabbed that attention, it’s a whole different skill to keep it for more than a second or two. Your comment count is without a doubt the very best measure of this – people need to be really, truly invested to stick around long enough to write you that sentence or two. Test it for yourself – what’s the bigger and more special response from you? What gets a like only, versus what makes you stop and take time to leave a comment? Comments = engagement, and engagement is a sure sign of a healthy and thriving community.
Aim for slow and steady growth. Unhook from the idea of a ratio or golden number, and simply focus on nurturing the conversation on your posts. If you get more comments next month than last, then you know you’re doing well and growing your community.
2. Your Inbox. Similarly, if your using Stories well and regularly, you should be seeing responses to your inbox. What’s lovely about this metric is it’s completely private – nobody else can tell if your story garnered 101 private messages or total crickets, so you’re free to play around and experiment. What topics or styles of sharing best engage your followers and spark conversation? Would it feel good to weave more of this magic into your Stories and posts in future? (Note: don’t forget your ‘pending inbox’ here too – it sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how many people miss this! Tap the blue ‘x requests’ in the top right of your Instagram inbox to see messages from people you haven’t previously engaged with.)
Don’t make the mistake of simply chasing the numbers here – not every Story you share has to be a talking point! This is more about building an understanding of your audience’s relationship to your content, and starting to be able to predict how much of a response each post will attract.
3. Saves. If you have a business or creator account with insights, you’ll be familiar with the little bookmark icon that tells you how many people have saved your post for future reference. Compared to like counts and comments, it’s usually a pretty small number for most people – but that doesn’t mean it’s not significant. As well as having an impact for algorithm ranking, a save is increasingly how people keep track of their favourite makers, creators and accounts. A save means, ‘I want to come back to this’ – the digital equivalent of somebody tearing your picture out of a magazine and sticking it to their wall. Pay attention to which content gets more saves than others, and try to figure out why. And once a post has lots of saves, don’t ever delete or archive it, lest you erase your audience’s breadcrumb trail back to your work.
Remember, you don’t need to be a naked Kardashian breaking the internet – but if your followers are never motivated to hit the bookmark on your content, it probably means you’re missing a trick.
4. Shares. As Instagram grows and organic exposure via Explore and Hashtags becomes more and more difficult to capture, shares from other users have taken a more pivotal role than ever. The option to share to stories means followers can immediately spread the love when they hit on content that resonates, and bring more new eyes and hearts to your page than the algorithm-systems would throw up in a week. Again, not every post is going to be a sharer, but if you’re sharing something of real value, it’s likely other people will want to do the same.
4. Familiar faces and friendships. Arguably the single most important measure, and often the one we see first when starting a new account online. Gradually, day by day you start to notice familiar faces popping up in your likes, comments and inbox. You visit their pages regularly too, and begin to get to know them and their work or life. This is the social side of social networks, and it’s the glue that holds it all together. It’s something that gets missed when people take shortcuts, and it always shows. Your online gang will be the first ones to send you messages, leave comments and share your posts. If you’re not hitting those metrics as much as you’d like, bringing it back to this simple social engagement is a foolproof strategy for good, honest growth.
6. Profile views. There’s a whole range of stats you can dig into in a business or creator account, but some are more useful than others. ‘Calls’, for example, tells me I got nearly 200 phone calls in response to my last post, despite not having ever associated a phone number with my Instagram account! 😆 Profile views seems to hold a more steady significance, in my experience: this is a reflection of how many people saw your post and then decided to go and check out the rest of your account. You can’t necessarily trace where they went to from there – to other images, to read your bio – but subsequent follows and website visits will of course show up elsewhere in your statistics. What I like about profile views is that again, it’s a good measure of how captivated your audience were by your post. When we’re not engaged with what we’re seeing, we don’t take the time to hunt more of it out – so lots of profile views from your image tells you your audience is actively interested, in a way that can’t really be faked by bots or spam accounts.
7. Conversions. If you have a business or blog, this is the number one most important metric on your instagram – bigger than like counts or followers or anything else. It’s perfectly possible (and surprisingly common!) to have a hugely popular Instagram page that doesn’t convert to customers, readers, shoppers etc. And likewise, it’s easy enough to have a small, really focused audience who engage at a brilliant rate, and would make those huge-account holders green with envy! Make sure you’re collecting as much data as you can on your website so you can keep track of what posts and stories convert best to new visitors, and if you can, work a ‘how did you first find us’ question into your checkout or on boarding procedures. Instagram is a discovery tool more than anything else, and often conversions are more slow-burn and gradual than we expect.
8. Your happiness. Ultimately, if you’re getting what you need out of your time on social media and coming away feeling filled up and happy, then it’s working for you. If it’s not fun, if it fills you with dread, if it feels like hard work instead of creativity and hanging out with a brilliant community, then it’s worth looking at what you can change. I know that’s easier said than done, especially when your income is tied up or dependent on your social media presence, but there are 78 million users on Instagram worldwide – don’t waste your time trying to please only a handful of them. If you’re really stuck in a negative cycle with Instagram then I’d love you to take a look at my book – not because I’m trying to sell to you (I don’t think I get commissions on it for a long time yet 🙈) but because all the feedback I’ve had tells me that it’s a great help to people in exactly this situation. Life is too short to spend it chasing social points or lying sleepless worrying about digital like-counts. You deserve to feel better than that, and I’m giving you permission, if you need it, to put taking care of yourself above everything else.
The bottom line on followers and like counts
The problem with the obvious numbers is they simply don’t give the whole picture. Relying on these two measures alone and chasing success in them, is like only ever working your biceps at the gym. Sure, you can grow impressively bulgy in the arm department, but it wont be useful, wont be generalised, and wont really be what you were hoping for.
Want to dig deeper?
My next Insta Retreat class goes on sale on Monday 17th June. Click here to read all the details, and find out how you can join us.
What do you use to measure your success on social media? How does this help or hinder your relationship with it?