Are social network relationships about quantity or quality?

In a recent digital marketing conference Bra Willy – the founding eNitiater – attended, there was a brief discussion about whether brands’ social network marketing campaign success relies more on quantity or quality of developed relationships with fans and followers.

Quantity is measured by number of connections (surprise, surprise). Quality is about the level of active engagement, and it is measured primarily by comments, likes, replies, and forwarding/retweeting. 


What is the trend?

The direction of the discussion at the conference gave Bra Willy a sense that there is growing emphasis on quality of relationships and less focus on quantity, and this is backed by some members of the blogosphere. You can also read Could a Lot of Fans Hurt Your Facebook Page?

A random sample of tweets on this topic, put together on the 17th of August 2011, clearly capture the current mood.

Quality vs Quantity
What’s the buzz?

There is consensus that high levels of common interest enhance active engagement on social networks. This is why protagonists of quality relationships emphasize that this typically gets achieved at the expense of high quantity of connections.  

The growing focus on quality of social network relationships is echoed in the computation of aggregated  Klout scores, which are measured by the extent to which posted content on main social networks, elicits active engagement with one’s connections and their networks.

Bra Willy’s research on this topic indicates that the growing quality engagement noise comes mainly from individual social netizens at this stage.

REALITY CHECK. The quality vs quantity relationship debate is framed incorrectly as either/or at times. Humans crave being loved, by nature. On one hand, no one enjoys speaking to themselves in a big empty hall. On the other hand, no one enjoys being in a big hall full of people who don’t care and are thus not listening or responding. There has to be a balance.

Does this debate apply differently in the case of relationships between social netizens and brands? 

Quick social network stats for brands

Twitter and Facebook stats of some of the well-known brands in South Africa were drawn on the 17th of August 2011, for a brief analysis. 

How Often Do U Tweet?
Daily Tweet Frequency
  • DJ Fresh and Gareth Cliff of 5FM have 107 480 and 157 907 Twitter followers each. Their daily average tweets are 32 for Fresh and 9 for Gareth, and their Klout social networking scores are 81 and 77 respectively.
  • President Jacob Zuma (JZ), who posted his first tweet as @SAPresident on the 10th of May 2011, has 73 tweets and  47 479 followers. Compare him to Khaya Dlanga, who has been on Twitter for longer than he cares to remember. Khaya has posted 42 725 tweets and is followed by 22 327 tweeps. Klout scores for both JZ and Khaya are 64 and 83 respectively. 
  • The Sowetan newspaper has 6 724 registered tweets and 12 944 followers, while The Times has 25 056 registered tweets and 22 090 followers. The two brands’ Klout scores are 68 and 71.
  • FC Barcelona has 6 138 tweets and 1.1 million  followers, while Man United has 9 800 tweets and 143 565 followers. Both clubs have 19.1 million and 18.3 million Facebook fans each, with Klout scores at 83 and 73 respectively.
  • Coca-Cola has 32 million Facebook fans, and Pepsi has only 4.6 million fans. Klout scores are 75 and 72 respectively.

There are 2 key insights from the brand examples above:

  1. A brand’s status (entertainment/ politics/business/ social/etc.), and/or its market size play(s) an integral role in the growth of its social network connections. The herd mentality has something to do with this insight. 
  2. Judging by their healthy Klout scores – and if you agree that this is one of the best measuring tools in this regard – all the examined brands are doing a good job of influencing their many friends, fans and followers. 

Is there a relationship between quality of content and quality of relationships? In Bra Willy’s view, the jury is out on this one for commercial brands. Here is an illustration to make the point. Other social networkers argue that Kim Kardashian‘s posts are far from being composed of high quality content (there is no clear consensus on the definition of “quality content” that we are aware of), but she has a huge influence on her 9 million Twitter followers, as shown by a Klout score of 90. As a result,  Kim has attracted attention of some commercial brands that are allegedly paying her for their (brand) mentions in her tweets! 

What does this all mean?

There can be a harmonious coexistence between quality and quantity of relationships, and this is good for all commercial brands.   

On quantity. Logic dictates that the ultimate reason for brands wanting to be part of social networks is about growing connections with current and potential consumers, for the purpose of generating leads that can be converted into sales or other specific goals. Crudely translated, the higher the quantity of connections, the higher the potential to achieve the set goals. Just ask Google+, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn how important quantity of subscribers is for their market values. 

On qualityAny brand found on social networks does not want to have fans who hardly check their own social network statuses, let alone the brand’s. Every brand would like to develop meaningful, sustainable relationships with engaged fans.  One key measurement of an entrenched relationship is unsolicited positive mentions about, and active defense of, a brand on social networks and the Internet generally. Apple will attest to this. The more viral the content becomes, the better.

The recognition of need to keep a healthy balance between quantity and quality of relationships has lead to innovative development of apps such as TweetBigwhich promises to assist brands grow their base of quality Twitter followers based on specified targeted keywords

Bra Willy’s key take-out

When it comes to commercial brands, quantity and quality of relationships are not mutually exclusive. Both these elements are key to increasing potential for sustainable growth of brands, and social networks are not immune to this key business goal.

To quote the former Marketing Director of SABMiller’s South African operations, Peter McLoughlin: It’s not either or. It’s both and.

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