When you’re involved in social networking, you can’t escape the emphasis on numbers. Especially if you yourself are a marketer, where traditional thinking is all about reach, and you feel the inward pressure to have more readers, more subscribers, more connections, and higher scores.

I’ve been blogging for nearly 5 years, and it’s only been recently that I’ve begun to extract myself from the tentacles of this tidal force.

More isn’t necessarily bad. And, if your business model is based on reach (selling more books, affiliate links on a well-read blog, gaining speaking gigs, etc.) then greater numbers can equal bigger business.

But for most of us, attaining a mass audience is unrealistic. That means a feeling of inferiority at times, and various attempts at boosting numbers through techniques from the gurus.

Perhaps it’s time to question the core assumption, in your case and mine. Is it really all about numbers?

Or is the most important goal to gather high-quality people into a supportive tribe, and who can help co-create new business opportunities?

That actually takes real flesh-and-blood work – caring, interacting, networking – rather than link-gathering. You might not be in the upper echelon of number-boasters, but you will discover the real power of social networks.

Quality and quantity aren’t mutually exclusive, but I tend to think most of us are going to be better off concentrating on depth, not numbers.

Free yourself from attracting the masses and you just might attract the people who really matter. To you.


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About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

16 Responses to Numbers

  1. Steve, I am new to the social media world as a blogger, tweeter and such. Your wisdom not only brings me comfort, but hope that I can authentically connect with people on a scale that makes sense. I am going to pass this along to several others in my network.


    • Craig – glad you enjoyed it. There will always be concentric circles in the network, from a relatively small number with whom you are like-minded, to others on the far reaches who are barely connected. All are important, but most of the impact will be in the inner circles.

  2. Joseph Ruiz says:

    I think you are really on to something here, though you have been saying this for a while. The message is really starting to resonate deeply with me. The idea of getting to know people in the network and co-creating is powerful.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Joe, as you know, I do come at it from a particular angle – that of a consultant building networks for business purposes. I know there’s a place for breadth and numbers, but I think that gets far too much focus – and can cause too much angst if not counter-balanced.

  3. Social networking is definitely about quality, not the numbers! Yes, larger numbers means you are reaching a broader audience, but if they aren’t valuable, real people they won’t do anything for you in the future. Networking is about building relationships, in person or online. You should work to build strong relationships within your social network. These people can be extremely important to your career, company, goals, and even in building close friendships.

    As an example, Steve and I had the priveledge of meeting in person last week. I am so thankful for the advice he gave me, and the assistance he provided me in figuring out my career path. Its also opened other windows of network opportunities. Had I not interacted with Steve through my social networking channels, we wouldn’t have build a relationship, and I would have missed that opportunity. Take advantage building a social networking of quality, not quantity!

    • And our relationship is one of those many cases where contact begins on the periphery, slowly moves forward through a longer time of virtual contact, then grows to much greater depth through a little bit of time face-to-face. I think the numbers become most valuable when they are part of that progression – from whatever-level-of-quantity –> quality.

  4. sally says:

    Steve, love this post – totally agree. I would rather reach out to 1,000 relevant, focused and interested people than 10,000 occasional folks from search engines who aren’t going to engage, or perhaps even potentially buy one day.

    A tribe, nice one.

  5. Ok, you reached out to me and asked, so here goes. I agree it is not ALL about the numbers.

    It is about BOTH. If you have to choose to have only high touch core clients and community you are limited in your growth potential.

    If you are doing both (which I have for 4 years now in twitter) you get high touch and wider reach. Quality + Numbers = International Success for me. The key in that statement is for me. Even with my focus of both it has taken time.

    The better questions to ask is “What aligns with your biz objectives?”

    Mine is to be an international communication hub for women in business and literary talent, therefore I need BOTH. It is why I talk with folks all over the world, it is why I am hyper-responsive, it is why I talk about the topics I do, it is why I create the circle of communities I have…they all play a critical role in the big picture for my business.

    Just like the dicey topic of do you reach out to influencers…YUP, if I had not my radio show would not be the success it is today.

    Why does it have to be either or? You can choose BOTH 😉

    • I agree with your point in the substance of my post, Michele. IF your business depends on breadth of reach, then numbers really matter. But for many folks, that becomes a goal without a purpose. That’s the mentality I’m calling into question…pursuing numbers for their own sake. In your case, obviously, it’s part of a strategic plan (and it’s part of mine, to a certain extent). As long as there is purpose, and the ability to still engage in a quality way – keep growing!

  6. While personally I 100% agree that numbers shouldn’t matter…until the rest of the public starts to get it, that is always going to be one of the biggest ROI measurements. Just look at some of the big brands on social sites…the more fans, the higher they rank! Numbers are always going to be there, so we just need to learn how to spin them more effectively 😉

    • I do agree, Kirsten, that numbers can be a measure of SM effectiveness, and an indirect (and hopefully prospective) measure of business impact. But ultimately, it comes down to business growth. Which may or may not relate to big numbers. No single formula.

  7. Scott Monty says:

    Yes, quality certainly counts for something. But speaking as someone who represents a major brand, the numbers are pretty attractive too. 🙂

    While we track the numbers, we don’t live and die by them. We choose not to buy our way to “Likes” on Facebook; our integrated ads there work only when there’s a compelling reason to have people like our company or product. We won’t simply do indiscriminate list building.

    Ultimately, we know the power is in the connections – not just the connections between us and our fans, but more importantly between our fans and their friends. That’s where we see a world of difference. And that’s where we’ll be concentrating our efforts moving forward.

    Scott Monty
    Global Digital Communications
    Ford Motor Company

    • “…the power is in the connections – not just the connections between us and our fans, but more importantly between our fans and their friends.” – Bingo. Not merely mass reach, but person-to-person growth. Which, ULTIMATELY, can grow into quality-driven quantity! (and we know you Ford folks like to be quality-driven…!)

  8. Jane Chin says:

    I think that the challenge has been “depth” and “reach’ may both require the same amount of effort, but “reach” is easier to measure. You have a number. It’s objective. Everyone can see it. Many people rank with it. Others equate “influence” with it.

    I’m more interested in “depth”, because I know I can only dispense a finite amount of effort, and I’m more effective with depth than reach (hence, this is a strength – if my strength is in reach then I’d be singing a different tune, I suppose). But depth can be subjective, has a very long vesting term, and difficult to measure and assess and correlate.

    From a business perspective I think both reach and depth are essential, and maybe there is a ratio that is unique to each of us. From a personal perspective there’s no question – I have low, low reach but max out on depth. I admit, it can be exhausting to be my friend 😉

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