Social media growth is always a good thing. More followers, more conversations, and more active posting means more visibility, more traffic, more engagements, and more revenue generated for your business. As such, countless marketers and business owners have clamored to do anything it takes to achieve the fast track to long-term growth.
But what most people miss about social media growth is that it doesn’t happen all at once, nor does it happen in a straightforward, linear fashion. Instead, it manifests itself over the course of five separate stages, each with their own potential pitfalls, keys to successful growth, and future potential. Understanding these five stages, and addressing each of them as your accounts move their way through them, is critical to achieving lasting success.
The first stage is the hardest to get out of because it gives you no chance for tangential momentum. As you’ll soon see, each stage of development gives you secondary options for future growth beyond the later stages. When you’re first emerging, you’ll be starting with nothing—that means no credibility, no visibility, and no followers.
The first thing you need to do is build out your profiles as completely as possible and start posting whatever you can. If you have content, syndicate it. If you’re still working on it, you can at least get started by sharing others’ pieces of content. Once those fundamental pillars are in place, your options for growth are existent but rather limited. You’ll have to get started by attracting followers you already know—get started by asking your friends and family to follow your brand, and ask your employees to do the same. For your first few dozen followers and fans, this is all you’ll have.
Now, we’ll be able to get somewhere. During the second stage of growth, you’ll absolutely need a stream of fresh content running for syndication. The key to growth at this stage is the exposure to friends of friends (or followers of followers). Ask your friends, employees, and other personally known followers to start sharing pieces of content they think are most valuable on their own timelines and profiles. This will start exposing your brand to different branched networks, which should attract at least a few followers from each “original” follower.
Growth at this stage is limited, however, as most of these add-on fans won’t exactly be raving supporters. With each branched connection, the strength of your new follower grows weaker, but at this point, quantity can help you as much as quality.
After establishing a reasonable base of operations (you can probably get at least 1-200 followers by this point), you’ll have to overcome a very simple but somehow very common obstacle. At this point, many marketers try to set their campaigns on “auto-pilot” hoping that the quality of their content is enough to naturally spark further growth. Unfortunately, even for the best content campaigns, this is rarely possible.
Instead, you have to start knocking on doors. Include your social media information in all your promotional materials to attract new fans who have never heard of you. Whenever you meet someone new, ask them to follow you. And on the platforms themselves, go out of your way to find and follow strangers who might be interested in your brand—doing so will greatly increase your circle of followers, and will artificially skew your follower population to be more engaging and more active.
At stage four, you’ll finally be at an authority level that can lead you to explosive growth through the power of influencers and collaborators. When you have 1,000 followers or more who actively respond to your posts, people begin to take notice. Offsite publishers, blogs, and forums will be far more likely to accept your guest post material. Influencers on social platforms will be far more willing to work with you on cross-promotional efforts. You’ll even attract new followers just for having such a high number of followers (this is especially true for Twitter).
This stage of growth is all about the management of strategically selected, individually powerful relationships. Instead of hunting and pecking for highly qualified new followers, you’ll be swapping content with major players in the industry, opening the door to hundreds of qualified followers in one go.
Stage five is what I call the “stasis” stage, because you’ll be managing the status quo more often than not. Rather than trying to gradually grow your audience, you’ll be managing the old strategies that have worked for you (particularly on the influencer and collaborator front), while occasionally making bold efforts to move forward. Eventually, you’ll hit one (or several) plateaus that prevent you from moving forward. When you get there, your only option is to start pursuing new spikes of attention. You can do this by issuing contests, getting a piece of content to go viral, or by breaking the rules with a controversial post—the key is to generate a lot of attention all at once in some novel or unique way. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck at that same plateau, all though at this stage of growth, that plateau may be high enough to satisfy your goals.
Approach each of these stages with a strategy and a focus that is created just for it. Trying to use influencers and collaborators to grow your account when you’re just emerging, for instance, will not be a fruitful choice. Do your best to remain patient and remember that social media success rarely comes quickly; like any other marketing strategy, it becomes successful only after committed research, significant effort, and careful execution.