Which matters more on social media – followers or engagement?

No matter how sophisticated your social media strategy is (or isn’t), you likely have to report on two of the most common social media metrics – followers and engagement. Like us, you probably also have a lot of opinions on the significance and meaning of those two metrics, some of them negative. Followers is too simplistic, engagement is too vague, etc…

But we’ve all seen that post that hits just the right combination of relevance and controversy, and while it generates a lot of engagement, you may also lose a few followers because of it. Then you’re left trying to decide if that matters. If someone unfollowed you because of one post, did you really want them following you to begin with? There is no such thing as bad publicity, right? You only have so many resources to spend on social media, and you need to focus on what is most important to your business.

So, if you have to choose, do you go with followers or engagement?


Follower count is a vanity metric, but it’s one that is easily comparable across channels and competitors. You can quickly see how many followers your competitors have, and measure the size of your audience on Instagram versus Twitter.

But a simple follower count only tells one small and almost meaningless part of the full story. How many of those followers are real? How many are paying attention? How many did you earn (versus pay for)? And you need to measure more than just quantity – how relevant, interested and influential are your followers? How many are current customers? Or better yet, how many are potential customers?

A better way to think about followers is to consider the larger concept of audience. Your audience includes everyone who can or does see your posts. This is hopefully larger than just those people who follow you directly; your audience is anyone who could be reached by your content through amplification and search. You should be measuring the size of your reached audience, as well as your activated audience – the number of people who are interacting with your content.

That leads us to engagement.


Engagement is big, big word. It means so many things, even when we’re talking specifically about social media. Engagement includes everything from a like to click to a response. In fact, you might even consider reading a post to be a form of engagement (if so, thanks for the engagement on this post!).

You’re probably interested in many different types of engagement. You want reaction-type engagement, to show that people are listening and responding to your content. You definitely want amplification-type engagement to spread your content to people beyond your followers. And if you’re running a business, you probably want direct response engagement to get more visits to your website or signups for your newsletter or webinar. But one of the biggest problems in social media marketing is how to prioritize those different types of engagement and encourage the kind you want when you want it.

You should focus on one type of engagement per post. For example, if you cram a Tweet full with a hashtag, URL and an image, you’ll be splitting your audience’s attention with too many CTAs. If you want people to click on a URL, then try to limit what else they can do in your post. Just like on a website, you want to send your audience down a specific path with your social posts.

So, instead of worrying about whether you should focus on one or the other, think about how you can measure the intersection of followers and engagement. Who are you reaching and what are they doing? And then once you understand that, work to expand your reach to a larger and more relevant audience, and post content they will be more likely to see and interact with.

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Photo by Craig Garner on Unsplash