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  • Why Numbers Are Important For Personal Branding

    I would consider myself an ambassador for the “numbers game” on social networks. Authorities like Seth Godin object to going after numbers, while people such as Guy Kawasaki think that it’s all about numbers (especially on Twitter).  I’m split in the middle right now, but I want to take time today to explain why numbers are so important, despite the controversy.  In fact, I strongly believe that a lot of “influencers” are telling you not to go for numbers because, in fact, they are going for numbers themselves.   In this way, they have more leverage than you do. 🙁

    To me, the lust for numbers dates back to high school. I wouldn’t consider myself popular in high school, yet I had a strong base of friends in middle school.  During my last year of middle school, my city created a brand new school and divided our class, leaving my friendships split between both schools, which in effect damaged them.  Then, in high school, I was lost and didn’t have much self-esteem.  Everyone was trying to get into the “popular group,” and I didn’t think I fit in.  It was all about having a lot of friends, so you had enough social proof to go to select parties, etc.  If you weren’t popular, you weren’t included.  If you’re reading this, you probably fell into one of these categories.

    Our society is obsessed with numbers. Numbers are standard metrics for measurements of popularity.  One example was when Aston Kutcher raced CNN to a million followers on Twitter.  Another one was when CNN brough Gary Vaynerchuk in to be on TV, and they promoted him as having a few hundred thousand followers on Twitter.  A lot of people are talking about how Vin Diesel has millions of Facebook fans.  Are you seeing the trend here?

    Numbers matter in these situations

    • Corporate recruitment: If you have the same experience as someone else, but they have 5,000 more contacts and 3 additional recommendations on LinkedIn, they will get the interview over you.  The more connected you are, the more productive you are in the workplace and the easier it is for you to market on behalf of your company and recruit other people.
    • Advertising: If you want to make money, then numbers are critical to your sponsorship packages and to your potential advertisers.  You will always get asked how far your reach is and if you only have 300 subscribers, you might get fifty cents a month.  By having more subscribers, you can charge more.
    • Book deals: I guarantee that if you have 100,000 followers on Twitter instead of 100 followers, your book advance will be $50,000 more.  Publishers are crazy about authors having marketing platforms because all they do is publish it, not sell it.
    • Social proof: If you go to a blog that only has twenty subscribers, you probably won’t subscribe because there is no proof that the content is good, aside from the content itself.  We are an A.D.D. society, so we need quick evidence before we take time to read something in full.  The larger your audience, the easier it is to build on that community.
    • Promise of value: If you want to interview successful people or celebrities, you won’t be able to unless you can show a promise of value.  They don’t have much time, but will help you if you can prove that your content reaches a large group of people.  Networking is the key to personal branding, so if you don’t work to boost your numbers, you won’t be able to network will the “big timers.”

    Numbers add up on FriendFeed

    In my opinion, FriendFeed (a social aggregation and sharing service)  just changed the numbers game forever. I believe that the Feedburner.com number for blog owners is the key to everything.  It’s more important than your Twitter following, your LinkedIn contacts and your Facebook friends.  The reason is simply because it measures the stickyness of your brand and the reader loyalty.  If you have thousands of readers, then more people will subscribe and you will be able to get more perks as a blogger and money from advertisers.

    FriendFeed just announced that the number of friends you have count towards this Feedburner.com number. This is a major deal!  Basically, what this does is build your perception/brand as a blogger, as long as you invest time in developing your FriendFeed follower base.  For instance, Louis Gray, who had almost 10,000 followers on FriendFeed, now has over 14,000 blog subscribers.  In effect, this helps build Louis’s brand and anyone else who invested their time in FriendFeed.  If you aren’t on FriendFeed, then claim FriendFeed.com/yourname right now and start participating.

    On another note, if Louis or someone else on FriendFeed were to add your blog feed URL to their account, your numbers would increase as well.  For corporate accounts, such as FriendFeed.com/EMCCorp, all corporate bloggers will gain this benefit (Disclaimer: I work at EMC).

    The downfall of a number-driven world

    The problem with the numbers game is that having a large number doesn’t mean that people are engaged. Since both Twitter and FriendFeed call for “information dumping,” your tweets and messages on FriendFeed aren’t always read (hat tip to @stu).  When it comes to blogs, there is a good chance one of your readers will read your entire post, when they might not have even seen it on FriendFeed.

    Therefore, FriendFeed subscribers aren’t as valuable as blog or email subscribers, yet they carry the same number weight.

    The truth about how to get numbers

    So now you’re wondering how you can build up your subscriber base so that you too can be successful.  Here are some strategies that I’ve been using:

    1. Follow people: On Twitter, I recommend that you find other people in your industry who provide similar value and follow all of their followers, up to 1,000 per day.  For Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and FriendFeed, I recommend that you import all contacts on these social networks, as well as your email and instant messaging contacts.
    2. Promote: Get custom URL’s for your social networks and cross-promote them when necessary.  Put the URL in your presentations and other marketing collateral, as well as your email signature and blog or website.  If you write a guest post for a blog, then include your Twitter name in your bio with a link.
    3. Build community: By being an active member of communities online, people will get to know you, and your reward is that they will help promote your brand to others.  You should seek to become known for providing certain resources to your community, so people go to you first.

    Dan Schawbel is the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm. He is the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success (St. Martin’s Press) and the #1 international bestselling book, Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future (Kaplan Publishing), which combined have been translated into 15 languages.

    Posted in Career Development, eBrand, Interview, Marketing, Personal Branding, Social Media, Success Strategies
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    20 comments on “Why Numbers Are Important For Personal Branding
    1. avatar
      Kasey Skala says:

      It depends on what your goal is. If your goal is simply to prove you’re “popular” on social media, then yes, numbers matter.

      However, I don’t use social media to brand myself. I use it as a tool to learn and converse with like-minded individuals. So for me, numbers mean squat. I could care less if I have 100 followers or 10,000 followers. In fact, I’d prefer the 100.

      I go for quality over quantity. Those who use Twitter as a tool to say “look how many followers I have,” aren’t utilizing social media for it’s true benefit.

      Again, it depends on your goal. How do you build a true community with 200,000 followers? You can’t.

      Also, the numbers game has drastically changed. A large number of followers does not mean value any more. With the amount of spam on Twitter, you have to take the #’s with a grain of salt. Do I really want to follow someone who simply goes and follows everyone they come across? No.

      So sorry, for me, numbers mean squat.

      • avatar
        Dan Schawbel says:

        Some good points Kasey, but I don’t think the numbers game has changed drastically at all. If someone sees that you have a lot of followers, it positions you as someone of influence, whether you like it or not. I agree with your point about goals, but disagree that you can’t build community with 200,000 followers. A lot of people have, but it just takes more work, patience, and time.

      • avatar
        SFP says:

        >>it positions you as someone of influence

        Unfortunately, although you may NOT be a person of influence, people are easily fooled by numbers and they follow those that appear to have a high following.

        I agree with the absurdity of it all, and it should not work that way, but it does. I have seen case studies and larger numbers do work – but the “person of influence” was no more educated than a doorknob.

        Of ccourse, once this revlataion is found out, they ay no longer be influential, but if they have made their money, they don’t care. They just start another Twitter account and the circle starts again.

    2. avatar

      I think you are right by saying, larger numbers of followers or subscribers make you seem more like a person of great influence. But I believe the true interaction gets lost over all those numbers. Even though I try to brand myself online, otherwise I would not be reading your articles, I feel that the true benefit of social networks and the aggregation of information from different channels lies in the interaction. I get to know about things my network found somewhere, I would not have known without them. So I benefit from their research, whether professional or private.
      If I have 100,000 followers on whatever network or service it may be, but they only consume the things I provide, I may benefit brandwise, but not personally like I tried to explain above.

    3. avatar

      I think your objective matters here — as a hiring manager I look differently at someone with 10 LinkedIn friends versus 150 versus 5,000. Someone with ten contacts just isn’t using the tool yet. Someone with, say 50 to 500 is probably engaged but has likely grown their network organically.

      Someone with 5000 contacts on a social network is probably collecting as opposed to engaging. I’m not saying that’s a problem, just at that point, the number isn’t relevant to me, just its existence is. There’s no difference between 1,000 and 5,000 — either one just tells me this is a major part of your life and you invest in it, probably on a regular basis.

      Of course, as the magnitude grows I assume certain other things about you.

      So unless the position you’re trying to get depends qualitatively on the quantity of your connections, I don’t think the numbers influence my decision, they just provide one more data point in how I think about you.

    4. avatar
      yinka olaito says:

      This is a great dimension to my views. Sometimes I have been convinced that number doesnt count but mere going through this pieces convinces me to the countrary at least with regrads to social proof and book deal mentioned

    5. avatar
      Lukas says:

      Lets break that down to assumptions:

      1) I have 200k followers
      2) I follow at least as many (as you suggest)
      3) Those who follow me do the same

      So what does this to the messages that are shared?
      If I tweet something it is as recognizable as shouting my message into a packed football stadium. All people are focused on keeping up with the game, that is all the people they follow in this analogy. So there might be people who get my message indeed, but nothing close to all your followers.
      Effectively, I get a sore throat and no one hears me.

      So lets reverse it:

      1) I follow 100 people I am truly interested in.
      2) I am followed by 4000 people
      3) They follow only people who they are truly interested in

      That leads to the following:
      If I tweet something, it is recognized like the keynote on an event. They really listen to me. If I then embed a call to action in my tweet, at least 50% (2000 people )of those who listen do something.

      And that is something I would never accomplish if I tried that in a football stadium. There would never be 2000 people who do what I say.

      Yes numbers matter, but the right numbers.
      And thats true for your advertising example as well: “oooh, you have 200k followers. thats nice!” Of course it is, but whats about the conversion rate? With 200k followers I’d guess it is around 1%=2000 actual sales. Well…if the right people follow me, maybe 4000 followers would be enough.
      So the follower numbers tell you squat about the influence someone has. A lot of people don’t get that, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

    6. avatar
      Greg Rollett says:

      There is definitely a perception out there with popularity in the form of numbers. Dan is right when he says that people won’t subscribe to something if no one else is. I know that I do that personally.

      I think the key is to look at having the rihgt about of numbers to make you tick. If you are selling something, numbers matter more than developing relationships to find a job which is different than the numbers to get a book deal which are different from the numbers of say a local niche business or mommy blogger.

      Find the numbers that mean something to you. My personal blog doesn’t do huge numbers, but there is a great community around it. My business sites need more numbers so they can pay the bills. way to start off Monday with a numbers game Dan!

    7. avatar

      I think that if one syncs a blog feed to other social networks, then the contacts of those networks should be included in the Feedburner number.

      FriendFeed is great, but the majority of my contacts aren’t yet on it, so it doesn’t help my numbers that much.

    8. avatar

      I was kinda distracted over the photos there. Millions+ followers is kinda overkill. Probably I should really start to seek out people now than rather being too passive over in the social web.

    9. avatar
      Kasey Skala says:

      My concern is that are we labeling someone as an influencer because of his/her numbers or does that person have a large following because they are an influencer?

      With all the spam and the people who simply follow everyone, I think it takes away the credibility of #’s meaning anything. There are plenty of folks who are brilliant that only have 500 followers. Just like there are plenty of people who have 20,000 followers that I don’t think have a clue.

    10. avatar
      Jared Jones says:

      I think numbers and interaction are both important. I am just starting to focus on personal branding. If I can connect with a few different people everyday, relationships will be built through commonality.

    11. avatar
      Danny Brown says:

      Sorry, Dan, while I see where your viewpoint is coming from I have to disagree completely.

      Numbers are pretty much a good way of stroking your own ego – they might look impressive but how much do they really count? If you look at some of your reasons:

      * Corporate Recruitment. Yes, more contacts might make you seem as if you know more, but it certainly doesn’t mean you’re more productive in the workplace. Let’s say that a junior clerk uses the company connection option to connect with every single person on LinkedIn from a certain company. Does that necessarily mean he’s more productive than the guy doing twice the work in another department because he’s passionate about his job? No – it just means the clerk knows how to game LinkedIn. And companies – GOOD companies – will always go for the quality candidate over someone who may know a lot of people but doesn’t know a lot of business smarts.

      * Advertising. You may get more bucks from advertisers because you have 10,000 followers on Twitter as opposed to 1,000. What happens when the advertisers see a lot of these accounts are spammy bots, or dead accounts? No clickthroughs mean a quick readjustment and questioning whether you were even worth their time in the first place.

      * Book deals. Maybe you will have a better chance of a bigger advance. Doesn’t mean your book is guaranteed to be good. Get that right first before taking the money that you’ll have to hand back after handing in a crap draft.

      * Social proof. Friendfeed just made this argument null and void. Beforehand, sure, subscriber numbers meant something. Now/ Just another inflated statistic.

      Numbers can be great. But gaming them and advising that numbers is what it’s all about seems to miss the point on so many levels.

    12. avatar

      @danny Brown I agree with your take on gaming numbers. People figure out how to do it in any industry I have worked in. In Dan’s defense he did say at the beginning that he was mixed on the importance of numbers. It seems as if Dan’s point is that even though they shouldn’t carry tremendous weight for some people who have a hard time analyzing what’s worthwhile and what isn’t, they will look at numbers to help them do this whether we agree with it or not.

    13. avatar

      Working in market research I always found that 1 C-suite level contact was worth 100 director level contacts. If the C-suite contact agreed to participate in the research they could leverage their position to get the directors to participate, otherwise I was spending most of my time trying to coerce individual directors to participate.

      I think social media has a similar mechanism. If your content/persona is powerful enough to court the elite than you can leverage their networks and influence.

      Think about the art world. I could be an illustrator for one of the major publishers and make a regular salary, sometimes a very nice regular salary. This is based on how popular the series I illustrate is and how many people I can persuade to look at my art. However, if I become a “fine” artist and court the art world, focusing on upper class patrons, I can make up that illustrator’s salary just by selling a couple of paintings.

      At the end of the day it’s not about the individual numbers it’s about the ROI, sometimes a more focused strategy leads to better ROI.

    14. avatar
      David says:

      Numbers are like network which is important in our days, does not mean low numbers with quality is bad. Its all about what you do and what you want to provide. High numbers are always what they will look at first. I have built few companies and numbers have matter in some case and not in some other cases. Cheers David

    15. avatar
      Andrew Davis says:

      i hear what you are saying but do not agree with it. problem with big numbers is it has no authenticity unless you deserve it. anyone can add 1000 followers a day in Twitter, read some blogs from REAL social media experts and claim they are an expert…and the perception is that they are. this will eventually kill this industry

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