social media’s never-ending quality vs. quantity discussion.

If your college had a million students, but most of them didn’t go to class, would you consider that a success? No? Then why do people chase mythical figures in social media (“I want a million fans!”) for numbers’ sake, and not care about engagement?

The quality vs. quantity discussion on social media seems a never-ending debate. I come down firmly in the quality camp, frequently saying things like 100 engaged fans are much better than 10,000 fans who do nothing. And I believe it’s true. While it’s nice the SUNY Oswego Foursqure account has 3,277 followers, many list Indonesia as their address and probably won’t check into Penfield Library any time soon.

Back in the 1990s, collecting massive e-mail lists was a popular craze. Folks would brag about the size or their e-mail lists, but ask how many folks they e-mailed actually gave money or volunteered, and they would bluff some answer about the prospects of potential audience, etc. and change the subject. And how many of those people had a negative view of an organization or institution that plucked their name off an email list and spammed them unbidden?

Facebook and Twitter allow for very public, instantaneous engagement, which represents much of their appeal. Yet you’ll see folks do everything but beg to rack up large memberships, and we all catch ads or spam on ways to get more fans or followers. We should ask such entities: What does having all those followers really get you if they never engage? Do they have any true brand loyalty, any interaction, any connection other than being a fan or follower?

Granted, fan engagement can take all forms — including complaints, arguments, off-topic posts — but if they are genuine folks who stay connected and feel some kind of loyalty toward your institution (even after they complain about classes not being canceled), then that’s tangible.

When we posted on Facebook about our men’s basketball team, which set a record for consecutive losses in the ’70s/’80s, going to the NCAA tournament, reactions included many Likes, encouragement from current students and alumni from losing years expressing amazement and support. Those are parts of a greater narrative, a simple thread that tells us volumes about our community. Yes, numbers of Likes, numbers of comments, those figures count. If we had 10 times the number of fans and _none_ of them Liked or commented, that would say something much less flattering on the viability and vitality of our community — both physical and virtual.

Or have you ever seen a prospective student post on a page or group weighing attending your college vs. another one, and have a bunch of (unprompted) students and alumni tell them reasons why they should choose your institution? That is the greatest feeling and measure for any community manager — confirmation it’s not the overall size, but the spirit that counts.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “social media’s never-ending quality vs. quantity discussion.

  1. eff

    Likes vs comments. What do you think?

    I naturally put more value on comments b/c a) it takes more effort from the reader, making them more invested in the conversation; and b) it allows us to comment back in a meaningful way, creating deeper brand engagement.

    I like “likes,” but I love comments.

  2. emw

    I’m in your camp on this one. This rationale is also why I don’t get too excited about followers/following lists–it’s too easy to boost them with spammers and fake stuff if the raw number is all you care about.

    I’m also skeptical of organziations trying to sell universities and colleges tools to ‘track’ their social media. Often they focus too much on the quantity angles and not on the softer impact of qualitative interactions. I’ve yet to come across something really impressive on that front, but the sales presentations keep coming. It’s frustrating how big the gap between tools and nuances remains.

  3. Is Perception is more important than reality?

  4. Adrian

    Great post Tim.

  5. I never have a problem with this question. It’s the engagement, stupid! Being able to have a community that cares about each other, an alma mater (or current home) and takes the time to comment is really what it’s all about. It’s why we spend so much time caring about content, and conversation, and community. The numbers are a by product of many things and, while they *might* be helpful, are by no means that on which we hang our hat.

    Your efforts seem to be right where they should be — and paying off handsomely. I’m always so happy there are people in higher ed who really do care about the quality of real conversations over the quantity of possible fans.

  6. Tim Nekritz

    EFF: Definitely comments are more important, for the reasons you mentioned — time spent, opportunity to continue engagement. But stopping to like something shows at least some level of, well, liking what you’re doing.

    ESW: I’m with you too. Paying someone to count Likes or gains in followers is lunacy. Keeping track of conversations is where it’s at. And, as an institution, being on top of those conversations is something we should do anyway.

    DAVID: Alas, in the world of social media, perception and reality walk side by side and most observers can’t tell the difference. Often, the best we can do is try to differentiate the two.

    ADRIAN: Thanks!

    ROBIN: I appreciate the dap and agree to the Nth degree. It’s not just our engagement, it’s how our community engages with each other. That, to me, is the strongest measure of success.

  7. Pingback: links for 2011-03-16 « innovations in higher education

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