Everyone finds businesses online nowadays, so a sound social media strategy is key to building brand awareness, gaining customers and building ongoing relationships with your target audience. The prospect of getting your social platforms off the ground can be a bit daunting in the early days and it can be tempting to focus on quantity over quality when it comes to gaining followers to build your audience. Several years ago, there was a trend of following back whoever followed you, whether a business or individual. This encouraged people to follow as many people as possible to gain follow backs on their own pages. Although some are now waking up to the detrimental impact this practice may have, it is a trend that’s dying out slowly. After all, the number of followers one has is a vanity metric and it can be tempting to focus mainly on this simply because it ‘looks good’.

There are still many followback groups cropping up all the time, across all the main social media platforms. If you’ve recently started out on your social media marketing journey, or have been active online for a while but with little success, it’s likely you have joined some of these groups to garner followers in the hope that it will help to get your message out there. But whilst you can get some success this way, it can be very hit and miss and we would argue that the practice, in general, could be harming your reach and engagement.

How do follow back schemes work?

In a nutshell, a follow back scheme is a method to gain followers, whether it’s a gain group, hashtag or app created for the sole purpose of mutual following agreements. Businesses join the group and offer one another support by following each other’s pages. This helps to build your social media pages by boosting the number of followers you have and, therefore, increasing the reach and engagement of your posts. At least that is the intention, but it doesn’t always work out that way for reasons we will discuss next.

Why are followback schemes potentially harmful?

Although followback schemes can be effective in rapidly boosting your follower count, you end up with random followers who, more often than not, have no interest in what you are posting. Most follow back offerings will not get you targeted followers, which is what you should be aiming for if you truly want to make an impact with your posts.

Now, there are some exceptions here that should be noted before we move on. Firstly, there are some follow-back schemes which are aimed at getting targeted followers. These groups are more industry-specific and will, therefore, provide you with followers who are genuinely interested in content, products and services relevant to your niche. These are less common but definitely worth looking for. Secondly, follow back groups can be beneficial for some businesses, but it is the minority. If you are in the business of selling products or services which are quite universal, or at least widespread, in their appeal then a general following might get you some results.

The problem with having lots of non-targeted followers is that you will essentially be creating content that is not of interest to your audience. The social media channels use algorithms which predict which content and subsequently pages have a good relevance score. Creating content is time-consuming, whether it’s blogs, video, imagery or sharing others content, the time spent creating and curating is valuable as a business owner. If no one engages with your content it can be disheartening, it’s a waste of time, effort and marketing budgets. This situation goes from bad to worse when you end up with a low relevance score, damaging the ranking of your page in the platform’s algorithm, which leads to even fewer people being served your posts and, therefore, fewer impressions and less engagement. If you don’t take action to halt this negative trend and change course, it can take you right back where you started, having to begin your social media efforts all over again.

Better alternatives to followback schemes

As mentioned earlier, there is a type of followback group which can actually benefit you. The ones to look out for are industry/niche specific. A good example of this is Tailwind tribes for Pinterest. Tailwind tribes are groups of Pinterest members working in similar niches that agree to work together as a community to enable them to share multiple and viral pins for mutual benefit. These can be accessed via the Tailwind app, which is a social media marketing and scheduling tool for businesses and digital marketers. This helps source content of interest to your followers and get your content out to a wider audience, this two-pronged approach gets the thumbs up from us.

Similarly, you can find groups or fan pages on Facebook that are relevant to your industry, products or services. Posting quality, relevant content in these groups will help to get you followers who are interested in your niche.

Another method for gaining targeted followers on your social media pages is paid advertising. Whilst many small businesses are initially reluctant to spend money on ads on social media, it can be a worthwhile short-term investment that leads to long-term gains. The great thing about social media advertising is that it is highly targeted. You can really nail down your target market by demographics, personal interests and much more. This ensures your ads get served directly, and exclusively, to those you want to target, maximising your return on investment. A highly targeted following will repeatedly view and engage with your posts as well as being much more likely to share your content and convert to customers. This will have a knock-on effect with the all-important algorithms which will start to serve your posts to more people.

Whilst these approaches might take a little more time, effort and investment, they will pay off in the long run by helping you to build a community of ‘real’ followers who can help you take your business to the next level in the digital age.