If you’ve been running social media marketing campaigns, you may be obsessed with gaining followers. Whether it thrills you or dismays you, the truth is that the follower count is a vanity metric. To some extent, it boosts your ranking in the feed and lends you some brand credibility.

But if they don’t translate directly into clients (i.e. revenue), do social media followers matter?

As social media is relatively inexpensive, it makes sense to invest in a strong social presence. Unfortunately, it does take a lot of time if not money — and the ROI starts to break down when companies attempt to attribute conversions to particular campaigns.

Sound familiar? A high follower count doesn’t seem worth it if you can’t trace revenue to that social media activity. The solution, then, is to focus on turning more followers into clients… and knowing how to properly attribute those buyers’ journeys.

The Problem with Follower Counts

For social media marketers, the follower count is a key metric. That makes sense. As social platforms allegedly show relatively little of your content to your followers, it behooves you to have as many followers as possible.

However, that’s not necessarily true. Claims about punitive algorithms have been vastly overblown. They also don’t make sense: social networks want you to engage as much as possible, so they’ll definitely show you posts they think you’ll find interesting.

Still, more followers can improve your impressions and reach. It’s simply a numbers game. But are those followers the type who will move down your marketing funnel? In today’s increasingly connected digital world, consumers should be able to seamlessly move from channel to channel. Any hiccup between your social media and, say, your discovery call signup page can become a hurdle in your target clients’ overall buying journey.

Therefore, there should be a compelling reason for people to follow you, and a clear call-to-action to move them down your funnel. Otherwise, your follower count is truly a vanity metric.

Even if you’re mindful of your ideal followers, it’s hard to keep spambots and fake accounts at bay. We’ve all been conditioned to see a drop in followers as a bad sign. But what if:

  • those followers were never going to become warm leads, let alone clients
  • those followers were bots, spammers, or accounts simply looking to boost their own follower count

Sadly, it is still very common for brands to use the “follow–unfollow” method, in which they follow a bunch of accounts, wait for them to follow in return, then unfollow. There is a misguided piece of advice floating around that customers will only consider you reputable if your following count is lower than your follower count. (That’s simply not true, and in fact, this practice can damage your brand reputation and get your account banned.)

Due to these disingenuous practices, you may still have some followers who have zero intention of remaining followers — let alone becoming clients.

So, how can you engage the right followers who you can then turn into clients? First, resist the temptation to follow anyone who follows you back. Don’t participate in “follow trains” or “follow for a follow.” Your energy should go toward building authentic connections, because that’s where your best client relationships will come from.

Then, follow these steps:

Step 1: Entice People to Follow

Why does anyone follow a brand account on social media? Usually, they want to be entertained or educated. Perhaps they love the products and want to get first dibs on special offers. Many of today’s consumers want to feel a kinship with the brand. They appreciate their values and messages even if they don’t shop for their products all the time. That’s likely why top brands such as Nike and Apple have passionate brand communities even though most consumers follow them after making a purchase.

If you’re eager to turn your social media followers into clients, you can still leverage that brand-building approach. Ask yourself: what short-term value could I provide that translates into long-term value? How can I entice them at an early stage of their buyer’s journey?

Step 2: Encourage Engagement

Engagement is much more valuable than mere following. When people interact with a post, the algorithm deems it valuable — and that may push it higher in the feed. That’s especially true for B2B companies, where social content all too easily becomes “sales-y” if it does not overtly request engagement.

Plus, engagement is the key ingredient in lead nurturing. If your followers are passively consuming your content, they’re less likely to take the next step down the funnel.

By contrast, active engagement boosts their chances of conversion. That’s because (a) people are more likely to recall brands if they’ve interacted with their content (especially if you respond!) and (b) the post’s comments and likes serve as social proof, lending credibility to your brand.

Step 3: Show Them the Irresistible Step

In the StoryBrand framework, your ideal client is a wayward hero seeking to solve a problem but unsure where to go. As the story progresses, you help them identify their challenge and accept their quest. It’s one thing to scroll through Instagram and see something that may fulfill your needs. It’s another to actively pursue the next step in the journey.

That pivotal moment between knowledge and motivation is where social media marketing typically opens the door to other channels.

So, what makes that door enticing? How can you shift from sparking followers’ interests to making their next step irresistible? In StoryBrand, that transition happens when the hero can envision a better life or world. As a marketer, your role is to affirm their interests and desires, then point them to that reward.

Most social media content could be considered “top of the funnel.” It touches on the broader interests of your target audience and piques their curiosity. To get them to that irresistible step, you must paint them a picture of a better life. In social media marketing, that often entails promoting a special offer or exclusive access that lures in followers.

Step 4: Keep Your Messaging Consistent

Following is a relatively low-commitment activity. It takes just the tap of a button, and if your content is valuable, that’s an easy reward. As people move down your funnel, though, the commitment gets higher — and so should the reward. At any time that your followers or leads perceive that the effort is higher than the benefits, they’ll leave.

By its nature, social media is highly rewarding. The platforms are deliberately designed to keep users coming back, feeding them dopamine bursts with every notification and scroll. However, that also means that any next steps can seem like too much effort. Consumers are reluctant to leave the platform once they’re there, which is why clickthrough rates on marketing emails are higher than on social posts.

To overcome that addictive scroll and convince people to head down your funnel, you must thoroughly engage them with promises of a better life … then follow through on that promise. Your messaging should be consistent from each social post to the CTA’s landing page to the ultimate offer.

Here’s an example from Toast, which provides ordering, delivery, and payroll solutions to restaurants. Their Instagram bio is a bit simple, but they provide lots of value in their posts.

Notice Toast’s focus on their prospective clients’ pain points and how they educate first and ask for clicks second.

Toast has also gathered some of its posts into “Guides,” which is a great way to highlight their most valuable content. This boosts engagement and warms up their followers to click on their bio link, i.e. go down their funnel.

Exploring the Dark Funnel

Once you’ve got a sound strategy to turn followers into warm leads, you face another problem: attribution. It’s difficult to track clients from their original encounters with your brand, which makes it challenging to determine which campaigns are driving the most conversions.

Let’s say someone follows you on Instagram. They don’t click on your bio link but instead visit your website on their laptop. After browsing a few pages, they go on about their day. Your retargeting pixel kicks in and shows them an ad on Facebook. They click on it and end up booking your services.

How do you attribute this new client? All you know is that they directly accessed your website, but you have no idea what triggered that action. Does it matter that they followed you on Instagram? As that’s how they initially followed you, it does indeed — you just can’t see it.

That’s what’s called the “dark funnel”: the lead-nurturing activity that takes place outside your normal funnels. The dark funnel includes word-of-mouth, private messages sharing your content, and other external, untraceable referrals. Any social media activity that does not directly lead to your other channels could be considered dark as well.

The good news is that it’s not impossible to detect those leads, unlike someone who looks you up because they overheard your name in a café. If you know your followers, you can discover who ultimately became your client. The right marketing automation solution can help, too.

Here’s how to capture the right data to thoroughly track your leads and attribute conversions.

Use a dedicated UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) parameter to associate each URL with its channel. This can be done with a URL shortener such as Bit.ly or with your marketing automation platform. The UTM “sticks” to the link, so you can see how many people actually arrived on the page from a given source. SEO expert Neil Patel has some great tips on how to leverage UTM in your cross-channel marketing strategy.

Invest in social analytics. These tools compare your leads’ and customers’ email addresses to those registered to your followers. This can help you assess the overlap between your social media audience and your pipeline. Sophisticated tools may be able to track key touchpoints to help you shine a light into the dark funnel!

Conduct surveys of your clients. The simplest solution is often the most effective! When booking a discovery call or onboarding a new client, ask them how they heard of you. Over time, their responses will yield valuable data about where your best leads are coming from.

Wrapping Up

It’s time to stop worrying about your follower count and start focusing on your followers’ activity. Are they engaging with your content, and how so?

Social media is primarily top-of-funnel content with an exceptional power to attract and entice your ideal audience — if you know how to captivate them. From there, it’s a matter of forging a link between their interests and an irresistible step along their buying journey. Once they see a clear, compelling path from your offering to their ideal life, they’re much more likely to become your client.

As this can be difficult to track across platforms, take the time to start a conversation. Be sure that you’re collecting relevant data from all your channels. And don’t be afraid to ask your leads and clients how they arrived at your door! With a careful strategy, you can illuminate your dark funnel and discover how to reliably convert leads from your social media campaigns.

Lisa Rios