Blog PostsDigital FirstSocial MediaCritical Mass in Social Media — How Many Followers You Need

Critical Mass in Social Media — How Many Followers You Need

Why it makes business sense to race for critical mass.

How many followers equals critical mass?

Everyone wants more followers in social media.
Businesses, too.

At the same time, marketing experts are shouting at the top of their lungs that the actual number of followers doesn’t really matter; it’s all about having the right followers. And this is all accompanied by anxious whispers in the office hallways about who has bought their followers and who hasn’t.

Does your number of followers matter?

Critical Mass in Social Media

Well, the number of followers doesn’t really matter — to a certain degree. You could have 100,000 fake followers on Twitter and it wouldn’t matter if your statistics tells you that 5,000 saw your last tweet because they were all bots anyway.

Or, you could have 16,000 followers like I do, but I’m not as active there as I once was — which the algorithm doesn’t like. As a contrast, I have half my Twitter volume of followers on Instagram, where I am active at the moment, but thousands of percent more engagement.

The actual number of followers matter very little.

In fact, having too many followers can be a problem if your brand loses its momentum. If you get 100 Facebook likes per week on average, then it’s better to have 50 fans (200% engagement) than 5,000 (2% engagement).

So, all those marketing experts aren’t wrong per se. But there’s still something to be said about simply having too few followers as a business.

Return on Engagement vs. Following Size

If a business hires one person to run all of its social channels and this person cost 2,000€ per week in total (including taxes, rental fees, content- and software licensing etc.) — how many followers must this employee engage each week to go break even?

There are many ways to attribute value to social media marketing and the right choice depends on the business itself. You could attribute value to certain behaviours; a popular path is to calculate average value per generated lead. E-commerce vendors can often connect their online marketing efforts to online sales quite easily. The most common approach is to calculate the alternative cost for the brand’s organic reach. How much would it cost to reach all those people with advertising? This is in many ways an outdated (and hated) model, but that’s beside the point for this blog post; the point is that there are better or worse ways to attribute value to your online marketing efforts — but it’s something that most businesses have to do.

If you have to reach 100,000 people to convert customers to a value of 2,000€ per week, then it actually matters how many fans you actually have at the beginning of that week.

Your Brand’s Critical Mass of Quality Followers

A brand’s total average organic reach tends to be surprisingly stable week after week. Social network algorithms change, but usually not that fast.

Engagement rates tend to fluctuate with content quality and competition, but usually not that much. Social follower volumes tend to go up in most cases, but usually not that much. Conversion rates varies with traffic quality and UIX, but usually not that much.

In these scenarios, it matters whether you start off the week with a big enough bulk of social media followers or not. You can (and probably should) pay for some of your weekly reach, but every cent must be earned back into your business — with interest! — sooner or later.

This allows us to approximate a specific number of followers you need to go break even financially. This number of followers is what is referred to as critical mass. If we assume that conversion rates and follower reach ratios to stay reasonable stable, we can approximate how many followers a brand needs to go break even.

Conversions needed to hit break even / the average follower reach ratio = your brand’s critical mass of followers

For me, I’ve estimated that I need one quality lead every three weeks to healthily sustain my freelance business. To get this from blogging, tweeting, and gramming alone, I need to start every week with a weekly base of 15,000 quality followers — out of which about 8% will see at least one of my updates. Hence, 15,000 social media followers1 is the critical mass to start the week for my freelance business.

Approximating your brand’s critical mass in social media is no exact science — and it’s no guarantee. But there’s a much deeper, and much more business critical, point to be made about a brand’s critical mass in social media.

Strategies Before and After Reaching Critical Mass

Almost every brand who start out in social media will be loosing money. This is simply because their social accounts haven’t yet reached critical mass. This leads us to the following key insights:

1. At the start, invest heavily in programmatic advertising.

It’s important to invest in aggressive social media strategies to quickly reach critical mass. In typical cases, you’ll need to invest in programmatic advertising to grow.

2. Accept a negative ROI in the beginning.

Key stakeholders must be made aware of the critical mass challenge. They must get a chance to understand how investments in this space scales.

3. Don’t try to cheat the system with ghost followers.

If you acquire ghost followers, your conversion rates will go down, and you’ll be forced to acquire even more followers.

4. When you reach critical mass, invest in quality.

Typically when you reach critical mass, the brand’s aggressive investments must cool off. Now you should focus on engagement quality instead of growth.

Bonus resource: Avoid Ghost Followers

How to Avoid Ghost Followers

Inactive and passive followers, ghost followers, will destroy your engagement scores and therefore undermine your reach and growth in social media. Here are a few rules-of-thumb for keeping clear of ghost followers:

  • Grow organically from the start. Having a small, but highly engaged, community is better than attracting huge bulks of ghost followers — especially if you share your authority with them by engaging with them back.
  • Stay consistent in one niche. Attracting a homogenous audience (in terms of what exact content they typically will engage with) is key for long-term success in social media. For more insight, see also the follower contract.
  • Engage strategically wise. Who you engage with (follow, like, comment, share) will send important signals to the algorithm. Make sure to engage consistently with the very specific type of audience you want to attract.
  • Remove or unsubscribe ghosts. When possible, proactively remove inactive followers by either removing or unsubscribing them. Not all social networks allow for this, but you should use this tactic wherever it’s applicable.

    Learn more about ghost followers.

Bonus Resource: The Follower Contract

The Follower Contract

Dear brand,

  • Yes, I’m now following you. Congratulations (to you).
  • I followed you based on what you’ve demonstrated in the past, so don’t be surprised if I’ll stop engaging (or unfollow) if you do other stuff.
  • You now have my permission to provide me with the type of content that first attracted me to your brand.
  • Any potential involvement on my part will be determined by me, the follower, on a future case-by-case basis.
  • My follow is not a ‘payment’ for your past accomplishments; my follow is an ‘advance payment’ for what I’m expecting from you in the future.
  • It would be best if you always presupposed that I’m interested in myself and my friends first and then, maybe, in your brand.
  • Until we part ways, I expect you to be crystal clear about my potential involvement in your cause.

    Best regards,
    Your new follower

    Learn more about follower contracts.

Photo by Cyril Saulnier on Unsplash.


  1. Obviously, not all social accounts are equally valuable to a business. For me, blog readers and blog subscribers far outweigh Facebook and Twitter followers, for instance.


Avatar of Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, aka Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Communication Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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