Yesterday, we redefined the term “follower” on Twitter and in doing so, discovered that followers are in fact not hapless little ducklings in search of a mama duck but actually community managers in their own right with a tremendous amount of power when it comes to helping brands gain traction in the social web (and particularly in communities like Twitter).

Now that we’ve covered that subtle yet fundamental topic, let’s look a little more closely at the two main strategies behind engagement: Breadth and Depth.

Breadth and depth are essentially opposite sides of any reach strategy. One focuses on quantity while the other focuses on quality.

Breadth

When it comes to engagement in the social media space (and particularly on Twitter), a focus on breadth looks like a numbers’ game: If having 5 followers is good thing, then having 10 followers is better. If having 5,000 followers is a good thing, then having 10,000 is better. And so on. (Now remember that we redefined the term “follower” yesterday and that we aren’t talking about acumulating points here.)

So in essence, a breadth strategy would look like this: 100,000 people on Twitter mention Brand X on a regular basis. The Social Media director for Brand X sees in these 100,000 people a vibrant yet untapped community. In his mind, reaching out to every single one and getting them to “follow” Brand X on Twitter would be a great thing. By doing so, that community of 100,000 fans would have access to the Brand X feed, have the opportunity to engage with it, spread their love, RT content, ask questions, etc. And that rocks.

But the flip side of that is Brand X only has a team of 3 people managing their online communities, and that isn’t enough to truly engage with 100,000 people. So what ends up happening is: While Brand X has a community of 100,000 “followers” on Twitter, its staff just can’t create deep connections with more than a few dozen of them. So by spreading itself too thin, Brand X might come across as having very superficial “engagement” on Twitter: Lots of followers, but not a lot of meaningful interaction. That doesn’t rock, and it evidently scares a number of companies looking to truly connect with their fans in Social Media.

Depth

The flip side of breadth is depth. On Twitter, a focus on depth looks like a private party: Small numbers, a tiny community, but lots of interraction between a brand and its relatively small numer of followers. The idea here being that engagement is about building relationships and true,lasting emotional connections. Numbers are the enemy here since you just can’t be “friends” with more than a few hundred people anyway.

So in essence, a depth strategy would look like this: Out of 100,000 fans of Brand X on Twitter, Brand X chooses to only truly engage with a few hundred (or a few thousand). That’s a manageable number, and any more than that would get in the way of “true” engagement.So what rocks here is that those folks with whom Brand X truly focuses on are going to feel ultra special about their relationship with Brand X, and that’s pretty solid.

But what happens to the other 99,000 or so fans Brand X chooses not to engage with? Well… hopefully, they can talk about Brand X amongst themselves and be perfectly happy. Better yet, maybe the chosen few will go out and evangelize Brand X to the other 99,000 as… good will agents of Brand X. They have big networks anyway, so why not create a tiered system of influence within Twitter? But see… that doesn’t really work. The reality of having too narrow a depth strategy is that the other 99,000 fans feel disenfranchised by Brand X. They feel ignored. Worse yet, they opt out of following Brand X and engaging with it on twitter because they find no value in what Brand X is doing on Twitter since they don’t seem to be on the Brand X radar anyway.

The result of either too rigid a depth or breadth strategy is a stalled overall engagement strategy. On the one hand, you get numbers without purpose or value. On the other hand, you get an exclusive clique effect that doesn’t scale enough to matter. Neither is a good outcome.

Red Flag Diagnosis:

Too much breadth = 500,000 followers out of 500,000 fans but interactions with only 20 of them per day and zero impact on anything relevant relating to your business.

Too much depth = Only 5,000 followers out of 500,000 fans. Outside of your core fans, either nobody knows you’re here orย  nobody cares.

(And in some awful cases, you get poor execution in both, which looks like only 5,000 followers out of 500,000 fans, and interactions with only 20 per day. Ergo: Nobody cares, and you blow off the few who do. Double-whammy.)

The Engagement Strategy Trap: Depth and Breadth are not mutually exclusive

Strangely, I still see a good number of companies choosing to focus on either breadth or depth when they should instead combine both. And frankly… I wonder why any marketing professional would ever make that mistake when it’s so clear that in order to really have an impact, you always have to combine the two (not just in social media but in most other areas as well). Unless your brand is about exclusivity (Ferrari, Cartier, Ferre) “engagement” can’t stop at your core customers. Not in Social Media, and certainly not on Twitter.

Without some measure of breadth, depth becomes an exercise in navel-gazing. It becomes an echo-chamber. It goes nowhere.You end up chatting with your clique every day and congratulating each other on a job well done. Great. Awesome. Except… not.

Without some measure of depth, breadth becomes an exercise in scale without impact: You may have an enormous following, but what is it doing for you? Nothing? Ooops. It’s back to the drawing board for you.

So… if you are a major consumer brand with an engagement strategy in the Social Media space and your hundreds of thousands of followers don’t move the ball for you in some way (increased WOM, increased traffic to your website(s), increased conversations or social mentions, increased traffic to your stores, increases in transactions – remember FRY?) then you’re wasting your time “collecting” followers instead of truly building a community.

Likewise, if you are a major consumer brand with an engagement strategy in the Social Media space and in the last 12 months of activity in the space, you’ve only managed to attract 5,000 “followers” out of your 500,000 active fans and customers on Twitter, somebody’s playing too much golf or computer solitaire or something. Your “engagement” program is barely on autopilot.

If your goal is “engagement” and you ignore the majority of your fans , you’re completely missing the boat. First: Whatever you’re doing, it isn’t creating value or relevance, and you are failing in that regard. Second, if you aren’t reaching out to your fans, acknowledging them and making new connections every day, you just don’t understand what engagement is about.

Repeat after me: Engagement without reach doesn’t work.

So the key to successful engagement in Social Media, especially on Twitter is to combine breadth and depth in a way that makes sense, and in a manner consistent with the overall goal of the strategy. Reaching out to 100,000 fans doesn’t mean all 100,000 want to chat with the Brand X team every single day. Some will engage daily. Others will engage weekly. Others monthly. Many more won’t engage at all. They’ll just listen and share and be happy to be part of the community without being particularly active. Some will crave more attention than others. It’s okay. Let your fans, your “followers,” you community tell you how much engagement they need. Let them tell you what kind of engagement they want from you. Every single person is different. There is no cookie-cutter model for engagement that works for every single person who’s a fan of your brand. Don’t sweat the depth vs. breadth. Work on both. Measure both. But most importantly, LISTEN to your fans. Invite them to join you on Twitter. Give them a reason to “follow” you so that you can have that kind of dialogue and feedback. Follow them back. If many never drop by to say hi, that’s okay. Let them dictate the pace and mode of the engagement.

And believe me, they’ll tell you if you’re dropping the ball or doing a great job. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Remember that engagement isn’t about YOU. Engagement is about the value you bring to your community, and the community, not you, decides what is valuable to them. Your community on Twitter is not what you want it to be, it is what IT wants to be. (If it is 500,000 strong, embrace all 500,000 even if it seems inconvenient at first.)

So stop worrying about too much or too little, stop worrying about depth vs. breadth, and just reach out. Set up shop on Twitter, listen to what is being said, introduce yourself to folks who seem to care about you (Brand X), and start there. When people say hi, say hi back. When people ask a question, answer it. When people pay you a compliment, say “thank you.” When they complain about something, try to solve their problem. When you have something cool or valuable to share, share it. When someone wants to talk to you about their cat, count that as a blessing and understand that in that interraction lives the very essence of the bond between you, the brand you are paid to represent, and the person sharing something personal with you. This is invaluable. The conversations and relationships you foster on Twitter don’t just stop with the medium. They cross the digital/real world barrier. What happens on Twitter translates into people’s perception of you in the real world.

So like the old commercial says, get out there and touch someone. Be a courteous, engaging Twitter host, and make your time in social media count for something. You’ll be glad for it.

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Bonus Section: Outtakes from this morning’s failed video shoot.

If you’ll notice, the end of today’s video about engagement is cut off and some of the post’s points are never actually made. Why? because of lawn mowers cranking up in the background AGAIN.ย  The video shoot was aborted and one of the draft/backup vids was used in the post.ย  Pretty annoying, but kind of funny… Kind of like all of the yard debris (pollen, grass, etc.) on my black shirt. Oh, and I hope you’ll enjoy the little background music. It was so awfully generic that I just had to add it in there for good measure. Check it out:

Have a great Tuesday, everyone.;)