Businesses running savvy social media campaigns often forget the key mantra of social media marketing: 

Followers ≠ Customers

And that’s okay!!

Followers and high post engagement are great for visibility and social proof, but on their own, they only signal popularity (and MAYBE credibility), NOT value. 

Those who find you entertaining or instructive aren’t necessarily those eager to buy from you. And plenty of people follow others on social media to draw attention to themselves and their own products. A follow isn’t always the compliment it seems.

So what can you do to convert your followers into customers? And how do you convert them without ostracizing your current and potential followers who won’t buy from you?

You’re asking the wrong questions. (And yes, we led you there, but so many businesses — most, if not ALL — end up asking these exact questions.) 

Desperation is social media’s unforgivable sin, and people can sense it from a mile away. There’s something about it that’s almost insulting to casual followers — you’re treating them as something “lesser,” less important than your paying followers (your subscribers and customers).

The moment you treat your casual followers like “freeloaders,” you’ve misjudged the value of the community you’re building.

Which, really, is what social media marketing is all about — building a community around your brand.

The better question: How can you leverage community to attract customers?

We’ve talked about the importance of managing your community before. But our focus today is on turning community into profit without betraying the foundations you used to build your community in the first place.

Method 1: Go It Alone

One common solution we see: the “go-it-alone” approach. 

Some social media gurus will warn you away from following new accounts and following back some/most/all of those who follow you. The dream for most on social media is to have millions of followers while following a few hundred, max. THE DREAM.

So the idea here is to have such catchy and valuable content that people flock to you and buy your stuff. Then others see how many followers you have, and how few you follow back, and think “Wow, this here brand is the real deal” and they soon follow you and buy your stuff too (because, well, social proof).

This “celebrity” approach won’t work for all (even most) brands. It can be a great learning experience, refining your content to slowly attract ideal followers who love what you’re doing, but you’ll also spend a long time looking… well, desperate.

Method 2: Join In

There’s a second option: stop trying to build a community from scratch. Start by joining communities in your market that already exist.

Find ways to collaborate rather than compete. The real potential of social media for your brand gets unlocked when you tap into the power of reciprocity. Add value to active communities, repost great content from those you admire with your own added flavour, and respond to and follow those who comment.

And as you build credibility, you’ll be able to start pinging influencers and parallel accounts to collaborate through discounts, affiliate links, contests, and other shared benefits that leverage someone else’s following for mutual growth.

Use discretion when following new accounts, of course, and after an appropriate amount of time there’s nothing wrong with unfollowing those who haven’t followed you back and aren’t posting anything you’re interested in seeing. And don’t take it personally. “No hard feelings” can make your personal and business experience on social media so much better.

Leveraging Community

Whichever method you choose, you’re still a business, and no one’s forgotten. Once you have a community, you need to sell.

This is where most social media gurus tell you to flood your followers with freebies and “lead magnets,” sucking them in with small tastes of what you can do for paying customers.

Others will warn you away from social media altogether, saying the best defence against merciless algorithms is to implore your followers to subscribe to your email newsletters instead.

There’s some truth to all this. 

Ideally, you should be sprinkling value in everything you say and do on social media, so your lead magnets won’t be the first time your followers see your worth.

And newsletters do provide an incredible opportunity for a more direct line of communication with your followers, attracting your most likely customers and allowing for long-form content.

Another option: you don’t necessarily need to migrate all the way off social media to have consistent reach with your ideal customers. You may simply need to stop dividing your efforts. Pay attention to which social channels are drawing in the most customers (one great way to do this is through unique landing pages for each channel so you can see which ones generate the most traffic and sales).

Social Compounding

Once you’ve nailed your community building, lead magnets, and newsletter content, all you need is consistency and social proof.

Just keep doing what you’re doing.

Then share proof of success, ideally through testimonials and client review screenshots. Better yet, interact with customers directly on social media, both through customer service responses and interviews to let them share about their experience with you directly.

The more you interact with known customers, the more you’ll learn to develop your voice to match theirs. You can pay attention and gather USG (user-generated content) to sprinkle into your messaging and content on social media and elsewhere, and you’ll find yourself drawing ideal followers and prospective customers at an ever-increasing rate.

Even small but consistent growth will build credibility through numbers, and social proof from testimonials will lock it in. Once you’ve built that momentum through consistency, your efforts will compound, and basic human psychology does the rest.

An aside: the topic deserves a whole article of its own, but your “momentum moment” is exactly when you should consider using paid social media ads, whether boosting your posts across Meta platforms (Facebook, Instagram, and likely soon Threads as well) or on Tw/X. 

Other than going viral with your regular content (again, a celebrity approach to social media that isn’t realistic for most brands), paid ads on social media are the best way to increase your impressions and reach (by A LOT) beyond your current followers. And social compounding, the momentum you’ve been building, will improve your engagement, click-through and conversions from ads.

So, again, your goal shouldn’t be to convert every follower into a customer, or to migrate every follower onto channels where you have more control. 

If you can learn to leverage the power of social communities and compounding, and if you have something decent to sell, the customers will come.

Stay consistent, improve and refine your voice over time, and let momentum do the rest. 

And remember — your “freebie” followers are part of that. Treat everyone as a valuable member of your community and your community will give value back.