Social media sites can generally be divided into two user categories: the isolated/profile based model and the everyone-is-equal/content model. There are advantages and disadvantages to both types that make them better for certain users.
In the isolated/profile model – think Facebook – users categorize themselves and their profile. If you’re a musician you make a musician page, companies have pages, products have pages, celebrities have public profiles, and of course there is the average person (which is often a private profile). Relationships between average users tend to be reciprocal – both people agree that they are in a ‘friend’ relationship and average users can find public profiles via names and profile typing.
These sites make it easy for people to find other people and things that they already know about and can make recommendations based on these things which – and you get to see stuff that’s posted by people you know – so it’s great at organizing and building communities between people who vaguely know each other.
In the everyone-is-equal model/content model, there are no profile types (there may be types of verification for celebrities or companies that may be impersonated) so the judgement of whether a profile is a company, spam, or a normal user is determined wholly by content. These sites (like Twitter and Instagram) do not require reciprocal relationships – there’s no obligation to follow someone who’s following you – and make it easier to be exposed to a mass audience.
Due to the fact that there is this huge number of public profiles and no one wants to see 600 million people’s posts, these sites have developed ways to categorize posts by way of hashtags* which allow a user to find other users and content makers who produce things they want to see. There is a certain amount of reciprocity if you know someone in real life, but generally people will follow you based on the content you produce instead of who you are.
*think of hashtags as names of public folders that your tweets or photos go into that anyone can access
What is difficult to discern in the content model is precisely who is interested in the content you’re producing. Do you have mainly companies following you? Do spam bots follow you? Do you have ordinary people interested in your products? How do you even identify this? Where are the guides to figuring this out?
One guideline to figure this out without literally clicking through every single profile is to look at the follower/following ratio of a person.
Influence Ratio = Followers / (Followers + Following)
The Influential (~75% and Up)
The influential can have a wide range of follower/followings, what it means is that they have a lot of followers and comparatively don’t follow that many people.
Low follower count: This is common for small organizations or companies that cater to a specific niche; think clothing boutiques or sororities. They may have a couple thousand followers but only follow a few select people.
High follower count: They may have a million followers and only follow a handful of people. People who fall into this range are generally celebrities, models, large companies, and “influencers” – that is, people who’ve built their personal brand through Instagram and blogging but otherwise wouldn’t have much notoriety. Generally speaking in this range you see a lot of subtle ads (companies pay people with high influence to represent their brands). This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s important to know that you’re being sold to.
Casual Users (or) Tit for Tat (~50%)
This range falls around 50% – with casual users both the following and follower numbers tend to be much lower. This ratio can be split into two categories:
People who are on Instagram to follow their friends: Though Instagram doesn’t require reciprocity, these people just want to see what their friends are up to, and their friends want to see what they’re up to. Generally these people will be following around or less than 1000 people
People who grow followers by following people: These accounts might be regular people, or they could be businesses trying to gain exposure for their company. These accounts operate on the desire for reciprocity from strangers. This results in a strategy whereby someone will follow an account and wait to see if the owner of the account follows them back. If they do, great! If they don’t, after a few days they’ll unfollow this person and continue the cycle – sometimes they’ll unfollow even if you do follow them back. If these people unfollow you don’t worry, it probably has nothing to do with your content and more to do with upping their follow count.
Observers, Sex Bots and Spam (less than 30%)
New users can also fall into this category, particularly if they are a business or concept that’s trying to gain exposure through following people, they can usually be identified by their content.
Observers: There are some people who get on Instagram and follow people they like because they can. They don’t expect reciprocity, they just want interesting pictures and stories. They might not post many photos, but their profile is fully filled out and you can tell that they’re a real human.
Sex Bots and Spam: If they’re following a couple hundred accounts, have very few followers, have less than 10 posts, and only post poor quality scandalous photos, you’ve probably got a sex bot on your hands. They’re not harmful on their own but watch out because you make get some weird comments on your photos that you wouldn’t want your mother to see.
As the owner of your own profile, it’s up to you how you want others to interact with you and how you want to be portrayed. I am personally an advocate of being selective and following people whose content I actually want to see, not just for the follows. It takes longer to build a community, but ultimately it will be a community that is following you for your content, not just people who #followForFollow.
Do you use a different metric to categorize profiles? Let me know!