If you remember the early days of social media marketing, then you’ll also remember all those talks where you’d be told that if you could just harness 1% of Facebook’s total audience, you’d have a huge number of potential customers.

In the end, it didn’t quite work out like that, but as user numbers have grown, you’d think that the law of averages would provide you with some new followers along the way.

And according to new research from Trackmaven, that is broadly true. More platforms and more active users (hello millennials) means more brand followers. But (there’s always a but) just how valuable are those new followers?

It’s a complicated question that largely depends on your business. In some cases impressions are enough to support a business model, but I’d wager that in most cases you’d rather have followers who… you know… actually cared about what you had to say.

So some of us are at least attempting to grow better audiences, but for brands a failure hit (and surpass) industry benchmarks could mean that while their audience is getting bigger, the average value of each follower is depreciating.

Let’s take a look at the numbers:

[caption id="attachment_96194" align="aligncenter" width="792"]social-media-inflation-index Based on 12 month analysis of 26,965 brands[/caption]

First of all, it’s worth noting sluggish performance by the more established platforms. On Facebook in particular once brands realised people were only following them to get free stuff, they stopped giving it away.

Now there are fairly few reasons to follow big brands on the platform, barring the occasional event opportunity. You can also see a big dip back in March when Facebook cleaned up as many inactive and bot profiles as it could.

According to the report this period saw large brands lose the most, with Pepsi dropping (Read more...) massive 1.8m fans.

pepsi facebook

Twitter is following the same path, and while we’ve talked about Twitter’s numerous difficulties which may be contributing to this, I’d assume that users are more likely to follow individuals on the platform, with brands getting a look-in for customer service.

Likewise, Pinterest appears steady but unspectacular – the Opera web browser of social media networks, suggesting it has developed a loyal audience but has passed its early high-growth stage.

LinkedIn is of interest here, because user numbers appear to have surged on the platform recently, with brands seeing roughly 3% average monthly growth rate.

However, LinkedIn’s attempts to re-position itself via its publishing functions have resulted in a storm of content which may have resulted in brand messages being buried in the torrent of ‘only genius can solve’ math problems currently cluttering my feed.

Finally Instagram. At 6-to-8% average growth month-on-month, it’s ruling the roost. In many ways this is unsurprising. Users in general have taken to image-sharing platforms with gusto, and Instagram has been working hard to attract brand partners over the last two years, with strong results.

According to Trackmaven’s figures:

Annually, brands saw 100% median follower growth on Instagram, surging from 11,000 followers on January 1, 2015 to 22,000 followers by January 1, 2016.

Overall this organic inflation is fairly constant:

Annually, the average brand grew its Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn audiences by a quarter (23%, 23%, and 24%, respectively). Brands see the smallest annual follower growth on Pinterest at 20%.

And with an extra billion people due to arrive on social networks by 2020, it’s probably time to get started on that visual social media strategy.

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