The other day, as I was getting ready to enter a meeting with a startup, I posted a picture on Instagram and captioned it labeling the company a market leader. I instantly received a message asking me how I can call them a market leader if they only have a few hundred followers on Instagram. That is what led me to write this article. 

Now this message was from someone who does not work in the technology sector nor does she work in marketing, but her question reflected an opinion I have heard from professionals hundreds of times over the years, sometimes even from big CEOs.

The correlation between follower count and success is one that many people believe to be strong, while I believe to be nonexistent. There is absolutely no connection between how many followers a person or a company has on social media to their success and feasibility as a sustainable business.

Before I explain the rationale behind my opinion, allow me to offer a disclaimer. A large audience on social media is something that can be capitalized on in order to increase distribution of content and the awareness of a brand, but it is not a necessary component by any means.

So why is a company's follower count not a good indication of their level of success?

Their audience is not on the platforms you use.

In the story I mentioned above, I was referring to a company in a very niche market, a company that targets players in the agriculture space. The fact that this company's Instagram presence is weaker than on other platforms is indeed totally irrelevant. How many farmers do you know that post pictures of their food and selfies on Instagram? Not that many.

A company, especially a startup needs to work with limited resources and spend time and energy communicating their message on the platform that is relevant for their audience. In fact, if a company's target audience is millennials and the company ignores the statistics showing that millennials don't spend time on Facebook, then that company is wasting their time.

So ironically, the success of a company can actually be determined by their lack of presence on certain platforms. It shows that the company is data driven and focused if they are not wasting time on irrelevant platforms.

They are hyper focused on building and scaling the product.

Yes, I do think social media and marketing in general are important tools in the eventual growth of a company, but in the early days, it is legitimate for a team to focus on building out a minimum viable product, getting a few customers, collecting data, analyzing that data, and then iterating, instead of spending time on social media. Again, this might be a very good indication of focus and not of lack of success.

There are confidentiality reasons they are not investing in social media.

Now, I am not a big believer in keeping an idea under wraps. I think sharing your idea with others will yield beneficial feedback and the stream of potentially good ideas, but it is important to remember that some companies have proprietary tech they have been developing for years, and going out on social media to talk about it, is actually the opposite of beneficial.

Now, there are ways to leverage the social web without disclosing information about your product, but when companies have cutting edge technology that is patented, it is often more effective to stay under the radar and not give the competitors too much ammunition.

They haven't cracked it because it's not their specialty.

Finally, the most common reason a successful company might be weak on social media is because they are brilliant engineers building revolutionary technology that will make the world a better place, but as good as they are at tech, they are equally bad at social media.

In fact, there definitely is a correlation between engineers and introverts, which might explain why many people who are so great at building scalable products are so bad at communicating the value of their product, both offline and online.

So, the important point is that just because a person or a company only has a few hundred followers on Instagram or Twitter, says absolutely nothing about their ability to change the world now or in the future. In some cases, as I explained, the lower that person's investment is in social media, the higher their chances of succeeding long term.

Published on: Sep 27, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.