How to get unfollowed on social media (and what it means for your brand)


Search Labs

Global Affairs

Brands still have a huge role to play in the world of social media. According to the results of our new survey, 96% of social media users follow brands.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to keep your followers engaged and interested in your brand. We’ve all heard stories of brands getting it horribly wrong on social media, and every social media marketer has at some point been baffled by a drop-off in followers or engagement.

So what is it that turns social media users off your brand? Why do people unfollow companies?

Niki Lancaster, Head of Social Media at Search Laboratory, explains our survey findings and shares her expert advice for keeping your followers engaged.

Focus on the social, not just the media

One of the clearest messages from our survey responses is the importance creating conversations. Focus on the “social” part rather than the “media” part. Post with personality, and engage your followers in conversation.

One in five of our survey respondents would unfollow a brand that only posts its own content rather than creating meaningful conversations with followers. 36% said it’s the most common mistake brands make on social media.

Cultivating authentic conversation is easier said than done, so let’s look at the brands that do a good job.

Viking Direct generates meaningful engagement by producing creative, relatable content. Viking’s social media team produces innovative artwork using everyday stationery objects:

By using everyday objects, Viking makes it easy for their audience to get involved – all it takes is imagination. Viking’s followers have submitted their own wonderful ideas:

Viking have been successful because they’ve made their channels about community and imagination, not about themselves, while still keeping it relevant to the brand.

The power of personality

In the minds of many social media marketers, having opinions and cracking jokes is a sure-fire way to annoy your audience and get unfollowed.

But according to our survey, that assumption is wrong. Only 7% of respondents would unfollow a brand for being opinionated, and just 4% would be annoyed by a brand attempting to be funny. Social media users are evidently open to interacting with funny, engaging brands with personality – there just aren’t many that get it right.

In fact, several brands were repeatedly picked out as good examples of social media usage specifically because they had a distinct, likeable personality: Innocent and Paddy Power.

Let your brand’s personality shine through, and make it authentic. Heed the warning of one of our survey respondents, who said they have no patience with people and brands who “think memes are a decent substitute for a personality”.

Once you’ve built that personality and developed those interactions with your followers, you need to use other channels to amplify your brand’s voice as much as possible.

Brands like Paddy Power and Innocent use all their marketing channels to make the most of their ideas and brand identity. Rather than putting out content in the hopes of it going “viral”, they craft original, creative ideas, and put as much time and effort into seeding their content as they do creating it.

You need to start with a strong foundation – and that means clear, precise brand guidelines and tone of voice documents. The voice of your business needs to resonate on every channel, and on social media, where you have less power to control the conversation than you do on, say, your homepage, those guidelines need to be flexible, too.

Identify a clear personality and understand the kind of language that communicates that personality. List words that your brand would never use, as well as those that particularly suit it. Are there any grammatical conventions to steer clear of, such as semicolons or exclamation marks?

With a clearly defined but flexible tone of voice, it’s a lot easier to communicate in a way that’s both natural and consistent.

“It comes across as cringey”

Having a genuine voice is essential for social media success, but that voice should be carefully tailored to your target audience. You don’t want to produce content that only supports your business interests, but neither do you want to create stuff that’s inappropriate or irrelevant for your audience. Inauthentic content, to quote one of our respondents, “comes across as cringey”.

It’s a fine line between engaging and “cringey”, but there’s plenty you can do to stay on the right side of it. It’s all about knowing your audience.

Luckily, there are loads of tools to help you build a detailed picture of your followers. You can start with your social channels themselves; all the major platforms have built-in analytics tools. From these, you can get insights about everything from the demographic stuff – how old are your Facebook followers? What interests do they have? – to the engagement stats – do they tend to click through to your blog posts? Do they prefer product-related posts?

Use this to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and then use other analytics sources to fill in the gaps. Tools like Google Analytics can tell you a great deal about your users – including how they behave once they reach your site through social channels – as can any audience personas you may have put together.

In the world of social media, where your followers and customers talk back, taking an audience-first approach to content creation is non-negotiable. It’s not about what you want to say; it’s about what your audience needs to hear.


Here are the key takeaways from our survey:

1. Create content that starts conversations. 36% of our respondents said the biggest mistake brands make on social media is posting their own business-centric messages without interacting with their followers. Before you define your social media content plan, ask yourself: how can my audience engage with this? Can they join in by submitting their own content? Are you reacting to real-world events or just talking at your followers about your business?

2. Don’t be afraid to show a bit of personality. Your audience won’t run a mile if you have a sense of humour (only 4% of users would unfollow a brand for trying to be funny), and they won’t necessarily immediately unfollow you if you take a stance on a political issue (only 7% would unfollow because of this)

3. Integrate your social media marketing with your other channels. Start with the big idea, and then break it down by channel. Build your social media posts around your ideas, not the other way around. Put as much effort into getting that content seen and heard as you do creating it.

4. Be yourself, but know your audience. Trawl through the analytics, evaluate post performance, and understand what potential customers want from you. Know who you want to speak to, and build your social media activity around them.