Assuming you have to choose between the two, which is better: a rapidly growing user or customer base, or a highly engaged user/customer base? In most cases, you’d want both, which is why I asked the question the way I did: choose one. So, which do you choose, and why? Recently, Dave Payne, co-founder of Switchyards, and David Cummings, founder of Atlanta Tech Village, posted very similar ideas, arguing for engagement over the growth. Here are their posts.

Dave Payne: engagement is better than growth

What is “Engagement”?

I believe what Payne & Cummings (might be a good name for a law firm, BTW) mean by this is that it is much better to have 10 people or businesses actively using and engaging with your product – to the point that they don’t want to live without it – than a thousand people who bought your product but never use it. Does the same hold true on social media? I believe it does. If you have 1,000 followers who never engage with you, then you just have 10,000 followers and you don’t know what sort of influence you have. But, if you have a few hundred followers and an high engagement rate, then your audience is engaging with you and you have influence with that audience. Now, how do you get engagement on a social channel like Instagram?

Start early

In 2011, Josh Johnson, a professional photographer, began posting a daily contest on Instagram. Each day he named the theme – like “get away” or “personal” or “your best ever.” He asks his followers to submit their best pictures in support of that day’s theme and tag the image with a certain daily hashtag. For example, today’s theme is Surprise and the hashtag is #jj_forum_2179.

Be Consistent

That was seven years ago. And in the last seven years, Josh has hosted a themed contest every single day. His consistency and encouragement to his audience have earned him 602,000 followers. Every day thousands of pictures are submitted for each hashtag.

That’s what we call engagement!

Josh does these contests every day. That’s every day for nearly 8 years. His followers know and understand and anticipate each daily contest. And for his new followers he offers a brief explanation of how the community works and why it exists.

Are you new to the community? It’s not as confusing as it seems at first. :-). Here’s the deal.
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Every morning, NYC time, we make a post announcing our new theme and tag. Your job is to tag images that fit the theme. You can use shots youhave already posted but we really love to see the theme inspire you to find new shots. The @jj_editors@joshjohnson and I scour the tag and repost our favorite submissions through out the day. Over half a million people might see your pic! Pretty cool stuff.
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We are ALL about keeping things simple, but in the spirit of our motto, “Create to connect”, we ask that you follow our only “rule”. We call it the 1-2-3 rule. For every 1 image you tag, comment on 2 in the tag and like 3 others.
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Glad you’re here. Can’t wait to see your shots. Speak up if you have questions or comments. We like to think this is the friendliest place on the Internet.

What does that mean for us?

Josh’s community, called appropriately JJCommunity, engages every day to the tune of several thousand original unique images being submitted for each hashtag.

What if that daily contest where about your brand? Josh has done daily contests for several big, well-known brands. The goal is usually to bring awareness or engagement for that brand. The results are fairly easily anticipated given his consistency, and daily engagement numbers, and huge, loyal audience.

Engagement is better than Growth

In the case of JJ community, there’s both engagement and growth. Josh has spent years and been remarkably consistent in his engagement strategy. Entrepreneurs would do well to be so thoughtful and consistent in their branding and marketing, because engagement is better than growth.

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