Followers: The Start of Something Big

When your observers stop watching your work from the sidelines and officially opt in to your movement, they become followers. Here's how to convert, measure, and engage them.

By Barbara Christensen | May 23, 2017 |

When your observers stop watching your work from the sidelines and officially opt in to your movement, they become followers.

Followers have raised their hand by providing contact information; you can have a conversation with them. They are usually the newbies in your database, and represent a powerful relationship in the works. Organizations — and companies — invest a lot of money on converting observers to followers, so the first time an observer reaches back to you is an important moment.

From a data perspective, who is a follower? Anyone for whom you have the information and permission to contact. This can mean email list subscribers, free event attendees who opted in, people who request the valuable information or service you offer online, to name a few. Ideally, their information is saved in your central CRM, like Salesforce.


  • Feature email signup forms on your site, preferably those that integrate directly with your CRM. My 2017 NTC presentation can help WordPress users.
  • Collect RSVPs for your free events (don’t forget that email list opt in!) Find a tool that syncs with your database. For example, we set up GO Public Schools to sync their Black Minds Matter forums from Eventbrite to Salesforce. No import needed!
  • Offer something of value on your website and ask for an email to access it (“Lead gen”). While Washington Trails Association offers open access to find hikes online, visitors opt in to use premium features like saving and rating routes.

When deciding where to focus your effort, quality often matters more than quantity. You’ll want to be able to analyze if an investment to recruit followers is paying off. For instance, does paying per contact to acquire large lists from somewhere like or Care2 result in quality supporters up the pyramid, or are they stagnating in clicktivism-land? If you track the source of your followers when they first enter the database (I’m looking at you Salesforce lead source), that analysis is easier! But beware: Level 1 is often full of zombies.

A note about pseudo-followers: While philosophically followers are the folks with whom you are having those first conversations directly, on the database side of things, you need a technical way to collect their information for it to really count. If you can’t contact them directly when you need to, no conversation!

For instance, if a website visitor uses your lead gen form to download a local food security guide but opts out of receiving communications, they disqualify themselves from the follower level, for now. And social media users may “follow” you, but unless you have Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud or other (often expensive) platform which exposes contact information and collects opt-ins, they remain observers…but they’re still the perfect observer audience for targeting the easy conversions mentioned above, of course!

You should have one goal for your followers: Be active! You want them to continue to engage within the follower level and to move up to the next level, endorsers (more on them, soon).

Relationships are often maintained with automated, technology-based conversations in Level 1. As you move up the pyramid, expect to shed those mass interactions, but that doesn’t mean you can’t personalize and be engaging now. When someone signs up for your email list, don’t let them stagnate until your next newsletter. Send them a personalized welcome email series. (You did collect their first name, didn’t you?) Provide email and web content these folks will find valuable. Offer free events or meetups. And work to establish yourself as resource, worthy of deeper engagement, for when you ask for that first phone call to their Congressperson or initial donation.

You may have heard about the brain chemistry behind falling in love: happy brain chemicals form a feedback loop every time your new object of affection responds or initiates contact. This state doesn’t last long, but can provide the basis for a lasting relationship. Think of your followers in this light. When someone converts to a follower, this is your very best chance to inspire them. Don’t squander that early attraction to your mission!

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