05/15/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

One follower on Twitter may be better than thousands

Would you rather have 10,000 followers on Twitter, or one? 10,000, of course would be the most obvious answer, but what if that single follower fit exactly the profile of your target audience?

If your social media campaign is targeting lawmakers in Washington, DC would you rather have one visit by the President of the United States to your website or 100,000 unique visitors from all over the country?

Would you rather have the Senate Majority Leader following you on Twitter or 5,000 people you know very little about?

Most people have figured out that social media is something to consider when it comes to marketing an idea or product, but as the market evolves in this world of new media, millions of eyeballs on a creative, funny, unique viral campaign is only going to be a small part of what is defined as a successful social media program.

In fact, millions of eyeballs will become the easiest part of the social media success equation.

While a massive spike in web traffic stats looks impressive or a large number of Twitter followers might make you feel popular, a visit from the POTUS has much more potential to lead to a successful outcome for your campaign. This all seems pretty logical, it is better to have a smaller group of people that meet the profile of your targeted audience than an avalanche of disparate traffic.

But the problem remains that a single unique visitor is a pretty hard pill to swallow when you have to show the analytics report (and the budget spent) to your boss.

We remain obsessed with unique visitor counts, numbers of Twitter followers, Facebook fans and Alexa ratings despite the fact that volume as a measure of success is the most rudimentary and crude metric available.

Some of this obsession probably boils down to ego or need to relive the high school popularity game, but a better explanation lies in the idea that social media, and the whole of the internet for that matter, is stuck in a world where the rules are still being dictated by a traditional media model where ad rates and money made is based on sheer volume.

But with the advent of social media and advanced web analytics the 'volume paradigm' is a deficient model and is on the way out the door as we gain a higher level understanding of new media.

For example, how do you determine the effectiveness of a full-color sports car ad in the New York Times? There is no guarantee that the ad was read by anyone. There is certainly no guarantee that anyone reading the ad is remotely interested in buying a sports car.

The traditional media model relies on volume to create action, but the loose data that we have to draw from suggests it is a pretty blunt tool.

Now take a look at an ad on Facebook. Using their advertising service you can target males, age 38 to 45, college educated and living in Manhattan. We also know whether the ad led to an action because we only pay for those who click. We can then also go further by measuring the actions of those people on a website who were referred by the Facebook ad.

The baffling part of all this is that the ad in the NY Times cost around $30,000 while a registered click by someone from the exact demographic being targeted only costs about $1.

We're still stuck in a traditional media model that values undefined eyeballs over highly targeted traffic. And this will continue as long as social media sphere's obsession with numbers continues. The coolest part about all of this is that by redefining what makes a successful social media campaign the work of marketing via social media channels becomes a lot more challenging.

No longer will the cool kid be able to offer up his 6,000 fans on Facebook, 10,000 Twitter followers and Digg group to drive "sick" traffic to your website and call it a success. Instead there will be a lot more thinking going into defining target audiences and then developing engaging campaigns that appeal to this audience in a way that convinces them of an idea or sells them on the benefits of your product.

Now don't get us wrong, there are a lot people already thinking this way, but there still remains a lot of social media "gurus" and "consultants" who are selling the snake oil of big numbers. The big numbers are what many marketing managers, and bosses in the C-Suite are demanding mainly because they are stuck in the traditional media paradigm, but more so because that paradigm is being reinforced by consultants and commentators who are not taking the time to develop a long term plan targeting a desired audience.

So when you are looking to hire for social media, make sure you find a provider that is not merely selling numbers, but one that can help you engage the people who are most important for you to reach. If you don't, what you end up with is big traffic, with little justification for the time and resources spent getting that traffic.