One of the things that burns my blood most in social media is the posts that trumpet how many followers or fans an account has or is about to reach. “Only 10 more followers until we reach 1,000!” or “We now have 1,000 fans of our Facebook page!” I find these exceptionally annoying and thoroughly empty of meaning.

“But wait,” you may be asking, “isn’t gaining more followers or fans a good thing?”

Of course it is. The problem that I have with shouting to the heavens about a number is how arbitrary that announcement is. OK, so you now have 1,000 followers. What does that mean? Why is that number important? Why should anyone in your network care about that number? And, most importantly, what are you going to do about it?

The number of followers or fans you have, in and of itself, is meaningless.

This is like telling me your cholesterol number without saying whether that’s a healthy value for you (or at all, for that matter), whether you’re seeing a doctor to help lower your values, whether you have a family history, etc. If you’re truly interested in knowing how well your account is doing, you need to consider the number of followers or fans as a “health indicator” (just like your cholesterol number) that should be studied in tandem with many other metrics.

For example, have you had a rapid or sudden increase or decrease in followers or fans? Can this change be directly correlated to a single event or series of events? Did you post something amazing or controversial to the account? Did someone influential share one of your posts to their audience, giving you a larger number of eyes, if only for that post? Was your post covered, mentioned, or reviewed in a news publication?

Or, conversely, do your posts get a meager number of retweets or likes? Is no one responding to you or commenting on what you say? Do you wonder whether your network is even paying any attention to what you share? Is an uninteresting trend in followers or fans even a problem you have to worry about?

Are you getting the idea? You need to do work. Yes, work! And that work doesn’t include telling everyone, whether it’s your public audience or your senior management, about how well you think you’re doing as though you deserve some kind of medal.

Data is your friend. Figure out the story behind those raw numbers. Cross-check changes in your follower or fan numbers to other statistics, such as social mentions (how many times was your website, network, or article talked about in Google, Twitter, etc.), website analytics (page views, new visitors, search referrals), and the unique metrics each network offers you (Twitter for Business, Facebook Insights, etc.). In most instances, changes in your followers and fans will slowly and steadily increase over time. Even if folks lose interest, you’d have to do something annoying or distasteful (or both) to make them consciously unfollow or unlink you (versus simply skipping over or ignoring your updates). Look at any pattern of decreased numbers with a careful eye.

Qualitative analysis requires more effort than simply reporting a single value, but fortune favors the bold (and the diligent). Think for a moment about how much more successful your efforts could be if you move beyond “hey, we have 1,000 followers now” and think about “how can we use this information to make better decisions and improve the social experience for our followers and fans?”

I realize this level of analytics research is not something that everyone has the time or capabilities to manage, but, if you’re going to make a big deal about how many followers or fans you have, at the very least, do something worthwhile with them rather than making much ado about nothing.