We’ve all got that one friend with a hefty social media following … maybe even a few acquaintances who want to make it as social media personalities or influencers.

That path is a hard one to take, I tell you.

As much as anyone can become an influencer, not everyone has the moxie for it. Sure, they can track down the appropriate keywords, inject the right hashtags and have a decent to event profitable following.

But what does it mean to be an influencer? Borrowing from its root word, to really influence?

I say being an influencer of substance exceeds far more than just having a sizable follower count.

Form Over Substance: Don’t Be Fooled

People can buy followers, some of which may not even be human. And even with staggering numbers, you have to ask if these so-called followers are even engaged at all.

Bots — surely you've heard of them? They show up on your twitter notifications even when you mention something as mundane and ordinary as "perfume" or "freewriting."

Some bots will follow you; some will add you to a list. But what remains is that they are merely filler spaces. They fill your follower count and have virtually no significance.

They don't (or rather, can't) read your content. They can't share.

And most importantly, users stay far away from them — often fearing a dreaded computer virus. They stock up on your follower count giving you the illusion that there are more people reading you than there actually are.

Digital Ghosts

If we want to talk about numbers that really matter, we need to ask one simple question: are these “followers” engaged?

If your followers aren't receiving your messages, then are they really “following” you per se? Moreover, you’re not really influencing them, what’s there to influence?

When you base your success merely by follower count, and they end up being digital ghosts, are you really talking to anyone or having a conversation with yourself?

Being an influencer means activating a community into activity and consolidating your ideas.

Substance Over Form: The Way it Should Be

Followers aside (if they are indeed human), the content you put out is still king, as it always has been.

Your followers expect content that they would like to come back to over and over again. The number of followers alone is not enough — it never will be — but it's how you sustain your community that defines your capacity as an influencer of substance.

Because let's face it: If you're trying to gain a high follower count just for the sake of gaining it, you will never win.

There will always be someone more famous than you.

New members sign up on any given social networking platform at a dizzying pace. We can only imagine that more bots are being created just for the sake of doubling that amount.

And new algorithms can optimize exposure to entice more people, but your numbers will never be something to anchor yourself on. Followers can surge after one viral video or a strategically placed picture. It's a bloodbath out there.

Followers for the sake of followers is a futile game to play.

Follower count is not a solid metric for engagement. There are a number of things that make this inaccurate: bots, competition and exposure level are but some of them.

You know what would truly matter for engagement? A conversation. Go have some — with whatever number of truly engaged followers you have.

Title image by Jeremy Bishop