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Why Facebook fans are useless


The marketing community has an infatuation with fans -- that is, the kind of fan that simply clicks a button on Facebook. Some now believe the bloom is off the rose. I concur. Roughly 70 percent of Facebook users say that they do not want to be advertised to by businesses that they are fans of. So, why lust after something that won't pay? Given the above, are Facebook fans useless? On their own, they are. However, I believe that with the right approach there are smart things marketers can do to make these fans evolve into true customers. Four tips come to mind. But, first, let's explore the value of a fan.

What's in a fan?
To understand the true value of a fan, we need to consider their context, their behavior and the resulting data generated for marketers.

Why fans are fans
Not all fans are created equal. In order to understand the value of your fans, you need to understand why they came to you. The most important question for brands on Facebook is this: "Why are these consumers taking the time out to engage with my brand?" You need to know where they came from -- and how to group them accordingly based on that knowledge. "In my experience", says to Steve Kerho, SVP of strategy, analytics, media, and marketing optimization at Organic, Inc., "Facebook fans can be grouped into five key categories."

  1. The brand enthusiasts. They absolutely love your brand. Whenever your category comes up in conversation, they never fail to mention you. They are constantly on the lookout for new ways to engage with your brand and utilize your product. These fans can become product evangelists--primed to expand their depth of purchasing with your company. These are good fans, however, without determining a path to convert these enthusiasts into buyers, they offer little value.

  2. They love everyone. Sure they "like" your brand but they "like" everything from their toothpaste manufacturer to their windshield washer fluid. You have an inroad with them and have the opportunity to differentiate yourself from all of their other "favorites."

  3. The average user. You are the brand they tend to go with but they don't give you much thought and they could be swayed by a persuasive argument. These consumers make up a majority of your sales and figuring out a way to engage them is key.

  4. The sweepstakes fan. If you offer coupons or giveaways to consumers who sign up as fans, you tend to get a large group of consumers that were looking for something free and don't really care about your brand.

  5. The issue fan. Your company did something they like -- perhaps you gave to a cause, went green, and they want to reward you with their fandom. You have made some significant inroads with their sensibilities and now is the time to translate that to a purchasing shift.

Aside from the first reason, if someone "fans" your company for any of these reasons on Facebook but hasn't tried your product, what is that worth? Sure, the argument can be made that fans, interested or not, serve as an endorsed advertisement to their networks and that provides you, the marketer, with advertising reach that would otherwise be expensive or difficult to attain. Given the diluted sentiment behind most of these fan types, one can only assume that the attention invoked within a fans respective network is severely limited. Ultimately, Facebook fans appear to be greater fans of the marketing campaign than the brand. While it is nice to have fans of our work, as marketers we recognize our mission is to develop leads, generate loyalty, and drive sales for the brands we represent. The meat is in the numbers we deliver on. Therefore another important question is, "What are the metrics behind fans?"

Fan count
One of the original and most attractive things about fans was that they show a public number of support for a brand (number of fans). It serves as a benchmark against their competitors. Marketers gravitate to the notion that one can out-market the competition if their fan count is higher than their opponents. It is also a measure of credibility across the Facebook channel. A brand with a high fan count must be doing something right, right? Facebook analytics provide no context for why fans become fans, and worse, we have no context for how the fan count relates to other parameters such as non-fans or total customer database size. Perhaps that is less important to marketers. As noted above, the public nature of the fan count has a ripple effect too. Depending on ones settings in Facebook, when you fan a page it is shared with your entire network. Thus the marketer succeeds in attracting reach across your entire network – not just your fanmanship. Still, the question persists, how can the data on fancount help us develop leads and drive sales. Sure, marketers' love reach, but what about engagement?

Real data for marketers
Fan count does come with interesting data for marketers. When a user becomes a fan, Facebook aggregates trending and demographic information to give you an indication of who your fans are and where they come from. In terms of specifics, Facebook does not share private data around demographics such as age, gender, country, and language unless there are a significant number of fans in each statistical category. Thus, if a marketer builds up their fan base sufficiently, they can identify aggregate age and gender data about the people who fan and like their page. This data can be further broken down by country, city, and language. This type of information can serve to help a marketer better target their content to incite the support of more fans. Smarter marketers will also look at how to convert fans into something more valuable -- leads, sales, and loyalty.

Conversion is all in the approach
Many marketers believe the fan count is king. Yet, there is no meaningful correlation between someone fanning a page and purchasing. The behavior of a Facebook fan is like saying "hello." That's it. It is the starting point of a dialog between a consumer and a marketer. If that conversation does not continue then it dies on the proverbial vine. Think about it, how much do you learn about someone who simply says "hello" and then walks away. In that context, how much can a marketer influence a consumers' search, find, evaluate, decide, and buy decisions?

The trick to deriving value is figuring out how to convert a fan. To do this, it means taking a campaign approach where content and technologies are used to better engage fans and move them through the purchase funnel. The single most effective tool to do this is mobile. Why? Aside from the fact that two-thirds of us will choose mobile over chocolate, mobile is the only tool for a marketer to extend a brand experience offline or across other media channels (e.g., outside of social media). Remember, Facebook is just another media channel. Below are four tips to turn your passive fan into an active shopper.

  1. Design your campaigns to attract leads, buyers and promote repeat business not fans. Many marketers will deploy extensive campaigns with the sole objective of building their Facebook fan count. This is a waste of money. While increasing fan count has value, the campaign should be designed with a strategy to engage and convert fans.

  2. Develop a mini "fan" campaign & content strategy to promote engagement with fans as soon as they become a fan. Marketers can easily use the development of fans or "likes" to initiate a dialog. Setup a polling campaign on your page and have them vote (via QR codes, SMS, or direct entry) on issues that are important to them.

  3. Use your "fan campaign" to invoke fans to opt-in into specific areas of interest connected to your brand. Marketers can setup category or couponing SMS alert programs where signups can be done direct from the brand's page. This allows the marketer to send targeted content to the consumer, draw them out of the social media channel and in-store. Promotions work extremely well in this context.

  4. Leverage your traditional media to capture audience data and drive them to your campaigns. Suppose the objective of a campaign is to generate leads and build up a customer database. A marketer can integrate QR codes across their print and TV media that will drive a consumer directly to a Facebook page. From there, the "fan campaign" can be leverage to capture customer data by asking them to sign up (give information) to participate in a contest. From there, they can also sign up for specific SMS alerts on things they care about vis-a-vis your brand.

Marketers need to develop an objective appreciation for the "fan" button. It is impossible to understand what a fan really is. While fan count can give us interesting trending information the quasi-engaged audience, we are unable to correlate the count to more valuable metrics. Rather than treat the acquisition of Facebook fans as the be all and end all of your campaign, leverage them to be part of a larger integrated strategy that can generate tangible results. If Facebook fans don't get converted across the purchase funnel, then the value of a fan becomes nothing more than an impression of sorts. As marketers, I believe there is sufficient consensus in our circles that an impression without a conversion path is completely useless.

At the end of the day, the hunger for Facebook fans does more to support Facebook than the brand. Think about it -- what is more popular your brands' number of "fans" or the concept of "Facebook fans."  This is not necessarily a negative, but serves as data to make a closing point.

The promise of social media is that it enables a one-to-one conversation between marketers and consumers. Better yet, it is measurable. These are the true characteristics of social media insofar that activity takes place within the channel (e.g., Facebook or Twitter). Channel centric approaches are the norm but are also dilutive to marketers as it further fragments target audiences -- email, social, CRM, etc. Facebook fans represent limited engagement with a brand in an isolated channel. However, by leveraging mobile technologies to promote conversion of these fans outside the channel and in-store, they become more meaningful. Even better, marketers can leverage mobile technologies to continue those one-to-one conversations generated in social and expand them across any channel and measure it. Now that is marketing nirvana.

Amielle Lake is CEO of Tagga Media, Inc.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

The visionary and mastermind of Tagga, Lake founded the company in 2008 after working in marketing and corporate communications in the finance industry. Armed with the knowledge that the future of marketing was not only online, but in mobile...

View full biography


to leave comments.

Commenter: Jeremy Farmer

2011, October 19

A good read and I am especially interested in the way you categorise the different types of fan. I broadly agree with what you say, in most instances, engagement is king - a brand is unlikely to achieve immediate sales with a large but unengaged community. But that is not always the purpose of a particular marketing campaign. For example, if you are trying to change the perception of a brand, or are in the process of launching a brand or product, the initial goal may well be simple brand visibility, in this case the number of opportunities to see the new product or look of the brand is all important, therefore outreach and the viral effect comes to the fore - a more familiar aim of PR. When car manufacturers launch halo products or concept cars they are not designed to 'sell' but to achieve column inches and make the brand look cool. On a practical note as well, if you are a page owner and are looking to tie up with other brands for the purposes of competitions or cross selling we tend to find that they first thing the other brand looks at is community size. Regarding the metrics of engagement, it is interesting to look at the new Facebook insights. The shift in the demographics as your content moves from your own page's fans, to those who see your content virally, to those who then interact can be dramatic. By looking carefully at these you have opportunities to hit hard-to-reach communities by tailoring shareable / viral content for those on the fringes of your community. Here engagement is key as this will only work if there is interaction from your fans, otherwise EdgeRank will ensure that you don't show up as Top Stories on their feeds or be seen by their friends. You can see more on this on our blog http://isearchm.com and there will be more on how to measure engagement coming soon...

Commenter: Biztag QrTag

2011, October 18

In regards to a post about Coke, don't we kind of expect Coke to have 35 million likes...This is not a huge surprise to me, they are one of the biggest sponsors of American Idol.. Lot of viewers there. I think in order to realize the power of the "like" button you have to dig deep and recognize it for what it is pure genius, for promoting your brand and going viral. Take for instance a real estate site that uses the Like button for realtors www.QrrealtyTag.com - when a visitor sees a property they like, and may be in the market for a new home, business, apartment or all of the above.., they "like the listing" and instantly the listing is shared to all of their friends and family through facebook; Now people you trust and engage with on a daily basis can click the hyperlink and see the exact items(s) you liked and then comment offering support, opinions and even life experiences based on what you have liked, or what you are currently taking interest in. The like button is simply genius, backlinking and viral promotion is off the charts and by delivering trending, relevant and interesting information right to your 'front door' through facebook by clicking a simple button "The Like Button" it enables you to interact on a deeper level with friends and family about real life scenarios that may involove making a purchase and doing business with a company or just getting feedback about something in your life that is important to your right now!

Commenter: Biztag QrTag

2011, October 18

In regards to a post about Coke, don't we kind of expect Coke to have 35 million likes...This is not a huge surprise to me, they are one of the biggest sponsors of American Idol.. Lot of viewers there. I think in order for you to realize the power of the like button you have to dig deep and realize it is so genius in going viral, its not even funny! Take for instance a real estate site that uses the Like button for realtors www.QrrealtyTag.com - when a visitor sees a property they like, and may be in the market for a new home, business, apartment or all of the above.., when they like the listing they are sharing their hard work of search and find with their friends and family through facebook; because after you click like the listing, with an image posts to your wall and hyperlinks back to the original real estate listing you liked for other to see, so on and so forth. The like button is simply genius, backlinking and viral promotion is off the charts with this and it puts trending, relevant and interesting information right at your fingertips through facebook as your catching up with your friends latest gossip, etc.. .

Commenter: Jennifer Modarelli

2011, October 15

Great article. Although, doesn't it depend on what chocolate or what mobile?

This reminds me of my recent Ad Age article, http://adage.com/article/small-agency-diary/1-digital-metric/227604/ where I said something similar. I enjoyed how you expanded that thought.

Commenter: Anthony Green

2011, October 12

ozEworks Inc - how does someone liking a page and NEVER engaging with that page again result in an increase in product sales? Answer - it doesn't! That's the problem with some of us marketers, we just don't think bottom line

Commenter: Anthony Green

2011, October 12

Useless if not engaged with the content in the page, agreed. At Ad Week last week Coke gloated (multiple times) that they have 35.5MM fans - so what? When only .2 - 2% of fans ever revisit a page, it's more than a flawed metric. It's a false sense of achievement

Commenter: Spencer Broome

2011, October 11

This headline definitely attracts attention.

Commenter: Nick Stamoulis

2011, October 11

You raise a good point about a "fan" not being worth much if they don't interact with your brand. Personally, I would rather have 100 brand enthusiasts Like me on Facebook than 1,000 sweepstakes fans. The hard part is understand what kind of fan each one is so you know how to leverage them for your brand.. The number doesn't matter as much as the engagement does.

Commenter: Andrea Wasik

2011, October 11

Oh my the opportunities people who think like you are missing. No, I won't tell. Making too much money.