A million Facebook followers can create the illusion of a popular company. But social media is a two-way street, and brands need to work hard to sustain cultural relevance and engage their audience, while also being prepared to invest a substantial amount of time.
The problem with using Facebook to create the mirage of popularity or engagement is that it usually means offering some type of bribe, such as a discounted voucher; but you can't bribe people forever. You need to entice them with incentives and then use that platform for a sustained dialogue. With the right social media activity, it is possible to create both new relationships and jumpstart existing ones that were faltering. With the wrong social media activity, you simply have an impressive looking but ultimately useless number of followers. Don't be naive either; fans can just as easily rescind their fan status as they can give it. I hesitate to break out a horribly clichéd idea such as take care of your fans and they'll take care of you, but you understand the point.
Therefore, the value of a Facebook "like" is difficult to pin down, and yet despite this, some feel it's a lot simpler than that. Last year, Virtue claimed it had the answer: $3.60. Wonderful! Although, on a similar pursuit, social media measurement firm Syncapse came up with $136.38, which is quite a discrepancy.
I can't help but take these valuations with a grain of salt. Virtue calculated that 1 million fans generated about $300,000 in media buys per month, but it drew upon data from clients across multiple sectors. It also conceded that there was a wild fluctuation between the actual page impressions per fan, ranging from as low as 0.44 to as high as 3.6. The results were chalked up to how engaged the brand's fans were. But isn't there a hugely hypocritical conclusion to this valuation? Does a brand's interaction with its fans decidedly affect how useful or valuable it is? More fundamentally than that, aren't fans supposed to be unique? They are people after all.
Syncapse polled 4,000 fans of the top 20 most popular brands on Facebook, and then based on the results tried to estimate what value they added to that brand. So what did it find? Other than a bizarre monetary sum, it concluded that there are different types of fans that "dramatically impact value."
Simply put, fans are too different. Shouldn't fans that join on their own accord be worth more than the fan that chases a reward? Are those who voice their opinion more valuable than those who keep quiet? If Stephen Fry suddenly decides he wants to do a bit of free ambassadorial work and become a fan of a page, thousands would follow suit. Try putting a figure on that!
In a world dominated by the obsessive need to quantify, this case is one we may have to let go, as hard as that may be. If you have a million Facebook fans and engage them once with a savvy competition and they never go back to that page, where is the value?
The social media connection goes farther than merely data; it is an open dialogue. And yet, like data, it has no value until it is put to good use. Potential is a start but by no means the end.
What is clear is that not every fan is equal. Any brand can build a fan page with big numbers, but only those who have a full understanding and control of their customer base will reap the true rewards. Think not how can I get a million Facebook fans but rather, how can I create a million brand ambassadors?
Here's where you can find value in your "likes":
Brand over product
Only a few brands have established such an identity that they've transcended their product and attracted a devoted fan base. Coca-Cola is one example.
Recently, Bacardi made waves by ditching its entire website and shifting its digital spend to Facebook. As a drinks brand, Bacardi's offering is very much intertwined with lifestyle and experience, and it engages with its consumers on a regular basis. Little product information is needed because it never changes, so a brand like Bacardi is able to make that transition to social media much more easily.
Music is a sector where "likes" can be highly valuable, although not in the conventional sense. It's very basic and an easy and cost-effective way for record labels to gauge the popularity of a potential new act. Since music is now very much intertwined with social media (i.e., Justin Bieber finding fame through YouTube), a "like" holds considerable weight.
The writing is on the wall
Forget the number of "likes." Check out how many users have interacted with a wall post in the last week. How many times have you joined in that interaction? Are you actually talking to anybody? These are the questions you should ask to find out if your Facebook page has any real value.
Macky Drese is managing director at MCBX.
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