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."
- 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.
- 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."
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?"
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.