As I started researching this article, I found quite a number of articles about the different types of Facebook friends and fans. They use a lot of cute names for the types of friends and fans (my favorite being "the poker player" -- thank goodness Facebook's poke functionality is pretty much ignored now), but very few articles address the brand impact that different types of fans can have.
When you talk to many marketers, they predominantly talk about their brands' Facebook fans as "brand advocates." This implies that every Facebook fan a brand has is out there telling everyone how great the brand is and bringing other followers into the brand's sphere. Last year, I talked about the myth of brand advocates, so we won't rehash that in great detail here. Instead, we'll focus on the various types of fans that comprise most brands' Facebook audiences and the different ways in which brands should treat these groups.
The contest participant
Online contests and sweepstakes are a common way to quickly gain "likes" on your Facebook page and most likely a large portion of your fan base. Many companies have very successfully built large lists of followers this way, but the downside is that many sweepstakes offers are inadvertently designed to attract large numbers of non-qualified prospects. After all, who wouldn't want to win a trip to Hawaii?
Many people will gladly "like" you for great offers whether they care about your products or not. They'll also tell their friends about it as well. So if you've run a lot of sweepstakes, you might have a large list of acquaintances -- but not many close friends. If you're thinking of running a sweepstakes to gain fans, focus on offers that will only appeal to the fans you'd like to have. For example, if you're targeting IT professionals, don't give away an iPad; instead, provide an offer for a free online training course with a relevant certification.
The one-time prospect
One-time prospects are the people who've visited your page for a specific reason and "liked" you once, but they really aren't that interested in you on an ongoing basis. A good example of this might be people who like a resort page for an upcoming vacation, but they aren't likely to come back.
Although not an active audience, this is an ideal set of people to have on your fan list. They might not interact very much, but they might be inspired to revisit your resort when they see posts two or three years later. Of course, if your service starts to slip and you start getting negative comments, they might be more inspired not to return as well.
The accidental fan
Among any fan base is a group of people who "liked" your page by accident. Whether they fat-fingered your "like" button on a mobile device or just inadvertently clicked the button on their computer, this set of fans has pretty limited value to you. The good news is there aren't that many of them, so it's just important to recognize that this group exists and not worry too much about trying to get engagement from your entire fan base.
The forgotten fan
Just like in our personal lives, we have old friends who've dropped off our radar. They're still on your holiday card list, but you really don't keep in touch. This group includes the people who can't figure out how to "unlike" you and don't really care that much whether they see you in their feed or not. They are much like the people on your email list who don't make the effort to unsubscribe when they are no longer interested. Occasionally, these folks will reengage with you throughout your relationship and could turn into closer friends down the road.
The inner circle
This group is composed of your employees, investors, and other close relationships. Much like the way your siblings are part of your personal Facebook network, the inner circle is highly involved and interested in what your brand is doing, but this group is not a great set of prospects from which to generate new business.
The badge wearer
Badge wearers are people who've "liked" you not because they actually like or are interested in your brand, but rather they like the association of being near you. In essence, your brand becomes a trophy wife that they like to show off, but they really don't offer a lot of additional value to your brand (and in some ways might have a negative impact).
Badge wearers are aspirational followers. They desire to be associated and hope to someday truly be in the club. As of the writing of this article, Ferrari has more than 10 million "likes" on Facebook. I'm sure the brand is well aware that it has a lot of badge wearers in its fan base.
This audience strikes fear in the hearts of every social media marketer. It's the first question asked by companies that are considering social media programs: What if someone posts a negative comment?
I'm sure we all have acquaintances who seem to have a negative opinion about everything. They can tell you about every bad restaurant experience they've had -- and they aren't afraid to share it. But how often do you hear the positive reviews? Not nearly as often.
Sadly, in our culture, it's common to vent and complain more loudly than you praise. So as a brand, it's important to accept that this is a part of life and to recognize that complainers can also be opportunities -- not only to improve your relationship with them, but also with others who are following the thread. One of the benefits of having a social presence is that you get the opportunity for complainers to voice their complaints directly as opposed to having conversations with others behind your back.
The good friend
This final group is your true fan base. Just like in your personal life, these are your followers who are genuinely interested in what you're doing, enjoy being with you, and, when asked, will say nice things about you. They are less influenced by negative comments about you and, when pushed into the corner, will gladly stand up and defend you. They don't need to see you every day, but they like to hear from you once in awhile -- particularly when you have interesting news and successes.
So what is a brand to do with all this information? The most important point of this article is that when talking about "likes," friends, fans, followers, etc., you shouldn't lump them all into one group. Brands need to understand who their audience members are and treat them accordingly. Ferrari isn't going to sell 10 million cars anytime soon. On the other hand, Coca-Cola does have a good chance of selling products to its 57 million-plus Facebook fans.
Most Facebook fans aren't shouting your name from the rooftops, but they can have a significant impact on your success. So take the time to understand your company's fan list. You might not see every category in this article represented among your fans, but doing an analysis is a good exercise that will give you a better understanding of who your fans are so you can engage them appropriately.
Peter Platt is president of PSquared Digital.
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