The value of a Facebook fan – or not?

No doubt we’ve all experienced, either as consumers or marketers or both, the tendency for brands these days to be desperate for you to ‘like’ their brand on Facebook, with bribes often offered in return. I guess the motivations are that brands think it demonstrates customer engagement, the friends of the likers will see the endorsement and be somehow positively influenced by it, it allows a brand to get into someone’s newsfeed with its updates and content and thereby increase their involvement, etc. But to what extent does liking a brand actually demonstrate any real interest in or commitment to a brand, rather than just a way to get access to a prize draw or whatever?

In this month’s Admap there’s an interesting piece of analysis about the extent to which fans of a brand on Facebook actually interact with the brand beyond their first ‘like’. It’s from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, where Byron Sharp of ‘How Brands Grow’ works – I’ve posted about him/them before because they bring some much-needed empiricism and clear thinking to the gut-feel-led world of marketing.

They’ve analysed the newish Facebook measure ‘People talking about this’, which counts any direct interaction with a brand page such as initial liking, liking content, posting to a wall, commenting, sharing a post or content, photo tagging, checking in or RSVP-ing to an event.

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Over six weeks they calculated the average weekly PTAT versus the average weekly fan numbers (likers) for the top 200 brands by fan numbers on Facebook. In any of these weeks, less than 0.5% of brand fans engaged with the brand on Facebook. So 99.5% of your brand fans in any given week didn’t interact with the brand on Facebook in any measurable way – although they may have read the brand’s posts in their news feeds I guess.

The engagement levels vary only a little by category, with cars and alcohol brands getting the most engagement, but still less than 1% of brand fans interacting per week, and financial services the least. Even the cool brands that we might imagine would have higher than average interaction (Nike, Harley-Davidson, D&G, Jack Daniels, …) don’t get significantly higher engagement.

And the vast majority of growth in the PTAT number is explained by growth in the number of likers – i.e. the bulk of what we see as brand engagement is just the initial liking. Plus what they don’t mention but is pretty clear is that the number of likers is always a tiny fraction of the penetration of a brand – looking at my clients’ brands for which I know the penetration it looks like the number of likers is about 1-2% of total customer numbers.

So should we despair about our inability to drive social media engagement at any scale? Or are we prioritizing the wrong thing, since there is no real evidence that I know of that this kind of engagement correlates with sales? It feels like this is another example of marketers’ tendency to get distracted by a pursuit of brand loyalty rather than brand penetration.

Consumers don’t care about brands that much. They develop habits primarily because it’s convenient to do so, not because they want to be in a relationship with a brand. Yet because we ourselves are in a relationship with the brands we work for or with, we seem to find that so hard to accept.

The full article is published here for free at the moment:
http://www.warc.com/Content/ContentViewer.aspx?ID=b44fad20-c6f7-4d44-aac2-da9ea7cf8383&MasterContentRef=b44fad20-c6f7-4d44-aac2-da9ea7cf8383&Campaign=admap_may12

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