Thursday, June 30, 2011

What’s the value of a Facebook Fan?

The question has been pondered since Mark Zuckerberg offered the functionality to the Facebook community, enabling members to publicly pledge support for friends’ posts. The debate jumped to overdrive in late 2010 when Mountain Dew became the first to integrate the Facebook ‘Like’ feature into online advertising outside the Facebook platform.

Consistent throughout the debate has been much gnashing of teeth among brand managers and marketing executives who complain that their enormous, inflated numbers of brand “Fans” do not acceptably translate to brand sales. What those managers and executives seem to misunderstand is what a Facebook Fan is and what a Facebook Fan is not.

First, what a Facebook Fan is. Becoming a Fan by Liking a brand brings that enamored consumer one step closer to the brand. It means – quite simply – that the consumer is no longer a stranger to the brand. In non-FB terms, the brand and the consumer have been introduced to one another. The brand can now more freely share information with the consumer, more comfortably initiate a dialogue with them, more easily learn about the consumer’s preferences and dislikes and needs.

Now, what a Facebook Fan is not. Becoming a Fan of a brand is not difficult. The lone hurdle for the consumer to conquer on the way to becoming a Fan is a click of a mouse. As a result, there is no reason to consider the Facebook Fan a person invested in the brand. And until someone perfects a way to instantly deliver soda / tacos / pizzas / etc. to consumers over WiFi, many brands cannot expect a Facebook Fan to equal a sale. Put plainly, becoming a Fan does not guarantee that the consumer will spend any money on the brand whatsoever.

Does this mean that a Facebook Fan has no value to brands? Absolutely not. It does not mean that at all. In fact, a Facebook Fan can be extremely valuable to a brand when put in the right marketer’s hands. And I can’t think of any reason why a brand would not want as many Fans as it could possibly collect.

When a consumer becomes a Fan of a brand the brand can begin to assemble a rich body of data about the consumer. The brand can use this data to inform its communications, offers, and programs. When utilized correctly, the savvy brand manager and marketing executive should be able to combine the understanding of the brand’s Facebook Fans and their own marketing instincts to craft better marketing campaigns.

Brands should stop attempting to correlate their number of Fans to sales and rather correlate sales to the quality of their product and the quality of the programs they design for their Fans.