Community Management, Digital Marketing, Email, Social Media Measurement, Social Media Tools, Brand Communities, Email Marketing Advice, Social Media ROI

Mistake Math – Why We’re Valuing Facebook Fans All Wrong

Part 2 of a 3-Part Rant

Brands are shouting from the rooftops about how many Facebook fans they have – and the number of “likes” does help you spread your message through the news feeds of your fans (more on that tomorrow). But let’s recognize it takes literally one click of one finger to “like” a brand. On the commitment scale, that’s a far cry from getting a tattoo.

facebook success metrics1 Mistake Math   Why Were Valuing Facebook Fans All WrongFacebook “likes” is the most disproportionately important metric ever devised in marketing. As much as it’s ballyhooed, you’d think it actually represented something truly valuable, like “customers” or “sales”.

Remember, the goal isn’t to be good at Facebook. The goal is to be good at business because of Facebook. And on that front, we’ve totally overvalued “likes”.

The psychology of Facebook “likers” is similar to email newsletter subscribers (I have enough kinship with this company to allow them to stay in touch with me). However, in comparison to your Facebook fans, your email subscribers usually provide far more important information to your business when they subscribe. It takes a lot more than one click to subscribe to an email list.

Mine is Bigger Than Yours

Thus, why aren’t companies spending more time shouting about the size of their email lists? According to Al Larsen, Director of Corporate Communications at Andretti Autosport who theorized this with me, it’s because you can’t lie about the number of Facebook fans you have. One of the reasons we put so much emphasis on Facebook “likes” (and Twitter followers, for that matter) is that you can compare yourself to your competitors in about 7 seconds. This is a first in business. Without an expensive analytics subscription, you can’t with utter reliability compare your website traffic to your competitors. You can compare search rankings among competitors, but not search traffic. facebook success metrics old yeller Mistake Math   Why Were Valuing Facebook Fans All WrongYou don’t know how many phone calls your competitors got from their last print ad. Or foot traffic in their stores. Facebook and Twitter are the first communication protocols that bake the scoreboard right into the channel itself. And it makes us crazy and frothing like late-stage Old Yellers.

A Better Way to Measure Facebook Success

Here’s how I look at Facebook fan math. If you have 200,000 active addresses in your email list, and you assume that approximately 50% of those people are on Facebook (a testable assumption using Flowtown or Rapleaf analysis), the MINIMUM number of Facebook fans you should have is 100,000. If you can’t get people who have given you their name, email address, and probably one or two other data fields to click a single “like” button, then you have a serious customer loyalty and advocacy issue.

Even within Facebook, a much more valuable metric to automatically display on fan pages would be active fans, rather than total fans. Active fans measures the people that actually still care enough about your company to click “like” or “comment” on your status updates, or interact with your tabbed pages in some way. Essentially, the “active fans” metric is the post-modern email open rate or click-through rate. But yet, that data point is hidden away so that only fan page administrators can access it.

If Facebook is going to prevent us from lying to each other about how good we are as marketers, shouldn’t they at least make us use a legitimate data point?

(Read Part 1 of my Facebook Rant)

(images from Shutterstock, a Convince & Convert sponsor)

Related
  • http://www.superiorpromos.com Pablo Edwards

    Spot on. I think there is this strange thing in Social Media where we feel that we need to have people following and we will be all good. There is much, much more!

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Activate, don’t collect. Activate, don’t collect. Activate, don’t collect.

  • http://www.blog.chrisehyoung.com/ Chris Eh Young

    It’s a matter of instant validation. We all want to feel liked and the more people we can show that like us, the more popular we obviously must be. As Peter Shankman put it, follower numbers is the new penis envy.
    This, essentially, turns social media into a game of follower collecting. Padding numbers for the sheer sake of having the most. They say numbers don’t lie, I think they bend the truth.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      If there was a correlation between number of followers/fans and success, then it wouldn’t be a big problem. Unfortunately/fortunately it’s about what you do with your fans more so than it’s about collecting them.

      • http://www.blog.chrisehyoung.com/ Chris Eh Young

        I was agreeing with you up top. What i meant was that many people are treating followers like collectables. They don’t want to take them out of the box and play with them. They are strictly for show.

  • http://blogging.compendiumblog.com/blog/blogging-best-practices chrisbaggott

    Good post. Keep in mind that Facebook Likes are a form of Branding. And lazy marketers LOVE branding. The softness of an “impression” vs. the hard metrics (and associated work) of 1to1.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      How are they a form of branding if it doesn’t show up in your news feed, which it does not 99.5% of the time?

  • http://kavisolo.com kguppta

    Thank you. You’ve hit a point that we at our firm have been discussing a whole lot. Facebook fans in volume really mean nothing apart from a broader social network reach in terms of impressions and visibility. But working to glean more contextual information about your customers, to better tailor programs and campaigns, is key to actually getting any value out of any large community you’ve built inside a larger community.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Yes indeed. “likes” essentially means “potential audience”.

  • http://kavisolo.com kguppta

    Thank you. You’ve hit a point that we at our firm have been discussing a whole lot. Facebook fans in volume really mean nothing apart from a broader social network reach in terms of impressions and visibility. But working to glean more contextual information about your customers, to better tailor programs and campaigns, is key to actually getting any value out of any large community you’ve built inside a larger community.

  • http://twitter.com/shivya Shivya Nath

    Interesting post and I completely agree.

    From Facebook’s perspective, it works if people everywhere shout about how many fans they have. That means ad buys for Facebook, which equals revenue.

    We can talk about active fans & engagement all we want, but until we have something to measure those, it won’t be easy to justify efforts that go into maintaining a facebook page. Like they say, little knowledge is dangerous, and number of fans is terribly little knowledge about the success of a Facebook page.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      I don’t want to counter my own post, but I don’t want to leave people with the impression that “likes” aren’t important. They are. They are in fact the most important thing that drives Facebook success. (more on that in tomorrow’s rant). The issue isn’t “likes” the issue is overvaluing “likes” instead of active fans.

  • Anonymous

    But we agree that Facebook fans and likes should be reported as part of a larger analysis?

    It is an easy number to get and it is easily comparable to peers, so based on that doesn’t it carry at least some validity? All things being equal, right?

    • HATI Solutions

      unless, you are overwhelmed with other statistics to do a quick calculation on, yes it should be measured (and reported).

      please do not lose sight on what this statistic is, big or small business!
      somebody actually went out there way to connect with you.

      drilling for more depth is also very important, once you have understood the likes & fans ( and have more time to digress deeper).

      lets not go from zero to infinity too quickly with feedback & measurement, we have been denied already for too long already.

      yes!

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Yes, we should track it, the same way we track email subscribers. Not the most important metric, but a metric.

  • Anonymous

    Great start to your rant! I totally agree with the value of “active fans.” It seems many companies on Facebook are overwhelmed after achieving fan volume, and don’t have a long-term plan in place to keep an engaging conversation going. I’m always curious to hear examples of who is doing a great job at this (I think Caribou Coffee is one)!

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Thanks for the comment. I haven’t spent much time with Caribou. I’ll check it out.

  • Dawn

    Completely concur. It’s easy to *start* a conversation.
    The trick and treat is in E-X-T-E-N-Ding it.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Yes, and that’s all about winning the news feed.

  • HATI Solutions

    (b Like, one click recognition will always be a measure, just as a yes or no to a SMS survey on your hotel stay or dining experience. the fact of participation should not be undermined. we have lived in an environment where the unknown is far more dangerous. active “likers” are a far truer measure, but a statistic very few businesses have ever had the ability to follow or track realistically. flipside, if likes are over-rated, do you think dislikes are over-rated, i think not. i feel the pain of the businesses genuinely or un-genuinely disliked. just look at the deservedly flack tripadvisor is streaming. whether it is one clicked response, or a two fingered one, or even more important a few more, we should not devalue any form of response. we should never forget there was an unbiased, unpaid, non-corrupt reason they clicked you in the first place. i agree wholeheartedly with every other point.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      No. I don’t think dislikes are overrated at all. They are almost the exact equivalent of email unsubscribes, which is the ultimate early warning detection system.

  • http://ciaoenrico.com Ciaoenrico

    Hear hear! I decry the tenuous nature of Facebook connections until I’m blue, but nothing ever seems to change. A follow count is easy to understand and easy to point at… but we all know that. I know I’m preaching to the choir pointing that out.

    Actually, I’ve been trying to find a realistic dollar value for individual Facebook fans, but cracking that nut won’t happen until Facebook itself offers Google-level analytics of their pages.

    It’s interesting that you point out active fans rather than total fans, though – I hadn’t thought of that. If I calculate for just them instead, the dollar value of all these fans would actually shoot way up.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      You can of course use Google Analytics itself to track FB pages, but that’s probably not going to get you what you need.

      • http://ciaoenrico.com Ciaoenrico

        Indeed. GA will show the traffic coming from Facebook, but it doesn’t show how much of that traffic comes from fans.

  • http://twitter.com/maggielmcg maggielmcg

    OMG thank you! If all I do as a fan is click “like” once then forever hide your updates from my news feed, how am I worth whatever today’s dollar value of a fan is?

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      There has of course been a lot of research on that Maggie. I don’t doubt that there is an average “value” of fans. But my issue is that the advocacy of those fans existing before they “liked” the brand on Facebook, not because they liked the brand on Facebook.

  • http://twitter.com/maggielmcg maggielmcg

    OMG thank you! If all I do as a fan is click “like” once then forever hide your updates from my news feed, how am I worth whatever today’s dollar value of a fan is?

  • Anonymous

    I agree overall, but I think your math is a bit off…

    If you have 200k people on your e-mail list, and 50% of them are FB users, you have a potential base of 100k “likes” on FB from that e-mail list. That isn’t necessarily the number of minimum likes you should have. A certain percentage of those people aren’t going to be heavy FB users–or, like me, they may only use FB for personal social activity and not “Like” anything. (I don’t “Like” anything on FB, because I only use it to keep in touch with friends.)

    You’re right, “Likes” are incredibly over-valued. It’s so easy to do, even you are still doing it! :)

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Good point. I was making the (false) assumption that everyone that has a Facebook account would be a potential “like”. I’d guess that there are some dormant accounts or light users out there. Thus, perhaps a better benchmark would be 80% of your 50%, so something like 80,000 likes? Pure speculation of course.

  • http://wheretherosessleep.blogspot.com/ Lisa Procaccini

    Yes, it would make it easier to be more accurate about marketing through the social media, but wouldn’t the company be cautious about reporting it first? For example, if Coke has more “likes” than the “I hate Coca-cola” page they look better, but what happens when the “I hate Coca-cola” has more ACTIVE fans than the Coke pages? Coke would almost be better off not releasing the active fans and just maintaining that they have more.

    One other point: Is there a way to track just HOW active fans are? For example, is a fan that commented on two posts a year ago still logged under “active” on Facebook? To that point, would it be better to have less members who are “super active” (i.e. constant commenting/visiting) than more members who are just “active” (i.e. one or two visits to comment on a page)?

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      That’s a great idea. I’d love to see Facebook give you that level of detail, to sort your fans by engagement level. Nice idea!

  • http://twitter.com/mostew mostew

    Totally agree. I do remember when virtually every email client I worked with was hyper-focused on the size of their email list–even to the point of doing some pretty questionable stuff to boost the numbers. The only logical rationale I ever received was that it sounded better for the execs when they were looking for public speaking gigs. Everyone wants to hear from the guy managing a list with 10,000,000 subscribers. No one cares to hear from the person sending to 100,000.

    Seems the same “size” competition has moved to Facebook. And the allure is that much stronger because, as you point out, everyone can see the numbers.

    However, the bottom line remains… size is only loosely correlated with value. I’ve seen big email lists that don’t make much $$, and modest size lists that make a ton of $$. I have nothing to back this up (yet!), but I believe the same principle holds true on Facebook.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      As soon as you get that research done Morgan, I’d be delighted to talk about it here at C&C.

  • Lyle Ortega

    Hi Jay –
    Great post as usual. In the content business, aren’t the number of “fans” you have a critical metric required to show potential advertisers or investors why they should consider your site? Do you see this mind-set changing in the near future to focus more on quality of interaction versus the numbers game?

  • http://www.worob.com/ Worob

    Great points, Jay. I agree with some of the comments below that we still need to track the number of followers/likes, etc. but it should be about more than that. You want to create an experience on your FB page and help use it as a sales driver/relationship driver, IMO.

    @Worob
    PR at Sunrise (worob.com)

  • http://Twitter.com/JakeFromCTI Jake Walsh

    I like the connection you made between active fans and open rates. It would be interesting to see how those rates compare…I’m guessing there would be a positive correlation (e.g. If you typically have a 20% open rate for email campaigns, you should expect to have 2/10 active fans on Facebook).

    If you did find a positive correlation, it would give you the opportunity to test “subject lines” in the form of facebook posts, and then use the better performing ones in your email campaigns. Afterall, it’s a lot cheaper to test variations of a message on Facebook. :)

    On another note, I think it is possible for competitors to know how well you are doing on Facebook, aside from number of fans. They can easily gauge the number of active fans by observing activity on your profile (i.e. mentions or tags, wall comments, status likes, etc.)

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Nice thinking Jake. If you’d like to explore that concept in a guest
      post, I’d be interested in seeing it.

  • Deb

    i understand the point you are trying to make BUT if you have set your facebook business page up so that in order to like you must add your contact information wouldn’t the “like” prove to be of extreme value?

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Absolutely, if you have a reliable way to turn that contact info into
      revenue.

  • Deb

    jay, i meant to leave this for you on my earlier post: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVKsd8z6scw

  • http://www.coltgraphx.cx/ Colton Day

    Great post, Jay!
    I agree that the active fans metric is very valuable and I also agree that it’s comparable to open rates and click-through rates. However, I don’t agree that it should be made public. Just like open rates and click-through rates, I think the active fans metric should be kept hidden and used as a way to measure your success and to help you determine if your strategy needs to be modified based on those results.
    Just my thoughts!

  • Sue

    So …. What’s In It For Me?

    Have you ever been thanked by any of these brands for liking them/being a fan? They leverage these fan pages in Facebook so that we as consumers promote their brand on their behalf, but what’s in it for us?

  • Sue

    So …. What’s In It For Me?

    Have you ever been thanked by any of these brands for liking them/being a fan? They leverage these fan pages in Facebook so that we as consumers promote their brand on their behalf, but what’s in it for us?

  • http://kommein.com Deb Ng

    I’m of the belief that every Facebook “like” has value and it has nothing to do with a “my fan page is bigger than your fan page” approach. I like to think that most people are too well informed to blindly drink Kool Aid. The way I see it, is if you have an effective campaign each and every one of those “likes” can be inspired to take action. Even if everyone doesn’t act or buy all of the time, they’ll all act or buy some of the time. Now, with that said, while I do believe that popularity and influence can be the same thing, I also feel that every business and brand is different so comparing the number of likes between each business and brand is silly.

    I know from experience that having a large group of people “liking” your brand can convert to some pretty cool beans, so I won’t write off the value of having so many fans. Really, if a brand sucks, would it rate to anything at all? It’s sort of like devaluing your RSS readers because not everyone reads your blog every day. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being proud of numbers. People wouldn’t “like” you if they didn’t like you and that’s a valuable metric in and of itself.

  • http://kommein.com Deb Ng

    I’m of the belief that every Facebook “like” has value and it has nothing to do with a “my fan page is bigger than your fan page” approach. I like to think that most people are too well informed to blindly drink Kool Aid. The way I see it, is if you have an effective campaign each and every one of those “likes” can be inspired to take action. Even if everyone doesn’t act or buy all of the time, they’ll all act or buy some of the time. Now, with that said, while I do believe that popularity and influence can be the same thing, I also feel that every business and brand is different so comparing the number of likes between each business and brand is silly.

    I know from experience that having a large group of people “liking” your brand can convert to some pretty cool beans, so I won’t write off the value of having so many fans. Really, if a brand sucks, would it rate to anything at all? It’s sort of like devaluing your RSS readers because not everyone reads your blog every day. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being proud of numbers. People wouldn’t “like” you if they didn’t like you and that’s a valuable metric in and of itself.

    • http://abbymalikpr.wordpress.com/ Abby Malik

      Hi Deb and Jay and everyone else! I agree with you both, in different aspects. Deb, in regard to your comment, there is still something to the whole “bandwagon” effect. A page that has a lot of followers (though most might be inactive, but only an admin would know that) might bring in more by the sheer size of the fanbase. A lot of this depends on what your organization or company is. If you’re using Facebook to sell a product, every fan and all engagement might be more crucial than fans for, say, a university (my speciality) who aren’t traditional customers, so speak, but more like folks who want to keep up with current events/news.

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  • Pierre Rattini

    This makes sense. I came to this with other thoughts in mind initially. Thanks for the new insights.

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  • Molly_palm

    You are absolutely right in your critique of Facebook fans, and though many brands decide they want/need to have more Facebook fans than their direct competitors, we must remind them that this is not a strategic end point. Rather than fixate on a number, we should be asking ourselves how we will use this platform to interact directly with our potential customers. More than anything, we need to listen to what they are saying, and respond in our own human voice with information or ideas that might add value to their lives. Once we shift the focus to the idea of engagement (one way to measure this on Facebook is through the click through anaytics) we will get a better sense of what people are interested in seeing more of; the whole idea being, that if we can keep them engaged as Facebook fans, we might one day be able to turn them into loyal brand advocates.

  • http://surelikes.com/ Shaun

    people are lazy by nature, even you already have their data or email address. if you dont give enough reason to like your page e.g. promotion, they wont click it. another reason could be privacy concerns too bcoz once they become a fan, not only that you have their email, you would have access to their pictures and other things as well

  • http://billcollectorshateme.blogspot.com/ Bill Collectors Hate Me

    LIKES are overrated but lets face it, LIKES do have value. The more you have the more important the site appears to be. People are more inclined to LIKE a fan page with 500 fans vs a page with only 3 fans. So in this case, size does matter!!!