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 “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. You 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)

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