For Brands On Facebook, Fan Quality Trumps Quantity

Companies spent $5.4 billion on social media advertising in 2011–but are all those Facebook “likes” really meaningful and, if so, what is their true value to a brand?


Whenever someone asks me to be their friend on Facebook, I’m flattered. Who would have thought so many people like me? Then I realize why: the act of friending simulates the ultimate act of opting into a conversation.


No wonder so many brands are obsessed with converting you into one of their “friends” or “fans”; there are even “fan farms” that get paid to generate fans for the lowest dollar amount (though if you take this approach, rest assured you’ll get what you pay for). 

But what brand wouldn’t want to have an ongoing conversation with loyal consumers, who, in turn, can advocate on behalf of the brand and amplify its reach amongst their own friends? The impressive rise in attention and dollars that marketers have been pouring into social media marketing lately suggests that the answer is “not many.” According to eMarketer, social media ad spend grew 55.6% to $5.4 billion in 2011, up from $3.56 billion a year earlier. The total market is expected to reach $10 billion by 2013.

However, are these Facebook “likes” really meaningful and, if so, what is their true value to a brand?

One company, Virtue, a social media marketing platform, took an approach that converted the value of a fan to media dollars by using its data to determine a wall post to fan ratio. On that basis, they arrived at an average value for a Facebook fan of about $3.60 a year. Not so much.

Two other companies, Syncapse and Hotspex, took a different approach and identified five key contributors to Facebook fan value: product spending, brand loyalty, propensity to recommend, brand affinity, and earned media value. They calculated the average annualized value of an individual Facebook fan at $136.00.


Even allowing for the fact that all averages are dangerous, $3.60 versus $136.00 is an impressive disparity. 

Each of these formulas has merit, but it’s going to be tough to find one that works for everyone. Simply put, in assessing fan value, it’s difficult to know what metric to look for, what to leave out, why it’s relevant to the fan equation, and where true causality lies. (Are the babies coming because the storks are nesting on the chimneys? Or are the storks coming because fires are lit for the babies?)

And when thinking of the value of a Facebook friend, isn’t it presumptuous to assume that this value is always positive? Recently, for example, two different consumer brands facing PR crises, Versace and Chapstick, saw significant upticks in their Facebook friend counts. The growth in their fan bases, however, was not due to an outpouring of support. Rather, it represented a groundswell of critics clamoring to voice their discontent on these companies’ very own fan pages. With Facebook friends like these, who needs enemies?

Maybe the better question to ask is: How much can a brand make a Facebook friend worth? That’s because “liking” or “friending” a brand isn’t where the value is; that’s merely a gesture that can easily be bought or gamed. No, the true value of a Facebook friend is in the real-world engagement that may follow. It’s this engagement that unlocks the real value in this equation. Engagement, though, as we all know, is a very fat word.

What matters is the quality of the friendships, not the quantity of friends. At BBDO, our analytics practice “The Worth” has done numerous studies correlating product sales to Facebook activity and our quality-based definition of engagement. Working with Next Generation Marketing Insights (NGMI), we measure the levels of personalization and emotion in consumer conversations, and quantify how individuals feel about the brand on a personal level.


Over the course of 156 weeks, with work for multiple brands, we’ve compared the correlation of sales to Facebook friend counts and the correlation of sales to this particular definition of engagement.

Engagement wins every time. By a lot. Twice as much, in fact.

Our data shows correlations to sales of engagement of 90% versus correlations of sales to friend count of anywhere from -5.3% to 40% at most.

And that’s where the creativity comes in.

Creativity is the magical ability to capture and hold the attention of an audience–to engage that audience–while you give them some information, a demonstration or, more likely, an experience that changes the way they think and feel, and yes, most importantly, act. 


When a brand gains a “like” on Facebook and begins to count that consumer as a friend, it’s really only the first step. Each new friend is an opportunity to enter into a meaningful dialogue with consumers that will bring about deep positive engagement with the brand, transforming first-time community members into converted and repeat consumers, preexisting patrons into loyalists and loyalists into trusted advocates.

In the real-world, only a small subset of your universe of Facebook friends will unequivocally vouch for you and be there for you, whatever the circumstance. They are the ones who know you best and stick with you through everything. They are the ones willing to look past a shortcoming because they appreciate how great you are. Those are your real friends.

So the next time you ask me to be your friend on Facebook, think twice about the value of my acquaintance.

Author Andrew Robertson is the President and CEO of BBDO Worldwide. 

[Image: Flickr user kevinreese]

About the author

Andrew Robertson has been President and Chief Executive Officer of BBDO Worldwide since June 2004. BBDO Worldwide adds value to its clients’ brands and businesses through its focus on “The Work, The Work