Facebook Fan: $136.38? $3.60 or $0.00?

I’ve had this post in my head for a while. And given the fact that many of my Twitter friends were complaining about Facebook being down yesterday, I figured that this was as good a time as any to write this post about the value of a fan on Facebook.

Judy Shapiro of AdAge did a nice job this summer of summarizing the findings from two independent studies conducted by Syncapse and Vitrue (more on those in a minute). And my friend, Augie Ray who is a senior analyst over at Forrester has written a blog post about this. His assertion is that a fan is worth zero. It’s a conversation with Augie about this topic that was the original impetus for this post. And believe it or not I completely agree with him.

Before my fellow marketers decide to take me out back and shoot me, I should probably offer a little additional information. First, I don’t really believe that a Facebook fan is worth $0. And neither does Augie. In fact, it’s what the fan can do for the brand that actually makes them valuable. Without getting into all sorts of facts, figures and methodologies, let me paint a picture for you.

I’m a huge Starbucks addict. My wife and I both drink one of their iced venti Americano’s at least five times a week. Maybe more. Up until recently, both of us were mayors of two different Starbucks on FourSquare (I no longer own mine) so every time we go to the store, we let our social networks know we’re there. In fact, if you asked a number of my friends what my drink of choice was, they’d be able to answer without even thinking about it. BUT… I’m already a fan of theirs whether I’ve “liked” them on Starbucks or not. And yes, there is an outside chance I would buy more stuff from them if they gave me additional offers. But probably not.

Iced venti Americano

So I am a valuable customer. And I buy a lot of coffee from them every year. But I don’t by more coffee from them because I “like” them on Facebook. This is the fundamental “chicken and egg” problem I have with Syncapse’s methodology that pegs a fan at an average worth of $136.38/fan. I’m not valuable because I spend more money with Starbucks (my Facebook fandom is a by-product of my passion for the brand). However, I think I am worth something to them because of my network i.e. 1,700 people that I’m connected to on Facebook and 14,000 on Twitter and my blog. Especially when you consider that a lot of the people I’m connected to are like me… they too have big networks.

The tricky part is, it’s hard to put a price tag on what I or my fellow enthusiasts are worth because it all depends on how good a job the “brand” does to activate us and ultimately get us to amplify their message (or share our own versions of their message). Some sites like Atlantis Resorts (a Powered client) has done a nice job of activating their customers and the results are not only a steady growth of fans but a CEO that is now such a believer in social media that he is blogging about it on USA Today. Others like Expedia (a natural for social media) has a mere 12,853 fans (only 11K+ more than yours truly) and very little engagement on their wall. Right now, Expedia isn’t working particularly hard to engage or activate it’s enthusiasts. Instead, it’s more focused on a broadcast strategy… one that has obviously impacted their fan acquisition.

In the spirit of being prescriptive, here are a few suggestions on what companies SHOULD do to engage and ultimately activate their enthusiasts:

  • Post educational content vs. informercials. This means teach people how to scrapbook or how to take better pictures instead of telling them how great your products are.
  • Run fun contests. Black Star Beer did a fabulous job of this by giving away a dream vacation that focused on experiences versus cash value. Even I signed up for this and I NEVER sign up for sweepstakes.
  • Ask people for suggestions. My wife’s company, GenConnect, did this and they got some amazing responses on their wall.
  • Have some fun! When Dunkin’ Donuts is NOT allowing soft core pornos to post on it’s wall, they are actually doing an amazing job getting their customers involved in submitting ideas for their dream donut and submitting photos that might get them recognized as the fan of the week on DD’s Facebook fan page.
How about you? What are you worth? And are the brands that you love tapping into your full potential?
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