The value of a social media fan

Many marketers struggle to work out what social media fans are worth and how they can make them more valuable, write Rob Dreblow of the World Federation of Advertisers and Duncan Southgate of Millward Brown.

Marketers expect to spend more time and money on social media in the next 12 months
Marketers expect to spend more time and money on social media in the next 12 months

When the first consumer decided to become a fan of a brand on the first social networking site they set marketers a challenge.

What was such friendship worth to the brand? How did it help marketers and was it worth providing such fans with bespoke deals and content?

In the years that have followed that first act of friendship, many marketers have struggled to answer those questions.

In spite of this uncertainty, most have invested in social media marketing. A 2009 survey of the WFA’s Digital Network found that 81% of Network members who participated planned to increase spend in the next 12 months.

Internally this investment was being justified most often by its ability to provide real-time insight, but many members admitted that they struggled to demonstrate return on investment for such a "resource intensive" medium.

In July 2010, Millward Brown and Dynamic Logic, in co-operation with the WFA and its members, decided to go deeper, to better understand how social media fan pages build brands, and what it takes to optimise them.  

The first phase of the value of a fan study was interviews with 24 digital marketers from multinational companies. 

The second phase was interviews with 3,687 brand fans from 24 different fan pages. These pages were mainly global, US and European pages from major global advertisers, covering the confectionary, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, personal care and telecoms categories.

This study does not claim to provide definitive learning about how fan pages should be used by all brands but it does provide fascinating initial insights into what drives value.

More research on a greater number of fan pages will enable us to develop these learnings. 

Phase one - learning from talking to marketers 

  • Social media is clearly a growth area - almost all marketers (96%) expect to spend more time and money on social media in the next 12 months. This is despite the fact that most are not yet sure of the return on investment (50% unsure, 23% good return, 18% average, 9% poor)
  • Measurement has to date focused mainly on the challenge of generating an audience (hence metrics such as number of fans and visitation frequency). Web analytics and buzz monitoring have so far been the primary evaluation techniques - few respondents have yet undertaken more in-depth attitudinal research. 
  • Once fans are recruited, the most popular content formats to keep them engaged are videos, contests, new product information, conversation and photos.

The ‘value of a fan’ means a variety of different things to marketers. Overall, WFA members are clear that fan pages are mainly about generating insight, advocacy, loyalty and engagement, and much less about increasing either short or long-term sales.

This understanding shaped phase two of the research among fans, where we set out to explore exactly how marketers might be able to optimise their pages to deliver these objectives.

Attitudes to social media

Phase two - learning from talking to fans 

In phase two we spoke to brand fans about the perceived value of the fan pages.

Surveys were launched directly from the fan pages for 24 major brands and based on these responses, an overall FanIndex Rating was calculated.

This one-number score comprises fans’ overall opinions of the fan page, the likelihood that they will return in future, the level of advocacy it generates and a rating of how much attention they pay to brand posts in their news feed.

Ratings for specific fan page attributes, content and fan benefits have been used to identify which elements might improve the overall rating.

Further questions explored how the page is improving brand appeal, equity and engagement over time. 

  • The number of fans is important for a fan page, but it is not a surrogate for how well the page itself is performing. While there is a correlation between the FanIndex rating and the number of fans, some relatively small pages achieved above average ratings, and the page with the largest number of fans that was studied had one of the lowest overall ratings.
  • The more brands put in to their fan pages, the more they get out in terms of brand response. Among the fan pages studied, as a general rule the brands that posted more frequently generally achieved higher attitudinal ratings and were more lively communities.
  • Among the attributes, content and benefits that fan pages can deliver, there are five suggested health checks: regular posts, trustworthy brand news, new product information, contests and special offers. These are elements that most fan pages are achieving.
  • Fan pages that can also deliver either a sense of fun, variety, innovation, interactivity or community have a better chance of standing out from other pages and generating a stronger brand response. These differentiating elements had a high correlation with our overall FanIndex rating, but are not currently being delivered by many fan pages. There is no silver bullet and brands may find it tough to deliver strongly on all of these. It may be best to focus on those areas that fit most closely to the brand objectives.

FanIndex rating

Advertisers will need to consider these findings alongside existing published and internal research as well as with regard to their own specific KPIs.

As we explore more fan pages and their fans’ perceptions we will be able to be more definitive about what works best for different fan pages and different brand and category types. 

To understand the broader value of a fan, marketers would need to start exploring relationships between attitudinal and behavioral responses, and the knock-on impact of fans’ behaviour on their other social networking friends.

There is still much to learn, but early indications are that there is genuine value for brands in engaging with their fans in the social media space.

As ever, the precise nature of that value will depend on the product or service sector, the brand and the marketing strategy of each brand.

Rob Dreblow, marketing communications director at the World Federation of Advertisers, and Duncan Southgate, global brand director, digital media at Millward Brown