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The value of a social media fan

by Nigel Hollis | April 04, 2011

Millward Brown’s BrandZ data finds that social media fans spend nearly five times the amount on their favored brand than non-fans. But what is not clear from this estimate, is whether this value predates fandom. In other words, does the act of becoming a social media fan create additional value, or merely confirm the person’s existing predisposition toward the brand?

New research conducted by Millward Brown and Dynamic Logic in cooperation with the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), reveals what drives most value for fans and marketers. The findings suggest that successful fan pages deepen both existing consumer engagement and brand equity.

We already know that category and brand status have an important influence on the number of fans that a brand can attract. In work conducted last year, we found that soft drink and fast food brands were far more likely to attract fans than airlines or cars.

Across the five categories studied, the correlation between the percent with strong attitudinal loyalty to a brand and the number of Facebook fans is 0.7. So the more loyal customers you have, the more fans you tend to have on Facebook.

Clearly, however, some brands manage to attract more fans than their size alone would predict, and the Value of a Fan study finds that size is not everything. 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 people’s appreciation of a fan page and the number of fans, some relatively small pages studied achieved above average ratings, and the page with the largest number of fans had one of the lowest overall ratings. Simply having a fan page is not enough. You have to use it effectively in order to engage fans and improve loyalty. Click here to view my presentation on last year's study, Building a Community of Brand Enthusiasts.

The Value of a Fan study suggests 10 key factors as driving a stronger response to fan pages. It splits these into five basic expectations from fans, which apply to all brand pages, and five proposed differentiators, which can help pages standout but may not all be appropriate to all brands.

The five health checks identified in the report are regular posts, trustworthy brand news, new product information, contests and special offers. Obviously, the page activity needs to be consonant with the brand’s positioning, but pages that also deliver a sense of fun, variety, innovation, interactivity or community will engage fans better than others.

Our research found that if people find a fan page engaging, the experience improves their allegiance to the brand. But a fan page adds potential value in two other ways. Friends of a fan may also be prompted to sign-up, spreading the likelihood for positive affect further. And simply seeing that many people have become brand fans will improve perceptions that the brand is popular. While this impression is unlikely to drive purchase in its own right, it can help steer purchase decisions in the absence of other, more compelling factors.

The results reported here confirm that social media channels are a good way to engage existing brand loyalists. Done right, a fan page can build on pre-existing affiliation. What is not yet clear is whether fan pages actually have a multiplicative effect, increasing the brand franchise to new users. Hopefully that will be the subject of a new study, but meanwhile, what do you think?

Are fan pages a great means to engage current users? Or can they actually encourage trial and repeat use (without giving the brand away)?

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