Interesting panel at MediaPost's OMMA Global yesterday, which sought to answer the question many marketers have been grappling with - what is the actual meaning and value of online fans?
Very timely topic given many global brands now command fan bases as high as 20 million and are expected to double their investment in advertising on Facebook this year to over four billion. And as Justin Kistner from Webtrends highlighted in his preceding presentation, 35% of consumers buy more after becoming a fan of a brand on Facebook, and ads aimed at fans enjoy an average click through rate (CTR) is 35% compared to 7% in regular online ads. With stats this high, it's no wonder brands need to start taking Facebook fans more seriously.
Erik Sass kicked off the panel by asking panelists for any big ideas on capitalizing on Facebook's expanded graph. Dilip Ventakatachari of Compass Labs noted that "For the first time (brands) have a very expressive platform that enables brand bonding. It gives you the basis to engage directly." We couldn't agree with this more: after all, Facebook has completely altered the way people interact and provided companies a tremendous amount of valuable data.
Panelists were then asked whether they see monetizing fans as a question of acquiring new customers or just a loyalty building exercise. Our own Eric Forst of Visible Technologies answered that brands need to put different focuses on retention versus acquisition. He also pointed to an interesting article in Harvard Business Review that highlighted the fact that consumers still want a clear brand promise and offerings they value personally. What has changed is when-at what touch points-consumers are most open to brand messages and offerings, and in which ways brands can interact with them at those points.
The conversation then moved onto the topic of influence and trying to understand the impact of fans on brand advocacy. Justin (from Webtrends) noted, "Looking at inbound links and integration with social media monitoring solutions is essential. It gives you a sense of (whether) this person shares your content and what value it drives. For example, if sharing results in a transaction or advocacy."
Eric added, "liking" is a great starting point but from there brands need to then identify what is it consumers like about your brand, understand what motivates them to buy, and how influential that consumer really is within Facebook's social graph and expanded social Web. He noted there are a set of considerations that determine social influence - a fan with a number of friends is just one of many indicators of influence.
Next up? The "big question" for social marketers: is there danger of "social media fatigue" on platforms like Facebook? In other words....with all this investment in Facebook, is there a chance that consumers will abandon the site at some point in the future? Panelists didn't seem to think so. Dilip of Compass Labs added, "You have always had friends you liked, etcetera - but now Facebook users are making these "likes" more public. This sharing mechanism and the information available is here to stay at least for foreseeable years and for marketers, we have a whole set of new tools to use in an effective manner to reach and build relationships with our audience."
Overall my key takeaways from the panel are:
1. It's clear that Facebook fans have value and brands need to move more rapidly to engage with these fans to show 'true appreciation'
2. Monetizing fans and capitalizing on the expanded social graph will first be about figuring out how to amplify positive word of mouth and determining what motivates each fan.
3. Understanding the value of a fan as an influencer will take the right social media monitoring and intelligence tools so brands can accelerate their message and build advocacy within each fans personal network.
4. Lastly, this is still a relatively new area and will only scale by engaging fans and giving them high-value content in exchange for their attention to your brand. From there, brands will need to understand engagement by measuring how interactions are shifting over time and determining what is working (and what's not!) By taking that approach, brands can finally uncover the business value of social media and motivating their biggest "fans".
Also, we videoed industry influencers after the panel so you can hear their take directly. Stay tuned for more to come...