Should Marketers Care About Social Media Fan Counts?
Like any brand marketer, I went through the 3 phases of Facebook algorithm grief in 2014: outrage, sadness, and finally, sanguinity. The changes to the Facebook algorithm that may ultimately limit the organic exposure to 1-2% of your fan base at first seemed like a betrayal to advertisers thinly veiled in "what's-good-for-the-users" logic.
The potential situation is that with a follower base of 50K only about 125 or so of those fans will be exposed to the post. Had we all not experienced strong 20-30% exposures in the early days, we might not care. Still, it seemed to suggest that the fan base of a brand didn't matter all that much. If you were a brand that spent a chunk of money acquiring fans in the previous period, you might be a bit miffed.
But it's really not that big a deal.
Efficiency and organic followers
Efficiency of Facebook is what matters. Is it the right medium to engage prospects, customers and in a sales-channel business like ours, agents in a way that will lead to a sales-related result (some type of "assist" earlier in the customer journey)? You could ask the same question about Twitter and LinkedIn. Even while those platforms don't have the same algorithm-limiting exposures, no brand gets in front of as many of its followers as it would hope. The Twitter feed keeps on streaming by. LinkedIn users are just beginning to look for content on the platform (although that behavior gets stronger every day).
Efficiency requires us all to be precise about what actions we value and what it costs to drive those actions via other means. In some cases, social media is highly unique and cannot be really compared. The best example is sharing content. Our best content gets shared a lot. That extends the reach of our content by one of the most trusted channels - word of mouth marketing. It's not really comparable to other channels that deliver straight from the brand. Reaching 2% of a follower base at no cost can be a valuable. Alternatively, you might value click-throughs to a Web site where you can either re-target people or capture their information for a highly instrumented email marketing program.
Social network organic reach can be a useful piece of the puzzle.
"I already have a realistic perspective of Facebook reach, which allows me to act calmly and rationally in response to the recent news. Here's what I expect from our Facebook page, which has over 60,000 likes:
About 60% of the time, I'll reach less than 2% of my audience with any particular post. There are a handful of highly engaged followers that see every single post we publish in their Newsfeed-I know this because they like and/or share them all. They've demonstrated to Facebook that every post matters.
Another 30-35% of the time, I'll reach 3-5% of our followers with a single piece of content.
About 5% of the time, a post will reach 15-20% of our users organically, and we'll consider that a "greatest hit."
But over the course of a month, more than half of our fans will see at least one piece of content that's relevant to them. They probably don't want to hear from us any more than that.
We augment this strategy with promoted posts...and I'm continually collecting data so when I promote a post I know exactly how many people I can reach, how fast, and at what cost. I can quantify what Facebook reach costs my organization, and make an educated decision on whether or not I want to pay for it."
"Ultimately, quality is what's most important. Let's assume that your highest quality fans are the top 2%. The most important thing is that you reach as many of those 2% (understanding many won't be online when you post) as possible.
If 70% of your fans are casual and rarely take action, how important is it that you reach all of those 70% with each post? It's a question you should ask yourself."
Bigger is not better
Organic fans are a part of the puzzle. But bigger is not better. If you are a mass market brand like most consumer product goods (think Nestle, Unilever, Coke), having millions of fans may make sense. Although all of these brands chased fans when the exposure rates were much, much higher. Now they pay to reach more of them.
Most brands don't need big fan or follower bases. The targeted paid content solutions in each platform are very good and getting better every day. If you want to reach a particular segment, you will do it with a thoughtful 3-step dance:
- Grow a relevant follower base interested in your content and brand in a way that does not dilute engagement. Usually, when marketers aim to attract new followers, they employ tactics that bring in many people, some are the wrong sort. Engagement numbers drop. Only attract followers to the point that your engagement stays positive. Post organically to reach the few. Target paid posts to reach a few more.
- Build custom audiences and use paid media to reach the right people. Not only can you increasingly microtarget the right people, some will convert to become followers on the strength of your content (this presumes that you are mainly using content in your sponsored posts/updates/tweets.)
- Strategically promote posts based upon data and goals. One could put a little bit of money behind every post to gain additional reach. If you looked at every post as the equivalent of an ad, you might do that. A better approach might be to select the posts that are performing strongest or are more central to your business and carefully promote them.
Now if only industry indices that try to compare how competitors are doing in social media would drop 'fans, followers, connections' as the one magic KPI, we could all get on with marketing that matters.
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