Are your new fans on Facebook REALLY new? (Research)

This is a guest post by Joel Rubinson, the President of marketing and research consultancy Rubinson Partners, Inc.

Are your new fans on Facebook REALLY new? (Research)

As a marketer watches their Facebook Fan totals go up, up, up — sometimes organically and sometimes via paid Facebook ads — they get a rush of gratification that they are building their customer base to new altitudes.

Not so fast.  The research I just did suggests that a brand’s new Facebook fans are mostly customers who were already loyal to the brand in the real world. They are true blood, not new blood.

For this analysis, I partnered with Compete, Inc. leveraging their panel of 2 million internet users who have agreed to install metering software on their computers for complete and ongoing click stream analysis. We studied their interaction with 63 brands from January to April 2012 in beauty, food/restaurant, and retail (sectors where sessions on owned media lead directly to sales).

This is the first-ever published “pre-post” study on the effect of liking a brand.  We analyzed a person’s clickstream behavior towards a brand for 30 days before, and for 30 days after they liked that brand on Facebook. We also compared the number of sessions at the brand website “per capita” for those who liked a brand 30 days BEFORE the act of liking to those who never were fans during the 4 month period.

The findings?

  • True Blood: people who are going to like a brand on Facebook are already eight times more likely to engage in sessions on that brand’s website vs. non-fans PRIOR to the act of liking.
  • Deeper Engagement: Now, just because you aren’t really getting new fans on your Facebook page, that doesn’t mean your effort is wasted. We did, in fact, find an 85% lift in the number of sessions on a brand’s website, pre to post, within 30 days of becoming a fan of that brand on Facebook.
  • As we dug deeper, we found that all of this increased engagement effect comes from the small subset who returns to the fan page.  Among those who do visit a fan page again, there is a four-fold increase in their visits to that brand’s website after liking the brand.  Likers who did not return exhibited virtually no increase at all in website visits.

The fact that a second visit to the brand page is needed to create impact suggests that Facebook social impressions in a fan’s newsfeed primarily have their effect by encouraging a return visit to the fan page from someone who already loves you.

“This research clearly indicates that marketers must be focused on not only increasing the number of total fans, but on driving repeated interaction with the fan page.  It is this repeated interaction that leads to measurable lifts in visitation to owned media properties,” says Mike Perlman, Vice President of Agency & Publisher Solutions at Compete.

This research also calls out the need for a metrics approach I have trademarked called “Tyme with brand”™ that is intended to measure the patterns and quantity of time that people spend with a brand, beyond the gross number of impressions that marketers get via social media.  If marketers do not measure Tyme with brand, they will certainly underleverage social media and overestimate its importance vs. owned media.

In media terms, the mechanics of Facebook social impressions, where updates go into the newsfeed, would be considered “low reach, high frequency” — targeting those who are already into your brand. While the research proves that this effort can be valuable, let’s understand that this is about customer retention and entrenchment much more than acquiring new customers.

About the Author

Joel Rubinson (@joelrubinson) is President of Rubinson Partners, Inc., a marketing and research consultancy for a brave new world, and a member of the faculty of NYU Stern School of Business, where he teaches social media strategy.  Prior to starting his consultancy, Joel was Chief Research Officer at The Advertising Research Foundation, where he interacted directly with hundreds of research leaders and drove the organization’s initiatives regarding listening, research transformation, and shopper path to purchase.