engagement vs fan count, the Facebook brand page dilemma

For the last few years, brands have had the opportunity to showcase themselves on Facebook by way of a page.  The businesses with any amount of foresight jumped aboard, some waited a bit but eventually joined the party, and amazingly enough – there are still some companies that haven’t yet made the social leap.  The brands that have been in the Facebook game for more than two years have seen several different versions of business pages and should be seasoned veterans by now.

Everyone had to start over to some extent when Timeline hit the scene a few months ago, on February 29.  And when I say start over I am referring to the new layout and aesthetics, the new functionality like highlighting and pinning posts, the admin panel, and the ability for brand pages to respond to fans through private messages.  However, the original ole’ concepts and theories remain strong, based on your brand’s Facebook strategy.

There has been the argument that timeline hopes to cause fans to spend more time on the actual brand page, thus, increasing engagement.  But, this original thought has proved to not necessarily be the case.  In many brands’ experiences it has actually been the opposite.  On the flip side, there has been data showing that it has in fact increased page engagement.  So, who the hell knows?  Let’s give it some more time…especially if Mashable is going to put these two conflicting articles out only a month apart.

Anyway, what’s the big dilemma?  If you manage a brand page you know what I’m talking about.  It’s the age old (not really very old at all) argument of engagement with fans versus the number of fans that you have.  What’s the right way to go?

The correct answer: both.  Totally depends on your business, what your strategy is, and why you are doing it.  Maybe you want to build the crap out of your fan base right now so that you can roll out a huge engagement plan in 6 months.  Being completely honest, growing a large fan base organically is hard.  Great content definitely helps, but sometimes you need a boost.  And, like Major League Baseball over the last twenty years, if everyone’s doing it you kind of have to play along, too, if you want to stay in the competition.  That was a steroids joke.  It’s really not that different.  It’s all cheating.  The difference, buying Facebook fans is legal and is now to some extent the norm.  Steroids land you in an empty house hanging out with Jose Canseco.

There was a bomb dropped on Facebook a few weeks ago when General Motors announced they’re pulling $10 Million of Facebook advertising due to ineffectiveness.  That’s a perfect example of Facebook paid products being part of an overall strategy for an end goal as it affects their business.  They weren’t seeing results in that end goal from the Facebook ads; people buying more cars.  They knew what they were doing and didn’t see it working.  Pull the plug.

Some brands get bashed for spending a lot of money on fans, but you know what?  If they’re spending a lot of money then they probably know what they are doing, or at least their agency does.  They more than likely have an “after we buy all the fans” plan.  If they don’t and really are just buying fans strictly for a big number, well, then, that is just kind of silly.  That is not technically a strategy.  That is just doing it to look good.  But you know what else?  Even just looking good with a huge number could be considered a strategy.  Brand awareness.

I am personally not a huge fan of ruthlessly acquiring fans, as I think the actual number should not be the goal.  A big number is great, but it doesn’t matter if those fans don’t engage with your content and connect with your brand.  That is the whole point of being on Facebook, to connect people with your brand, socially; humanizing your brand by way of completely new kinds of interactions and content.  There are brands on Facebook that literally don’t spend any money and have a very solid fan base with very engaging fans.  More power to them.

It should all stem from content, first and foremost.

Using paid acquisition Facebook products to gain new fans is fine and can be part of a very successful social strategy and/or campaign, but it shouldn’t be the strategy.  Disclaimer: unless you fall into the category I mention above and truly are out to just be #1.

To sum it up, engagement is huge and should really be the end goal, and fan acquisition can play a vital role in following through with part of a social strategy or campaign.  So, both sides of the argument can be the correct answer – it depends on your business, and what you are doing with your presence on Facebook (voice, content, strategy and beyond).

Everyone has a different social strategy, and everyone has an argument.  That’s the fun – at this point there really isn’t a “right” or “wrong” answer, only right and wrong ways to go about doing it.   But even those could be argued.  Ah, this is a blast.

****Note: I wrote this in about 15 minutes.  I write what comes to mind and hit “post.”  This could be WAY longer if I wanted to get into TAT scores, engagement rates (depending on which analytics tool you are using), all the other non-acquisition-driving Facebook paid products that are now available, and probably a slew of other things that would be relevant to what I wrote about above.  But, I am tired and don’t want to dive that deep today.  My kid got me up at 5:15 AM.  Done.


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