The Value of a Fan

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22/03/2011
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Many marketers struggle to work out what social media fans are worth and what they can do to make them more valuable. WFA teamed up with Millward Brown to provide guidance.

When the first consumer decided to become a fan of a brand on the first social networking site they set marketers a challenge. What was such friendship worth to the brand? How did it help marketers and was it worth providing such fans with bespoke deals and content?

In the years that have followed that first act of friendship, many marketers have struggled to answer those questions. In spite of this uncertainty, most have invested in social media marketing.

A survey by the WFA's Digital Network in 2009 found that 81% of Network members who participated planned to increase spend in the next 12 months.

Internally this investment was being justified most often by its ability to provide real-time insight, but many members admitted that they struggled to demonstrate return on investment for such a “resource intensive” medium.

Fast-forward a year to July 2010 and Phase 1 of our Value of a Fan research project with Millward Brown and Dynamic Logic. Whilst most multinationals involved in the research were, once again, planning to increase spend in this area in the next 12 months, 50% remained unsure about the returns they were getting.

Although several studies had been published on this topic, most of our members were sceptical of surveys that put a precise monetary value on each fan.

The majority of WFA respondents identified the value of a fan as the ability to provide insight, increase brand loyalty and boost advocacy. 45% identified increased long-term spend on our brand and just 15% were looking for short-term spending hikes.

Measurement remains focused on number of fans and site traffic, but participants are increasingly moving towards using more sophisticated buzz metrics tools to measure the volume and tone of the conversation.
However Phase 1 indicated that marketers still needed unbiased insight into the best way to add value to, and derive value from, their social media activities.
Phase 2 of Value of a Fan therefore set out to discover what the fans wanted from brands, what would make them return and what differentiated successful sites from those that failed to attract repeat visits.

Certainly there is evidence that brands that are building strong social equity. One fan responded with this description of a particularly cutting-edge brand page: “No matter what, when. How or with whom, this brand will always leave with the sense of being in a smooth mood! Everytime!”

By interviewing more than 3000 fans of pages run by 24 different WFA member brands across a variety of sectors and markets, it suggested a checklist of 10 elements that amplify the value brands derive from their investment.

Five of these elements were considered must-haves but the other five were differentiators, enabling brands to make their fan page standout.
The five essentials were regular posts, trustworthy brand news, new product information, contests and special offers.

Such elements clearly resonate with fans as illustrated by this feedback on one of fan pages in our study: “They seem to have really good giveaways and promotions – although I haven't won anything yet! Also the recipes and serving suggestions are helpful.”

The differentiators were more subtle and could be adapted by brands to fit their existing positioning:

Firstly brand fans wanted fun. One of the most successful pages investigated by Value of a Fan was heavily based around the core brand message, with fans benefiting from constant fun via branded interaction opportunities.

“It's light-hearted and fun and sometimes has useful information on such as when the larger [pack size] has become available,” noted one fan.

Secondly they wanted variety. Brands needed to mix it up and provide a range of different information and content.

Thirdly they wanted innovation – 'cool' sites were expected to provide innovative apps for fans.

Fourthly they wanted community, a space where they can share their thoughts and ideas and enjoy seeing other people's thoughts about the brand.

“I love it because it gives me a chance to communicate with other mums and get recommendations on products that we need. Been using these products since my son was born,” said one fan of a page in the study.

Finally they wanted interactivity, from and with the brand itself, but more often from other members on the network.

Value of a Fan suggests that consumers are becoming increasingly demanding of brands in this space and that social media marketing is not something that marketers should undertake lightly.

We have reached the point where a poor social media presence, like a poor corporate website, will damage the brand.

Two quotes from our research perhaps illustrate the disappointment when a brand fan discovers an uncared for page: “Not much yet as they often don't type much, just Merry Christmas and such,”, “Nothing much really, just liked the product so much so I liked the brand fan page.”

Whilst the evidence certainly points towards fans offering considerable brand value, marketers need to have the confidence not to set up a brand page, if it's not right for them or they don't have the resources to provide value back to consumers.


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