How to Cultivate the Facebook Fans You Really Need

The Number of Fans Isn't as Important as Finding Those Who Will Be Advocates

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The number of Facebook fans your brand can claim is an important number, right? Each is more valuable than your average customer, spending more money and having a more significant impact on your company's bottom line, right? Think again.

The idea that all Facebook fans are created equal is a myth perpetuated by many chief marketing officers I meet. The confusion it creates is one reason why social-media channels have yet to achieve the same levels of success as their mobile counterparts.

These marketers are confusing correlation with causality. They believe enticing a person to become a Facebook fan will magically make that individual more likely to spend more on their brand. What comes next is a campaign designed solely to pull in new fans. Big mistake.

Think of it this way. When the sun is out on a summer's day, people like to eat ice cream. There is a correlation between the two; when you pass an ice cream shop in July and August, you always see a line of customers out front. But ice cream does not cause the sun to come out, any more than being a Facebook fan causes a person to bring out her wallet, buy your products and services and become a passionate brand advocate.

That isn't to say that CMOs shouldn't strive to build a fan base. The issue is how to do this in a productive way. There are no short cuts. Winning a loyal customer begins with matching a great product or service with a flawless and repeatable customer experience. The customer experience includes many components, but some I am most passionate about include:

Personalization. Customers are no longer receptive to the spray-and-pray marketing tactics of old. With that in mind, are you using the information your customers give you to get to know them as individuals? What devices do they shop through, what deals are they most interested in, and when they don't complete a purchase, do you know why, so you can fix it the next time? As a marketer, I know that forming a personalized snapshot of each customer is not as easy as creating a Facebook fan campaign. But as a consumer, I know that I am far less likely to buy from a business that doesn't know me as a person.

Devices. Shopping is no longer just an in-store or PC-centric experience. We witnessed this during last year's holiday season, when a record number of customers shopped through mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets. Customers demand a mobile experience that isn't just compelling but consistent across all devices.

Meeting the needs of the customer puts you in a position to ask them to become a Facebook fan (if they have not already done so themselves). What you are left with is far more valuable than a collection of static people who don't have a vested interest in your brand. Quite the opposite: you have new customer-engagement channels populated with people who you can entice on a daily basis with deals and personalized information.

These fans also can evolve into the ultimate marketing prize -- brand advocates who are willing to put their reputation on the line. You will build have an entourage of fans not only espousing your products and services, but also your overall values. That's hugely valuable when you consider, according to Nielson, that 90 percent of consumers trust peer recommendations.

That's the type of Facebook fan all CMOs should aim for.

Yuchun Lee is Vice President, IBM Enterprise Marketing Management Group.
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