Marketers have avidly sought social-media fans in recent years, often using deals or sweepstakes to boost numbers. But are they really attracting the right people?
Data from social-media analytics firm Colligent suggest many brands have attracted lots of deal seekers. And while these consumers may be profitable, they're not the most-effective brand advocates, according to some analysts and social-media executives.
Brands that build fan bases using sweepstakes "end up with a very difficult time trying to get those fans to engage," said Justin Kistner, director of social products at analytics firm WebTrends. "They were never with your brand in the first place. They just wanted a chance to win that iPad," he said. "We call it garbage fans."
Twitter now is even touting its relative lack of deal-seekers among brand followers as a selling point vs. Facebook.
Deal seekers do appear heavy in the social followings of some brands. Among fans engaged with Procter & Gamble Co.'s Tide (defined as those with public profiles who comment or post about brands), for example, eight of the 10 websites they're also most engaged with are coupon or deal sites, according to data from Colligent.
That's based on a measure called "mutual fan engagement." Websites Tide fans engage with the most, and which also have the largest proportions of engaged Tide fans among their fan base, make the top 10.
By contrast, even deal-focused Groupon only has one deal site on its mutual-engagement list. And some brands with big Facebook followings, including Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Skittles, Red Bull, Sharpie and P&G's own Pringles, Old Spice and CoverGirl, have no deal sites on their top-10 lists.
A P&G spokeswoman said in an email that the company's ConsumerPulse earned-media tracking system shows "fairly consistent conversations" related to coupons and deals over time among P&G brands, and some categories have higher rates of such discussions than others.
The brands Colligent found to have high mutual engagement with deal sites "all have average to below-average conversations related to coupons and deals," the spokeswoman said.
J.B. Kropp, who worked with P&G brands to develop Facebook programs as an executive with Vitrue before joining Twitter last year, said Twitter is less likely to attract deal seekers because it's an open network where a link with an offer for one follower can be seen by all. Facebook, with its gated fan communities, makes it easier to convey exclusive offers, Mr. Kropp said.
Based on his experience at Vitrue and Twitter, Mr. Kropp said, "It was very clear that when people were on Facebook, they wanted free stuff. On Twitter, they want to have a conversation."
That's why one brand, which Mr. Kropp declined to name, generated more total consumer impressions last fall via messages to its 22 ,000-plus Twitter followers than to its more than 800,000 Facebook fans, he said while speaking at a meeting of the Cincinnati Digital Xchange Feb. 7.
The low engagement of deal-oriented fans also hurts when brands try to reach them through Facebook's newsfeed, WebTrends' Mr. Kistner said. Trying to reach them through deal-oriented messages doesn't help.
"While people tend to click on the links in such messages, they don't like or leave comments on them very much," Mr. Kistner said. These "transactional" posts get low engagement scores in Facebook's Edgerank algorithm and often reach only 2% of a brand's fan base.
Facebook declined to comment.
Generally, the best way to reach fans with deal-oriented messages is to target them with paid Facebook ads, Mr. Kistner said. The good news for brands is that click-through rates on such ads tend to be high, which reduces cost per click, he said. The bad news is that , unlike the newsfeed, the ads aren't free.