It's a tricky question most marketers are asking themselves as brands' presence on the world's largest social-media platform grows by the day. And the answer is one many companies might not want to hear. It can be done, but it will take time, effort and -- yes -- money.
The now ubiquitous "like" button appears all over the web via Facebook Connect, but perhaps nowhere does it leverage more weight than on a brand's official Facebook page. The number of fans a brand can attract on Facebook serves as public indicator of its social worth, and more "likes" means more impressions on the real-time newsfeeds of self-selected fans.
But the number of people who like a brand doesn't directly translate to the number of impressions that a brand makes with its posts. And, of course, not all likes are created equal. As Facebook continues to evolve and remain a powerful marketing channel, marketers should keep some fundamental questions in mind when casting a social-media net. Because ultimately, Facebook is about keeping your fish happy and healthy once you've caught them.
If you're considering jumping into the Facebook fray, you have to take an honest look at your brand and assess whether users will find real cultural or social value in associating their names with yours. Ashley Ringrose, founder and CEO of the social-media-centric digital shop Soap Creative, said a like isn't much different than a bumper sticker. Would someone want to attach your logo to the back of her car?
If your target consumer demographic is active on Facebook, if there is demonstrated brand affinity (for example, a pre-existing user-created fan page with a promising following) or if your comparable competitors have staked a healthy social claim, then you should consider building a page of your own. But the golden rule is best summed up by Lee Oden, CEO of TopRank Marketing and publisher of the TopRankBlog.com: "If your brand sucks, no one is going to like you."
Do I need to buy paid media to get people to like me, or will they find me on their own?
Some brands have been able to grow their Facebook pages virally without the use of paid ad placement leading users to their pages, but they're the exception rather than the rule. Coca-Cola, the brand whose page boasts more likes than any other on the platform, didn't earn all 22-million-plus of its fans without a little prodding -- and it is one of the most iconic brands there is. "Most people aren't actively looking for brands on Facebook," Mr. Ringrose said. "You would never go, 'Hmm, I wonder what Skittles is doing?' Or "What's that weird organic coffee brand up to?' It's more about putting it under users' noses. 'Do you like this brand?' 'Yes, I do.'"
A common misstep marketers make is not properly leveraging Facebook's ad-targeting tools to achieve a more efficient media buy, Mr. Ringrose said.
Michael Lazerow, CEO of the software and services firm Buddy Media, which works to help some of the biggest brands, such as Target , grow and manage their Facebook pages, said the ultimate approach to building a following is a more holistic approach that lies at the intersection of paid media and earned reach. "It's about figuring out what the impact of paid media is, what the viral lift from social is, and how those fit together," he said, noting that Facebook needs better analytics tool to help find this sweet spot.
I've made a page and filled it with content. Now what?
Just because you've built it doesn't mean they will come, Mr. Lazerow said. Marketers have to apply resources behind their efforts in social media, and be prepared to feed the beast with fresh and original content that (rather than clogging up their news feeds) gives fans the real-time opportunity and incentive to experience your brand. Questions and complaints need to be responded to and dealt with, and brand advocates -- those unpaid evangelizers who sing your praises without the pay -- need to be recognized and encouraged. "Everyone loves their new puppy," Mr. Ringrose said. "But you've got to feed it and take care of it. You can't just throw it away after the campaign or Christmas is over."
What kind of content do Facebook users respond to best?
This differs by brand (as do the habits of users who follow them) but Roger Katz, CEO of the social-media firm Friend2Friend, said giving your fans genuine reasons to engage with your content and pass it along to their own friends is the holy grail of social-media success.
"When a brand has a fan, they are one step away from all of that fan's friends. That next step is an incredible opportunity, but it's also a challenge." He said when it comes to getting your fans to help spread your content, it has to be because your fans genuinely want to spread the word -- and usually that isn't because you shouted at them, spammed them or gave them a coupon. "People like experiences, and when they have them, they talk about them and share them. Getting users to propagate their own messages to their friends about your brand is where the magic is," he said.
What is more important: the number of likes you have, or how much people comment on and share your content?
Most experts agree that while the number of likes associated with a page is a clear and easy way to measure its influence, it is not the most-telling number. In fact, when you consider the number of impressions your posts are actually getting (once you factor in how may of those fans have hidden brand page updates on their feeds or might miss your post in the clutter) the number of impressions you're actually achieving is much closer to half of how many fans you have. Mr. Ringrose even estimates that the unique impression rate on a post can average as low as 20%.
And then there's the all-important question of engagement. "If you have a million likes on your page, and only 10 people are actually engaging, we don't call that a successful page," Mr. Lazerow said. "It all depends on what each brand wants to do. There's nothing wrong with wanting a large fan base, but what are your goals?"
Still, Mr. Ringrose said even as they grow their fan bases, brands need to make sure they aren't treating their pages as free, one-way advertising platforms. "I'd rather have half as many likes and twice as many comments," he said. "The total number of likes is such an easy number to wrap your head around, and it's a badge of honor for many brands, but monthly and daily active users and feedback on posts, to me, are more important."
What if Facebook changes its rules?
That's a hurdle no marketer has much control over. Facebook can (and will) change its policies, its page functionalities and its design, and all brands can do is keep up. Marketers -- both those that farm out their social-media responsibilities and those that maintain pages in-house -- should be advised that these changes are a reality from the beginning of the endeavor. "What we're doing [for clients] now may not be possible six months from now," Mr. Ringrose said. "Facebook is getting better and letting us know when big changes are coming, but the reality is, you're a rental property, and the landlord has his way."