Aegis Media Probes the Influence of Facebook

But Marketers Need to Balance Quality with Quantity of Fans

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At Social Media Week London today, Aegis Media claimed to have scientifically proven the power of the Facebook "like", in a new study conducted with Cambridge University.

The more "likes" a brand has, the better it is rated in every way, but Aegis warned that it's not just a numbers game – brands and agencies are still concerned about what happens when you get the wrong kind of fans.

For the study, a team lead by James Caig, Isobar's head of social strategy, invented a fake brand, Ashwood Furnishings, which claimed to be 150 years old and planning expansion into the U.S.

Groups of respondents were shown the brand's Facebook page. All saw exactly the same page, except for the number of "likes" on the page, which varied between two and two million. Aegis Media found, not surprisingly, that the more "likes" a page had, the better it rated in terms of interest, trust, consideration, recommendation and importance. And as "likes" went up, so did the estimates of how much the furniture cost.

Mr. Caig said, "The value of fans is their influence on others. These types of unconscious cues can be used to good effect, and the sense of popularity brought to bear in interesting, urgent ways." He spoke about fashion retailer C&A in Brazil, where the number of "likes" for an individual product is displayed on the hangers in-store.

However, there seems to be such a thing as too many "likes" -- the positive effect of the numbers trailed off when "likes" reached around 200,000. Gender differences were also marked, with women having better recall and more positive responses than men overall, while high Facebook users are more likely to be influenced by numbers than people who are not so hooked on social media. These factors, Mr. Caig suggested, raised the possibility of more detailed targeting.

After demonstrating the importance of "likes," the panel also discussed the dangers of the wrong type of "likes." Ed Hartigan, head of social at iProspect, said, "We've been working with quite a few clients, trying to unpick pages where the wrong types of fans were added a few years ago, when everyone was rushing to recruit Indonesian teenagers at very low cost."

Mr. Caig agreed, "You have to guard against fake popularity. Like the people in our survey, brands are not immune to the herd effect -- a lot put up Facebook pages and racked up the likes very quickly. Now, they are taking a step back and asking, 'Why are we on digital? What next?'"

Facebook itself is already addressing the issue. It has brought in custom audience features and a lookalike audience feature to help brands seek out the right kind of "like" for a brand.

Richard Morris, managing director of Vizeum, said, "This study shows the power of relative numbers. We need to look at the implications – are we really thinking about this as an industry?"

Before the presentation started, Aegis Media asked the packed audience to respond to a cut-down version of the main survey. The responses from the social media-savvy crowd were shown at the end, and almost exactly matched the responses in the main study.

Mr. Caig concluded, "This survey provides a benchmark. It raises a lot of questions – what would happen with a real brand? What does it mean for different audiences? Will intention translate into action?"

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