Facing up to Facebook

How many fans does your brand have on Facebook?

How many fans does your brand have on Facebook?

As most of us work to understand the marketing implications of social media, debating this pros and cons, discussing the ramifications for brand management, and wondering aloud (far too much, in my opinion) if it is really worth all the effort, some brave companies are just diving in head first, and making waves. Some are successful. Others, not so much. And still others have no idea that it’s happening without them in the drivers seat, let alone in the car. How is your company doing in comparison to these examples?

First, some background. Facebook has 264 Million+ members. And while 30% are in the USA, Canada is the fourth largest member country, with more than 12 million subscribers. To put this into perspective, the Globe&Mail boasts 330 thousand readers during the week, and CBC TV gets all giddy and sends press releases to itself when a show reaches anywhere near 2 million viewers. Facebook stats show that more than half of users are between the ages of 25 and 54, so any lingering thoughts you may have about this being a toy for teens can now be dismissed. Now, of course you can argue the viability of the business model, and quibble about how Facebook plays with our ideas of privacy, but really, does any of that matter from a marketing perspective? 12 million Canadians of a demographically desirable age are tuned in, and to ignore this inexpensive communication medium for your business is downright negligent.

Here are some commercial sites on Facebook worthy of note. In Facebook lingo, these are referred to as “Fan Pages.”

The Gap has an amazing Facebook fan page. They have active discussions, video interviews with their lead designer, interactive activities for fans, and enough other stuff to keep you lingering on the page for 30 minutes minimum as you play with all the buttons. They’ve got it right, and 361, 474 fans agree. If you need to choose a page as a benchmark for your own company presence on Facebook, choose this one.

Target, the discount US retailer, has more than 500,000 fans on its page. They have a decidedly more low-key approach than The Gap, with a few videos and that’s about it in terms of programming. However, someone is feeding Americans healthy doses of Target Koolaid, as the fans on this page are OTT happy about the store; swapping stories, asking for products, and comparing how much they love Target with each other. It’s a remarkable love-in for a fan page that hasn’t really put much effort into it.

In typically Canadian fashion, Hudson’s Bay Company has a fan page, but is shy about it. The administrator of the page keeps posting messages that say “OMG! Almost 50 people have joined our page! This is fantastic!” Really? You are excited about 50 people? Well, I’m glad you’re happy.

Other brands don’t even seem aware that they have fans at all. BMW, for example, has 350,000 fans on a page seemingly hosted by a BMW dealer in Spain, with no official involvement from the brand whatsoever. Fans of this page have posted 2500 photos, and the chat is active and fully in favour of what BMW does. You’d think some bright spark at BMW HQ would latch on to this and add content, and work the apparently rabid fan base into an even bigger froth. Imagine if they posted videos of cars being made in their state-of-the-art facilities? Sponsored a contest to win a tour of a manufacturing plant, or use of a vehicle for a year, or an opportunity to test drive a new model on the test track? People would pass out from excitement, if the tenor of the fan commentary already present on the site is any indication.

So, these are all big brands, and all seem to be on Facebook in various ways and with levels of commitment ranging from zero to 100. What can your company do?

Think of a company Fan Page as a really fancy chat room, one that allows people to join up and participate in the conversation, post pictures and videos, swap stories, and, if you are lucky, wear their membership in your online club as a badge of honour. I get messages on Facebook all the time from my friends urging me to join one fan page or another…they are proud, or ironically amused, and I suppose they want to let me know that they feel this way in order to reveal something about their character. But who cares about the motivation? People I know and respect are asking me to be friends with a brand. That’s powerful stuff. 

Start small. Get a fan page registered, and up and running. Start inviting your staff and suppliers and customers to join. Be ready with content…have photos and articles to share, and things to talk about. Think about a contest or two. Some companies stage tryouts for fans who want to be regular contributors to the site (Holt Renfrew just did this, and in return the new correspondents get invited to things so they have something to write about.) By all means do a search and see what your competitors are up to, and join their page. Just have fun. As long as you aren’t confusing this with an advertising medium (engage, don’t sell) and as long as you are really trying (don’t sit back and wait for it to happen by itself) you’ll find it is a worthwhile venture. It’s an amazing way to build relationships with your customers, and show your passion for what you do.