How fans amplify reach via engagement.
OK, so here you are running your Facebook page and the one metric everyone always focuses on is how many fans (or "likes") your page has. And why not? Because it's the easiest thing to look at, it is certainly a popularity score. (By the way, I still say "fans" because in my book that represents a consumer who has actually joined your page via the "like" button so your status updates EdgeRank willing appear in their newsfeed. Saying "likes" is confusing because there are different kinds of likes for different scenarios.)
Fans vs. Engagement
Now I have encountered two viewpoints on this. While they seem to contradict each other, reality is they are both right. The two approaches are:
So who's right? Well, they are both right. Let's deconstruct each point here.
I Want More Fans
Heck, if all you care about is your fan count, you can buy fans in bulk from spammy game companies that reward social gamers for "liking" your company with points. Just Google "buy Facebook fans" and you will see what I mean. You can get 100,000 fans for a couple grand. (WARNING: Don't do this as it's the spam equivalent of Facebook likes! You will end up with crappy fans who don't even know who you are and they will unlike you or worse, damage your EdgeRank by posting bad comments on your page!)
On the other hand, you can organically grow your fan base and use advertising with Facebook to pay for fans. That's a slow and steady approach. If done carefully with the right integration tactics, targeting, content, and incentives (contests, giveaways, exclusive content, etc.), you can increase your base of the right fans. As a result, when you make a connection via their "likes," you will be communicating with consumers who actually know who you are and hopefully want to hear from you. So the moral here: yes, focus on building fans, but do it wisely.
It's All About Engagement
Social media purists say that if you are not engaging with your audience of fans, then what is the point of having them? They are right. If you don't communicate with your fans or if all you do is spew meaningless content and promotions at them, they will stop listening and commenting. EdgeRank will block you from their newsfeeds. So there is no sense in putting effort into building a fan base if you don't have a good content and engagement plan.
Also, even if your fan base is small, engaged, and passionate, fans can act as the core group you need to spark viral advocacy within the Facebook social environment. And also, let's face the facts here: a lot of companies, even big ones, will never have one million fans. So in many cases it's not about how many fans you have, it's about having a base of the right fans who want to engage with you. So the moral here: focus on pushing great content your audience cares about and would actually want to comment on and share.
What Brings It All Together? "Talking About This"
A few months ago Facebook started showing a stat under your fan count (or "like" count) called "Talking About This." It's how many people have talked about the content on your page in the last week. (See the images below.)
Consider two competitors: Fan Page A has over 37,000 "likes" and a "Talking About This" score of 388. Then Fan Page B has a little over 30,000 "likes" and a "Talking About This" score of 1,980. So even though Fan Page B has fewer fans (or "likes"), Fan Page B enjoys a "Talking About This" or Facebook chatter level that is 5.1 times greater than its competition and is reaching many more people. So clearly here engagement trumps fans in terms of reach and impressions.
"Talking About This" Viral Reach
So what is the effect of "People are talking"? Tons and tons of impressions! Here are some charts from Facebook Insights that show "Talking About This" stats and resulting viral reach. As you can see, even with only 30,313 fans, the "viral reach" of Fan Page B's engaging (people posting, commenting, etc.) is between 7,000 and 20,000 people per day! Now imagine this reach number when Fan Page B has 100,000 engaged fans or even a million engaged fans. So this is where building your fan base matters - when you have the engagement thing down.
Fans Volume + Engagement
OK, now here is the reality - it's about both fans and engagement. First off, having 100,000 targeted fans is obviously better than having 10,000 fans. But they have to be the right fans and you have to engage with them in a meaningful way with great content and dialogue. If you do this, magic happens and they start "talking" and talking is what gives you that viral/social spark that can deliver hundreds of thousands and even millions of peer-to-peer/consumer advocacy impressions!
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