The Trouble With Facebook Benchmarks

  |  October 20, 2011   |  Comments   |  

Facebook's latest 'people talking about' metric offers a more accurate assessment to engagement and success than the number of fans your brand has. Here's how to get started on what benchmark to use.

Benchmarks are like the opposite sex; can't live with them, can't live without them. Let's be clear though - benchmarks are important. If you are running a digital marketing campaign, you need to know how well you are doing both against the competition, and within your own industry.

And there, you open up Pandora's Box. The question "How am I doing versus my competitors?" is simple on the face of it. Dig deeper though, and a host of questions and considerations come about that you and the client (or you as the client) will have to address and deal with, and will paint a perspective on your own KPIs and metrics.

What Do I Benchmark?

Take this case in point for the airline industry. Here you will see a number of airline fan pages and the number of fans that they have (all using publicly accessible data at the time of writing):

Suddenly, you see a more balanced picture. What stands out is that Air France, with their half a million fans, only manage to engage almost 4,000 people, on par with Qatar Airways with less than a quarter of their fans. Another huge standout is the fact that British Airways has over 7,000 people talking about it - the highest engagement rating among all the fan page sites.

What this does show, however, is the stark contrast that sometimes comes out when you dig deeper. Of course, I've just put in a small sample of all the airline sites that are out there and excluded outliers that would skew this demonstration - most notably Air Asia, which has over a million fans and over 12,000 people engaging with its site. And that's where it gets more than a bit dicey.


If you look through the spread of the number of fans across the different fan pages, you get a wide disparity - from 34,000 for Jetstar (an Asian low cost carrier) to over a million for Air Asia (itself also an Asian low cost carrier).

Now that's a wide, wide gap that could have arisen because of a number of reasons. Most notably, that is the power of the first mover in the digital space. In our experience, the more mature a social media platform becomes, the harder it gets to garner new fans as the novelty consumers wane and they become more wary of becoming fans of too many brands and property - gone are the times when getting a few thousand followers on Twitter was no problem.

And that's also another consideration in benchmarking exercises. You obviously would want to benchmark against the best in your industry (in this case Air Asia), but with the massive first mover advantage lead against your own fan page, you would also want to benchmark yourself against someone in the space who is at a similar stage and a similar size to you as far as possible, with a similar target audience.

Measuring Multiple Fan Pages

Now let's compound that further - with the fact that brands might have multiple fan pages. There are many legitimate reasons why brands would want to create multiple fan pages - perhaps there are many sub-brands within the same mother ship (Adobe/Microsoft comes to mind with its wide slew of software solutions targeting different audiences in the market). Perhaps there are geographical considerations where different markets need to be addressed with different strategies and different approaches.

This creates yet another problem where if you have multiple fan pages under your management and if your competitor has only one, which do you benchmark against? I have always taken the approach that we should always benchmark against the one that is closest in current size to you.

So What Do We Do About It Then?

Here are some potential solutions to this problem:

  1. Review your benchmarks often. You need to keep updating your benchmarks. Be consistent about the metrics of the pages that you are benchmarking against, but always review what you want to compare yourself to, and change your target when appropriate. If you have overtaken your competitor - find another page to compare yourself against.
  2. Keep comparing. Remember, a benchmark is just a snapshot. It captures a still picture of where you are at. It is a tool, not an end - so you will need to constantly monitor to use it to drive your digital strategic decisions.
  3. Be aware. Be aware of all the gotchas when it comes to benchmarking. There is a reason why Google Analytics took that feature away - and I suspect that it has to do with the fluid and imprecise nature of benchmarking that can very easily be misconstrued.
In a nutshell, when you are asked the golden question 'what's the benchmark?' be aware of all the issues. I've focused on Facebook for this article but the issues here are pertinent across whatever metrics you might be measuring against.


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Adrian Lee

Adrian is the chief of digital marketing and technology in Yolk, a Grey Group company, one of Asia's leading interactive and digital media agencies with over 40 employees headquartered in Singapore. Adrian joined Yolk in 2005 and helped shape the vision towards a company where creative and technology is inexplicably linked to serve the higher purpose of marketing. With this approach, Yolk managed to secure regional accounts such as Microsoft, Cibavision, and Canon. Adrian has 12 years of experience in the digital industry with parts of those years spent in Microsoft being in charge of MSN Search, Portal, and advertising platforms, overseeing the expansion of MSN portal from a single market (Singapore) to five markets across Southeast Asia, part of the team that piloted Microsoft adCentre in Singapore and won "Global Product Manager of the Year" at Microsoft in 2004. His technological background is well complemented with his five years experience in advertising and publishing industry. Technology solutions, which Adrian creates, always serve the purpose of his clients in bridging the latest technologies with marketing strategies to boost their campaigns to their fullest potential. When not knee deep in technology, he produces electronic music under various monikers.

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