What the hell is Facebook for?

This is the latest of my posts for the Marketing Society blog.

Facebook is clearly a red-hot topic for brand owners today. Every brand team I talk to is busily beavering away to boost the number of people who click to “like” their brand page, and so get regular updates and news. But at the risk of being accused as a social media Luddite, is all this effort worthwhile for your average fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) brand? If we get past the hype and hysteria about social media, when it comes to brand building, what the hell is Facebook really for? Most importantly, does it have the potential to grow your brand?

Fortunately, the nice people at DDB France and Opinionway recently published research on Facebook and brands. This research throws some desperately needed illumination on the subject. The research was done with 1600 people who have clicked to "like" a brand page and so follow the updates and news. It covered UK, USA, France, Italy and Australia. So, for all those brands spending time and money on Facebook, here’s the good news… and then the bad news.

Good news: Facebook likers like brands more
The research shows that a decent 36% of people who like a brand’s Facebook page say they want to buy the product more. In addition, liking a brand’s Facebook seems to have an event stronger effect on brand advocacy. A total of 92% of likers say they would certainly or probably recommend the brand to a friend since following it on Facebook. So far, so good.

Bad news: followers are few. And they want fun, not FMCG
The first bit of bad news is that people follow few brands. On average, the people surveyed liked only nine brand pages. 18-24’s follow a couple more brands, 11 on average. And if you’re a consumer goods brand, you’re going to struggle to be one of the chosen few pages. When asked which sectors they followed, Facebook likers put media top of the list (55%), followed by charities (51%) and luxury goods (46%).  Way down in 8th place with a paltry 8% was FMCG.

And it’s easy to see why few of us follow FMCG pages. The main reason for connecting to Facebook is “fun”(49%). Getting information, which is what many FMCG brands provide on their pages, was only important for 16% of people.

The relatively low appeal of FMCG for Facebook users is confirmed by looking at the brand pages of some leading brands, even those you’d expect to have a good fan-club. For example, Innocent has 27,000 likes. But this still seems insignificant compared to the brands’ existing user base. Assume they have, say, 15% trial of UK adults which is 7.5 million users. Their total number of Facebook followers is 0.4% of this. Take the proportion likely to buy more (36%) and you get about 0.1% of innocent’s total user base. If you follow this logic, to get 1% of their user base buying more, innocent would need to get 192,000 followers.

I put my hand up and admit this is rather back-of-the-fag-packet analysis. I’d welcome more robust data from Facebook experts.

A simple Facebook filter
Now, there is a handful of consumer goods brands with decent following. Coke has 20 million likes and Red Bull 13.6 million. Admittedly these brands are both global. But even then, the numbers are significant. For example, if 5% of Coke’s Facebook likers were in the UK, in line with the UK’s share of global Facebook users, that’s still 1 million people.

Looking at why these brands have been amongst the few to get a significant Facebook following, here’s a simple filter to figure out how important Facebook could be for your brand.

1. How fun and entertaining is your category?:    Out of 10
2. How fun and entertaining is your brand?:    Out of 10
3. Budget/resource you’ll spend on content creation for your page? Out of 10

TOTAL SCORE          Total Out of 30

I’d give Coke and Red Bull a score in the 20’s. If you’re at a similar level, you could also be one of the few brands to make Facebook work as a brand growth tool. But if you’re less than this, then perhaps its time for a re-think.

Assuming you do think Facebook is still for your brand, in a future post I will look at tips and tricks to increase the follower base of your page.