15 Dec 2015

A Facebook Fan is Worth $174 – But Don’t Buy Them!

Early in 2013 the company Syncapse set out to put a value on the average Facebook fan. The study compared Facebook fans to non-fans based upon their corresponding product spending, brand loyalty, propensity to recommend, media value, cost of acquisition and brand affinity to arrive at the figure. The figure they came up with was… $174. The average Facebook fan was worth $174 to a brand as opposed to a non-fan who was worth… well, nothing! The news caused uproar in the social media market, and the ripples are still wobbling all-round the industry today. But what does it mean that the average fan is worth $174? To whom? One commenter on the article asked when he could expect his check …

So we have a number, but in all realistic terms, it means nothing. Let’s take a look at what Syncapse was actually saying:


They have a list of 17 brands that they chose to look at as an indicator of the average Facebook fan. The number dedicated to each brand was the average amount spent per year by that brands fan. Seriously? My first degree is in Math (don’t ask – but in my defence I do have others!) and I am well aware of how figures can be manipulated to say just about anything you want them to, but really? The average fan buys $312.01 worth of Levi jeans every year? The average price of men’s Levi’s is $80, so a fan goes and buys 4 pairs of Levis a year? And how many other pairs of jeans of non Levis do they buy? What about the Wranglers that are on sale? Or Aeropostale ones that fit better? In the era of mass production there is very little 100% brand loyalty, and as you can get them from so many places at so many different prices, there is no store loyalty either to lock them in to just one brand. Let’s face it, the average ten year old – even at the rate children grow – probably did not own 40 pairs of Levi jeans. That makes the averages in this case well out, especially as small children would be the only segment of the industry buying multiple pairs a year due to massive growth – but they can’t be the Fans liking the page! You can’t have a Facebook account until you are 12, and babies can’t count to 4, so they are not the ones buying copious pairs of Levis a year. The numbers just don’t add up.

Let’s look at others. Ok so I’m no Footballers wife, but I can’t even recognize two of the brands (epic marketing fail there, lads). There is no rhyme or reason as to the brands chosen, but the selection does not represent the average person. You can’t look at the data and say, ‘this indicates that I usually spend this much on coffee a year, or sneakers, etc’. It just shows you how much a random fan, of a random sex, of a random age and a random income of that page spends on average – which in itself is meaningless.

In a marketing sense, why would someone creating a marketing campaign for cookies be interested in how much the average fan of Victoria Secrets spends on underwear each year? The data is not comparable. If it were all similar brands, say all running shoe fans or fast food, then you’d have the data to drive a campaign in the right direction. The only reason you’d need to know how much the average fan spent on your commodity was if you were calculating if the risk was worth putting so much capital into a social media campaign. But this research doesn’t give you enough of the right data to make that recommendation. It doesn’t even give you enough data to schedule a meeting to discuss it!

The other serious flaw that I feel is in the results, is – what is missing from the calculation. Let’s overlook the major affecting fact that high value goods will always have a higher average spends because there cost is so much more, and look at the little box in the lower right hand corner. There are three major companies there (well, at least Target was a major company in Canada then) which were surveyed, then are not included in the calculation. Why not, would be my question? It could be because the research was measuring growth from 2010, but anyone with the IQ of a house brick can work out that BMW, Walmart and Target were major companies then and worthy of inclusion. Why not include them? Their data is just as valid. If it’s not measure growth – what is it measuring?

This leads to the eye brow raising question of why are the three top grossing brands left out of the equation? If we include them, the average figure of $174 jumps to make a Facebook fan now worth $299 – pretty impressive increase for a sixty second timeframe! And all it took was adding a calculator! All this just adds to the meaningless attributes of the figures.

No one sits down and says, ‘we need a sample for research, I know, let’s pick 17 random companies.’ Our brains work in even numbers. The research was done on 20 companies but then three were selected out – for no apparent reason. The average wasn’t calculated as an average rise in worth, just an average worth so all 20 could have been included. Had they thrown in Bulova, Stella McCartney and Prada it would have been substantially higher average value too.  

So why has this statistic got me so hot and bothered? Simple. People believe such statistics and then launch campaigns around it with high expectations. Let me illuminate here. Customer: ‘I sell pork chops. Help me get 1,000 new likes on my page this month and I’ll gross another $174,000 ’. NO, just … no. It doesn’t work like that. In fact, it doesn’t work any way at all. 

First of all, the brands used in the sample are HUGE names (even the two I have no idea who they are), the likelihood your brand is of ever being able to compete for that type of money is very small. And, even though the figure is meaningless for already cited reasons, the research doesn’t say any fan is worth $174, just the ones included in the sample. Your fans could be worth a lot less (as we have proved, carry on adding low value average brands and they’re instantly worth less…).

The issue all marketers have is that placing a value on a Facebook fan means that companies end up believing that buying likes will automatically increase their bottom line. It just isn’t true. Buying likes is the worst thing you can do to promote your brand. The bots will be able to identify huge numbers of fans all of a sudden joining a page and not interacting with it, and that will get you flagged as manipulating the figures and ultimately can lead to a ban. Getting Facebook fans is only one part of a very huge social media puzzle that has to be navigated smartly and skillfully to successfully bring is sales. There is no quick fix in Social media, no matter what social media tells you.

Sadly, the research looks like one large advertising campaign for the originators. The, ‘Hey Big Brands! Look at us! We can put a figure on the things you really want to know that no one else tackles – that makes us special’ kind of advertising campaign. It may well have worked, but the resulting collateral damage is really too high to make the research credible. Besides, I’m not the only person in marketing with a Math degree, and we’re all trained to recognise spinning figures when we see them – they’ll figure it out.

If you really want to work out how much your Facebook fans are worth try less complicated methods. Do A-B testing. Offer coupons. Give special offers. How they react to these types of things will tell you whether they can be enticed to buy, are active and engaged with your brand. You don’t need a figure – you need action. The only way that will happen is by good old fashioned online mixed media marketing. Hard work, but worth it.

Facebook marketing has nothing to do with likes or shares and everything to do with influencing behaviour of the people in your social media web. So please, don’t buy likes or fans, or shares, or anything like it. The value of your average Facebook fan is exactly what you make it.