A PR agency can deliver 50,000 new Facebook ‘likes’ but where did those potential customers come from? Can they be qualified? And can corporations base their marketing on this data?
Facebook has more than 800 million members, and most of the active ones tell each other on a regular basis what they like and dislike. In theory, these individuals can be profiled: simply by age and gender, or in detail according to their buying habits and preferences.
So the Facebook community is a potential goldmine for businesses, especially those in the B2C space. You can keep close to customers, telling them about new products and services, and getting their opinion through comments, reviews and polls. All you need is a corporate Facebook page that those customers and potential customers “like” and visit on a regular basis.
That’s where the theory starts to come unpicked, because getting from corporate Facebook page to targeted fan-base is quite a leap. One way of populating a corporate page is with existing customers: but that relies on an opt-in by the customer, which may not be easy, unless there is some kind of incentive, or unless the relationship is likely to be a continuing (and mutually advantageous) one.
Waiting for the fans to arrive
Of course, it’s possible simply to build a page, promote it alongside other online marketing initiatives such as your corporate website, Twitter and so on – then wait for the fans to arrive. The problem here can be likened to the empty restaurant scenario: it’s less likely to attract potential diners than one that is (say) 30% full. A page with few – or no – fans just doesn’t look very inviting.
One seemingly attractive solution is to buy fans, and a quick Google search shows there are plenty of businesses offering hundreds – even thousands – of targeted fans for your Facebook page – at a price of course.
There are various ways in which these fans-groups are created. Facebook advertising is one source, which – as Alex Taylor of Custard Media says, can be targeted with extreme precision, covering demographics including age, gender, interests, likes, etc. He stresses the need for an integrated social media programme, but explains that: “Using Facebook advertising, we can target a company’s competitors, customers and other people who already have a current interest in their brand.”
Martin Petts, managing director of Social Stamp says Facebook users can “be profiled by pretty much any of the criteria that they have entered in their personal Facebook profiles [including] other pages that they have ‘liked’.” However, he emphasises that buying a targeted fan-base is just the beginning: “If a company is buying Facebook fans they will not be engaged instantly, even if they are of the correct profile.”
Other vendors of Facebook fans use backend websites or portals that have free subject-specific content such as downloads, games, videos, competitions and money-off coupons. People who access this content are offered or given an incentive to become a friend of client Facebook pages for a limited period.
Clients still need to make an effort
Mario Johnson of Blumpo uses a Facebook application that enables “demographic targeting to profile users’ information from their profiles”. However, he also strongly emphasises that “it still requires effort on the client’s part to engage the fans with meaningful content to build a relationship with the brand.”
Of course, all this presupposes that the fans are genuine. SEO specialists who use “black hat” techniques to improve search-engine rankings have stung many businesses, and plenty of agencies that promise thousands of targeted fans turn out to be just as dishonest.
Graeme Olsen of South West eCommerce, an Australian internet marketing specialist, tells a cautionary tale of buying targeted fans for an Australian page and a UK page. “We paid extra for the “targeted fans” option [but] it became clear early on that all fans were from the USA.” They also noted that fans were posting identical “weird/random” comments on both pages, leading them to suspect that “many of the fans (or at least the ones that comment) are either junk profiles, or perhaps paid to join our page and comment.”
Taking simple precautions
A few simple precautions are needed here. Firstly, as with all distance buying, take the time to sift through the suppliers and their offerings. This is absolutely not a time to choose the cheapest option, because it’s almost impossible to compare like-with-like. Do everything possible to check the supplier’s credentials: if the website doesn’t have a phone number you can call, a legitimate postal address – not a PO box number – and a business email address, it’s probably best to look elsewhere.
Martin Petts of Social Stamp says that when calling a social media marketing company, they should give you free initial advice: “Explain to them what you are trying to achieve and they might give you an alternative to buying Facebook fans that will work better for you in the long run.”
And if the agency checks out and the references seem genuine, buying a fan base can work for the right kind of business. A supplier of games software, who preferred not to be named, is a case in point. “We bought a thousand fans for our Facebook page when we first built it. The leads were guaranteed genuine, and were targeted by location, age and interests.
“Each of these fans has friends who are likely to have a similar demographic profile, and who will get the chance to link to our page, opening us up to maybe 50,000 people. That should give us several hundred new followers – and hopefully a few new customers.”
Custard Media’s Alex Taylor agrees with the philosophy, saying that, for the right kind of business “buying a fan base or building a community [of] like-minded individuals can prove very effective. Imagine having a group of potential prospects in a room that you can pitch to.”
The bottom line is that buying a fan base can work: it just needs careful planning, and a recognition of the potential pitfalls with this kind of marketing activity. The maxim “buyer beware” needs to be front of mind – before taking the plunge.