"Like" it or not, the number of Likes, followers or fans is one of the metrics that C-level executives now use to evaluate the progress of their digital marketing campaigns. It's still hard to know what a fan is worth, but it's harder to argue that acquiring more fans is a bad idea. Besides, most CMOs will inevitably compare their numbers with the competitors'. You can almost hear the scream across the conference room table: "Brand X has 2 million fans. Get me 2.5 million by the end of the year!"
Given both Facebook's growth rate and the company's commitment to making sure that social advertising works for both brands and consumers, it seems like acquiring genuine fans at scale should be a key priority. (That's assuming that a brands' product or service is good enough to warrant a "like.")
At the very least, fans are a low-cost, opt-in brand communication channel. And for the smart brands, fans have much greater potential value: the authentic amplification of brand love at scale.
Yet the digital media industry is about to do what it has done so often in the past: Commoditize what is most valuable to marketers. The fan acquisition frenzy has already shifted to a price discussion. In many cases, the conversation between brands and agencies has devolved from: "What can I do to create fans?" to "So, can you get me 'x' amount of fans at 'x' price?"
And just as with other digital ad innovations, we have a bunch of entrepreneurs jumping in to sell based on price. Companies like Bulkfans.com, Socialkik and Advertising Expert -- I call them fan "bucket shops" -- sell fans for less than 10 cents each. Get 1,000 Likes for $79? Delivered in three to four weeks? Just sign here.
What's missing from the discussion is the quality of those Likes. I'm not discounting the value of quantity. As I said, CMOs with million-dollar budgets think in terms of scale. But quality is just as important, if not more so.
So, is $0.079 per Like too cheap to ensure quality? Duh. What's the right price? I'm not sure. It's been pretty well documented that brands are using Facebook ads to acquire Likes in the range of $1-$3 each, but could that also be too cheap?
Remember, the "Like" is a consumer-initiated brand endorsement inside the fastest-growing consumer network in the world. Within the next two to three years, Facebook could have nearly 1 billion users. That's nearly the size of the population in China. So we need to get our act together before we devalue that which offers so much promise to marketers.
How will we kill it? Two ways. Users will balk if they are spammed with Like requests that don't offer them a high-quality experience, a coupon, or something of value in return. And brands will spend a few thousand (or hundreds of thousands) to acquire a bunch of low-quality fans and get almost no engagement or real advocacy.
As an industry, we complain that though audience time has shifted online, the majority of brand ad budgets have not. Yet we keep repeating the same crazy behavior: Invent a cool ad format or platform, evangelize its potential power and scale, and introduce measurement and a degree of standardization so agencies can buy it. Then we tell agencies that we can optimize it to drive the price down to close to zero.
Meanwhile, the CMO listens and becomes confused. "If something is so valuable (like a brand fan), then how come I can buy these fans for less than 10 cents?" And so the agencies and marketing partners that try to sell at a premium are now defending price instead of being able to demonstrate real enduring value for the CMO.
It's nuts. I hope we don't repeat the mistake we've made with impressions with Facebook "Likes," Twitter followers or the next social brand advocacy platform. If we keep commoditizing what has so much potential value, then we can only blame ourselves when agencies and brands buy on price, not enduring value. The discussion should be: "How many magazine ad pages should I cancel so I can fund online brand advocacy and acquisition efforts?" It shouldn't be: "Can you get me fans for 25 cents or less?"