Cause And Effect On Social Media

Studies are wonderful things. Take, for example, studies that show children whose homes have more books do better at school than children who don’t have books at home. In particular, take the detail of that study that shows this to be true whether or not the children read. Interpret. Arrive at obvious conclusion: all children need books in their homes.

Back in 2004, studies such as these led to then-Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich trying to institute a program to get books sent to every child in the state. The program never went through -- which is probably appropriate, suggested Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner in “Freakonomics,” as chances are the presence of books in the home is merely correlative of good school performance rather than being causative of it. “Here’s a likely theory: most parents who buy a lot of children’s books tend to be smart and well educated to begin with. (And they pass on their smarts and work ethic to their kids.) Or perhaps they care a great deal about education, and about their children in general. (Which means they create an environment that encourages and rewards learning.) Such parents may believe -- as fervently as the governor of Illinois believed -- that every children’s book is a talisman that leads to unfettered intelligence. But they are probably wrong. A book is in fact less a cause of intelligence than an indicator.



Improperly interpreted studies can lead to a great deal of time, effort and money spent on activities that are unlikely to produce the desired outcome. Consider a study done by my MediaPost colleague Max Kalehoff and his Syncapse team back in April, which demonstrated that, on average, a Facebook fan is worth $174.

It would be, I propose, a big mistake to assume this is actionable information. Please do not turn around and increase the cap on a Like acquisition to $173. Please do not justify the efforts you put into convincing people to click a button if those efforts are separated in any way from a deeper engagement with your brand.

It’s not worth doing these things -- because all you have to do is dig a little deeper and you’ll see that liking you on Facebook doesn’t cause the customer to be worth $174. It is, in fact, the other way around, as you will have learned if you read Syncapse’s follow-up work, which Max reported on this week: customers like you on Facebook because they are already engaged with your brand; they are already loyal, they already spend money with you, and are therefore already valuable to you. They do not become valuable because they like you on Facebook. The chicken of engagement very much comes before the egg of a like.

Sometimes this stuff seems so obvious to me that I cringe to say it. But it becomes less obvious when relationships are quantified in dollar terms. Saying a Like is worth $174 -- and implying that it would therefore be worth up to that amount to pay for one -- is like saying, “People who came to my birthday party are more likely to help me move house, so if I pay people to come to my party more people will help me move.”

Fans are valuable because they care about your brand, because you solve their problems and make them feel good about themselves. This is why they like you, on Facebook or otherwise, and this is where to focus your efforts if you want to increase the value of the relationship.

When you confuse cause and effect on social media you end up trying to buy affection. But when you get it right, you don’t buy it, you invest in it -- and that is infinitely more valuable.

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