The Facebook Brand Page has become de rigueur for virtually all brands today. Every brand seems to have one, irrespective of category or target audience – small business, CPG, large multinationals, service brands, entertainment brands (including movie titles & TV shows) to name a few. What’s more, most brand owners would be satisfied with the results of the brand pages – there seems to be a lot of fan interaction and measurable results.  And a diverse set of brands use Facebook –  global brands, local brands, brands with global repute, little-known local businesses and so on. While some of these pages thrive on apps, games and contests most depend on plain old posts for ‘fan engagement’. These posts seem to have a set pattern or topics (at least those from India): Monday morning blues, TGIF, occasion based posts, product news, interactive posts on brand, congratulatory posts on sports & other celebrities, comments on current affairs to name a few. And these posts are wildly popular going by the measure of ‘likes, ‘comments’ and ‘shares’. What’s surprised me is that most of these  posts have nothing to do with the brand’s core message or proposition. Some posts are downright moronic, yet they receive a lot of comments & likes. What drives these interactions? What are the implications of Facebook brand pages? Herewith some random thoughts:

What drives Facebook fan engagement?

I am not referring to the techniques behind garnering Facebook fan engagement. I am just doing some loud thinking on why even inane or unrelated posts from brands get fan reactions in high numbers. In my view, Facebook is the first platform made available to a large number of Indians outside the metros which has made posting an opinion or expressing an emotion easy, accessible and free. The ‘like button’ is a simple expression of interest. Combined with share button, which is equally easy to operate it gives a lot of us ‘voice’. It is a way of communicating one’s intent and in a way contributing. With Facebook available across so many mobile devices, accessing content is that much more easier. What’s more it’s free. Given these factors, a lot of Indians have become bold enough to express their views in the online space. It is a novel experience for a majority of them and given the easy commenting system it gives them a place in the sun. Their comments and likes are seen by many (including strangers) and shared. And then there’s the affinity factor. Witness the comments on Hindi film portals or brand pages of Hindi films on Facebook- an image from a film or that of an actress will have several men commenting directly to the actress in question. A picture of Salman Khan from ‘Ek Tha Tiger’ on the FB page will have several fans addressing him as ‘Sallu Bhai’. It is as if he is conversing with him or her (or so I assume). Just a couple of years ago, all that a Salman fan could have done was to whistle during the movie screening. Today he can see pictures of fan parties of a movie on its FB page, where he could be tagged.

With brands too there is a similarity. A well-known brand whose packaging & advertising were the only points of interaction (aside from usage, of course!) with a consumer today can ask a Facebook fan for his opinion on various topics related to the brand: future packaging changes, product flavours and so on. It’s as if the fan has a direct role to play in the fate of the brand. Combined with techniques like rewarding Top Fans, these make the fans feel a lot more closer to the brand. And in this milieu and context if the brand posts something arbitrary, totally unrelated it still gets a thumbs up from the fans.

It kind of fits in with Facebook’s format too: among the social networks, Facebook perhaps has the widest appeal. Comparatively speaking, not many people know how to use Twitter well or use it more often. Ditto with brands – Twitter’s format and audience does not make it conducive for it to be relevant to all brands. Brands usually use Twitter to address service issues, offer deals, share links (especially media brands) and sometimes to ‘entertain’ with a witty take on life around us. On Facebook however, brands cover a broad swathe of ‘topics’. In fact anything goes: product news, congratulatory messages to random celebrities, topical and ‘forced’ questions, arbitrary product-linked questions, polls, quizzes and so on. If brands were to do that on Twitter, there won’t be any takers.  Also, the opinion makers and ‘influencers’ on Twitter would perhaps follow a limited set of brands. On Facebook however, this ‘catch all’ approach on Facebook works. But it has its side effects.

Facebook page: huge effort, poor compensation

As a result of frenzied ‘brand engagement’, marketers have begun to take special interest in such Facebook activity. Fan base count has become a measure of how successful a brand’s digital campaign is. In other words, digital plan has come to mean a Facebook page. While some marketers confess to not chase fan base count and focus on ‘engagement rate’ subliminally ‘size matters’ mentally takes over. Fan bases less than 100k are literally scoffed at. The ‘evolved’ marketers have begun to focus on Facebook Engagement Rate as the benchmark in social media metrics. Given that a Facebook page is a window to consumer affinity towards a brand and the results of an activity are transparent and immediate (unlike, say a mall activation programme) the Marketing Team has taken a hands on approach to Facebook brand page. Sometimes even the CMO is involved – a rarity these days given the penchant for being involved only in the big ticket/really important matters.

The consequence of all this is the pressure on the Social Media agency to deliver on all counts: fan count, frequent and interesting posts every day and finally an acceptable engagement rate benchmarked with the category. It also means employing a talented team that understands Social Media supervised or led by an experienced professional who is a ‘specialist’. Clients prefer to engage with ‘experts’ from the digital media space and make it clear that the ‘mainline’ servicing team should not be burdened with monitoring social media efforts. But when it comes to budgets & monies the retainer fee for ‘Digital Marketing’ (even if it is just a Facebook brand page) is peanuts. I believe that the going rate in India for Facebook brand page management is in the region of Rs. 100,000 a month (approx $1800). It is impossible to hire talented teams and ensure senior management time at these costs. Even if there is a larger digital campaign activity involved (other than Facebook activity) the numbers are still low. It shows in the short cuts employed on the Facebook brand page: cookie-cutter posts, random images sourced without giving credit to the creator, plethora of posts that are geared to get ‘likes’ above anything else (connect with brand becomes secondary) and so on.

The fallout

Given the lofty goals of engagement with fans, the pressure of constantly coming with interesting & engaging posts, innovative contests & apps (development cost of apps are paid for by the client) and the analysis paralysis that follows every quarter, its no surprise that the Digital Agencies (and their parent ad agencies) feel that they are poorly compensated. They are justified in feeling that way. They are also justified in reaching the conclusion that ‘there is no money in Digital’. Consequently, all this has an impact on talent & resource investment. The competition in this sector with so many independent specialists (with lower overheads) also reinforces their belief. Net result: digital medium does not get the attention it deserves: in terms of talent who can think big, clients who invest big and encourage their agencies to think afresh. It shows in our performance in this space – globally both clients and agencies have moved far ahead in terms of use of technology, innovative use of digital platforms, all with outstanding results for the brand. Even in the global awards like Cannes we have fared dismally in the Cyber space. Less said about Mobile the better.

Aside from the impact and overall sentiment & confidence in the digital space, it reinforces the silo-structure of our advertising industry. The Account Executive-Account Director team who work on the mainline, TV-led advertising have little say on what the brand does in the Social Media/Digital space and are rarely ‘involved’.

I may sound alarmist by extending the impact of the Facebook brand page to world peace almost but I do hope I got the point across: the Facebook brand page can be an effective way of engaging with fans. It has and will show results. In India, it works like magic. But let’s not equate that to what constitutes a digital campaign. And a just compensation has a cascading impact on other elements in the digital mix. Maybe even lift the standards of the entire advertising community with respect to new media. What say?

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Originally posted here

Image source: Denis Dervisevic

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