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The “Superfan” Experiment

Posted on 1.01.2013

Social media is not a popularity contest so companies shouldn't gauge success on fan and follower numbers — at least not exclusively.

In fact, a recent Napkin Labs study reveals that only a small portion of a brand’s Facebook fans are actually active on the brand’s timeline. And if fans are inactive, there is no way they can be influential to other social media users. Regardless of a brand’s popularity in the social-sphere, companies should measure success based on engagement rates, rather than total audience numbers. Interactions include shares, comments and retweets, all of which have a far greater impact on the metrics that lead directly to conversions (e.g. site traffic, product views, etc.).

How do you obtain higher engagement rates?
Simple – get more superfans.
The study labels a brand’s most engaged Facebook fans as “superfans.” This term also applies to other social sites including Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest, as well as weblogs and forums. Since companies can leverage any social channel to foster positive relationships with consumers, brands should focus on messaging that builds trust and generates interactions amongst their most loyal supporters — their superfans. These brand advocates are not only reliable conversions, but their interactions also provide companies with free viral advertising across social sites.

How do you acquire more superfans?
Simple – become one.
Increasing normal fan numbers is difficult enough, so obtaining a social following that is packed with superfans may seem like an insurmountable challenge. A good place to start, however, is with your brand’s current audience base. In order to learn how to better engage these people, become a superfan yourself.

The Experiment
Start by interacting with your favorite companies, via social networks, for a few weeks. By becoming a fan, you will undoubtedly walk away with a better understanding of the value of not only acknowledging fans, but also posting better content.

For instance, you will learn that some companies will go out of their way to create quality interactions with their followers. Tillamook Cheese is a perfect example. When the Oregon-based business tweeted a caramel apple recipe, my love for food (and all things cheese), prompted me to reply. And it was because of this interaction that I sought out Tillamook items on my next grocery store trip.

Conversely, this experiment also reveals how consumers feel when ignored by a favorite brand. During my research, I reached out to Burt’s Bees, which happens to be one of my preferred skin care companies. Despite multiple communication attempts, I never received a favorite, reply or even a retweet from the company. It should be noted that while I didn’t pose a direct question, my fellow tweeters who did (during my experience), also didn’t get any response from Burt’s Bees.

Chances are I will purchase their products again, but the experience deters me from interacting with Burt’s Bees, via social media, again.

Social media is yet another life situation where the golden rule applies — treat others as you would want to be treated.

This experiment is far from scientific, but it will provide insights into how other companies leverage social networks and interact with customers. My experience showed me that most companies attempt to respond to their customers (albeit some better than others); however the ones that don’t, stick out like a sore thumb.

Furthermore, the experiment highlights the pitfalls of nonstop promotional postings. This approach actually damages a brand’s marketing initiatives, as followers are demanding more from companies through honest and direct interactions (being clever doesn’t hurt either). After all, relationships (even those on social media) are a two-way street and consumers expect responses, even just a like or a retweet would suffice.

This does not mean brands should abandon promotional postings altogether. Instead, they should focus on balancing promotions with interactions that can help increase engagement rates, the digital recipe for social media success.

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