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May 25, 2011

I have 10,000 fans on Facebook. Now what?

Flickr - Franco Bouly

Building a community of fans and followers are at the top of many corporate agendas these days. But after having built up a community, what do you do with it? And how do you create real business value from these social media initiatives?

This post is originally written and posted on QuestBack’s Feedback Management blog,

Companies and organizations are struggling to build a fan base and social communities on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook – and many succeed. Currently, the largest companies on Facebook have more than 20 million fans. But when you are asked by your CFO to justify the time and resources spent on building this fan base, how do you prove business value from this new community of “fans”? A recent survey actually pointed out that as much as 47% of the companies surveyed were unable to measure and report on ROI from their social media initiatives.

In my opinion, companies need to deal with four main challenges before they can start gaining real business value from social media:

A fan is not a potential customer

Many companies seem to equate social media fans with potential customers. They are not. Your fan base is probably comprised of customers, competitors, PR-agencies, potential ambassadors and random internet lurkers.

You really don’t know your fans

Yes, you do get access to some demographic data on your Facebook users, like age, country and city of residence, marital status and some information about what interests they have. What you don’t know is what their previous relationship with your organization is, how profitable they are, or what products or services they are interested in – all of vital importance in order to do targeted marketing and follow-up.

You can’t communicate on your own premises

As long as you interact with your fans, followers or connections on social media sites, you are left with the communication channels that are provided on the social site. Even though the possibilities to engage and communicate are improving, you still have to adapt to the channels available. In addition, research shows that news you share on Facebook is seen by as little as 0.5% of the users following you, mainly because of algorithms that filter content for users on the site.

You don’t own your fan data

For many organizations, the most valuable asset is the CRM system, including details on all business relations and customers. In social media, you don’t own the relationships with your fans. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are constantly changing their policies, layouts and functions. Your access to the persons you want to reach out to will at all times rely on rules and regulations set by others.

These are challenges for many organizations using social media as a new channel for sales, marketing and service support. All of the challenges listed need to be addressed in order to be able to prove that the social media interaction can provide the organization with increased value. Now, let me share with you some thoughts on how these challenges can be overcome, and how you can turn your audience into segmented and actionable data.

1) Interact with your audience!

Research shows that as many as 96% will not come back to your website after having “Liked” your brand or company. Therefore, you need to think through how you want to interact with your community, other than having fancy and customized landing pages on your Facebook page. You need to come up with smart ways that are relevant and appealing to your audience to interact and gather feedback.

2) Get to know your fans and followers

The nature of social media is all about sharing and contributing, and if you design your social media initiatives right, your audience will contribute.  The launch of Facebook Questions (and other similar features on other social media sites) shows that reaching out to your audience with relevant questions can provide you with valuable insight about your fans and followers. But remember, the challenge of ownership remains with these solutions. In order to take ownership of the data, you should consider using a third party solution integrated with Facebook or LinkedIn to do this.

3) Think outside Facebook

As mentioned earlier, communicating with your fans and followers solely through a social media site leaves you with two key challenges: You do not own the data, and you cannot communicate on your own premises.  By creating a bridge between your existing communication platforms, e.g. email marketing, blogs or websites, and the social media channels, you will be able to transfer your fans over to your communication channels where you have the control. This enables you to track campaign and communication efficiency and plan follow-up activities with a far better precision than is possible within the social websites.

Finally: Wrap it all together – and take ownership of the data!

By following the advice above, you will be able to get information and feedback from your fans and followers. But the most important part remains. When you have gotten to know your fans and followers, you need to structure the feedback in a way that can be matched with your existing CRM data. By doing this, you build a platform that enable you to start a dialogue with your potential and existing customers and plan actions like targeted campaigns, needs assessments and customer loyalty programs. And only by combining the information you have in your existing customer databases with the new and valuable input from your social media channels you are able to create real business value.

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