Why Brands Need Friends – Not Fans – on Facebook


Facebook offers brands access to its vast audience with no apparent cost of entry. Therefore, one would presume that brands would develop strategic and forward-thinking campaigns to maximize their reach. Not so.

Instead, brands quickly entered a popularity contest for the most Likes. It seemed companies were simply content with growing audience numbers. Until lately, they’ve been comfortable measuring return on investment by the number of fans alone. Now they’re beginning to question the value of such a one-dimensional strategy.

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Starbucks, one of the most popular brands on Facebook, has startlingly low engagement numbers, despite its 26 million fans. A recent post from Starbucks mentioned the company’s popular red holiday cups. Yet, its engagement rate (the number of gestures on the post divided by the total number fans at the time of this writing) only calculated to 0.28% Likes and 0.02% comments.

The challenge for brands is to evolve from simply being a company with a product to becoming a valuable source for interesting, entertaining and useful content. The real measurement of a brand’s Facebook success is relevance.

Facebook’s Edgerank algorithm is the first step for measuring a brand’s relevance across its community. Following F8, people began to optimize social media performance against Edgerank’s key metrics, namely, by developing strategies to measure affinity, edge weighting and recency. Unfortunately, numbers don’t mean anything if the brand can’t reach into fans’ News Feeds and achieve basic levels of engagement.

Brands would do best to approach the problem differently or, more specifically, to start acting like those hyper-connected Facebook friends we all have. These individuals not only broadcast their status updates, connect with apps like Spotify, and Like frequently; they also frequently engage friends in one-to-one discussions or curate social events, thereby building broader community circles.

From Content to Collaboration

To date, most brand activity has focused on building a brand’s audience base and then using a simple content strategy to engage fans via Likes and comments.

Widening the focus to include a collaboration strategy would create a stronger communications infrastructure around a brand.

The challenge for the brand is to identify and reach out to the most socially active, engaged and influential fans. By collaborating with these individuals and creating mutual value, companies will begin to see increased sharing and growth in their own community.

Brands must learn how to mimic human sharing behaviors. Individuals strive to be the first to break news, to post photos proving “they were there,” to beat another friend in a social game, etc. Brands that mirror such activity will prove more relevant to fans. By acting like a friend first and foremost, brands will collect – and ultimately engage with – more people.

Characteristics of “Friendly” Brands

Creating an influencer affinity model is certainly nothing new to marketing. On Facebook, however, connecting with your influential community takes time and resources, but ultimately returns greater value. What are some ways brands can do this?

1. Provide Ranking and Recognition

Thirty-year psychology veteran and founder and owner of the User Experience Institute andWhatMakesThemClick.net, Susan Weinschenk applies psychology to understand how people think, work and relate. One of her posts discusses user addiction to Facebook status updates and News Feed posts. These behaviors are fueled by dopamine, which has been shown to cause seeking behavior. Dopamine causes us to desire and seek out, says Susan, which ultimately increases our goal-directed behavior.

Knowing this, brands need to create Facebook content that encourages habit-forming behavior. Furthermore, companies need to rank user engagement and involvement, and recognize fans for their efforts as brand ambassadors.

2. Grant Exclusive Access

One of the best ways to engage fans is to provide them with exclusive access. Imagine what the ultimate fan experience would look like for your brand. Would you open your locker room or office to fans? Would they get the opportunity to be part of your next packaging design? By thinking like the fan, you’ll be leveraging a collaboration strategy rooted in exclusivity.

Sephora has rewarded its most loyal customers on Facebook with exclusive, friends-only deals, early access to products and deluxe samples. Fashion brand Diane von Furstenberg offers its fans an exclusive wrap dress each month, proving that this time-old marketing tactic is just as effective today.

3. Reward and Incentivize Sharing

Loyalty programs are nothing new to brands and marketers, but brands need to understand that social word-of-mouth is just as important. Combine the two strategies by rewarding your brand’s most loyal ambassadors for sharing their positive experiences online.

GoPro camera leverages this kind of fan interaction on its Facebook page. Its recent “I Love My GoPro” contest asked fans to submit a GoPro photograph that communicates “that epic moment, that photo that you showed all your friends, that photo you could only get using a GoPro camera.” Fans wrote captions for their photos and submitted them to the company over Facebook. Then GoPro fans voted for the top 50 entries to advance to the finalist round.

GoPro understands that its contest was mutually beneficial: It got people talking about the brand (and sharing it with their friends), and also rewarded fans by publishing their photography and presenting a grand prize.

By putting emphasis on the fans behind the brand, a company can start to humanize its interactions and drive people to connect online and offline. After all, who wants fake friends, in real life or on Facebook?



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