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WHAT'S THE RETURN ON
INVESTMENT [ROI]
IN USING FACEBOOK?

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I have spoken a lot about the value of using Facebook as a medium for marketing, and it has to be said that I am not a convert for social media as a great tool for the marketer [take a look at some of my comments on interesting articles and tips, hints and advice] but as I write this [in June 2011] it would seem that the Facebook evangelist bandwagon is threatening to steamroller all in front of it. Having had a swipe at Twitter [see what the Tweeting use is Twitter?] I have finally got round to questioning some of the research that is about.

As a 'subject' for my investigation I originally took an article from Experian Hitwise - 1 Facebook fan = 20 additional visits to your website. Unfortunately, it is no longer available online, but you can read this article about it.

OK, now let's take a look at some of the research findings presented in the article.

"We took the top 100 retailers ranked in the Hitwise Shopping and Classifieds category and benchmarked visits to those websites against the number of fans those brands had on their Facebook page."

So, if my shop has no Facebook page - ie no fans - but I have [a] excellent products and prices on an effective website, and [b] a loyal customer base who return to my website frequently to check on new promotions and products [perhaps in response to both off- and online advertising] then I would be at the bottom of this survey. Might a less-informed management read the article and feel they should have a Facebook page so they could strive to feature in the top ten? But would they get any ROI for that committment? [please don't get me started on Facebook marketing being 'free']

The only way I can see the "1 fan = 20 extra visits to a website" working is if the shop posts daily [or more frequent] offers on its Facebook page - so the customer goes to Facebook and follows the promotional link to the website. That said - and I admit I am not in their target segment - why would a Topshop customer want to follow promotional messages on an [almost] daily basis? Just how many frocks or shirts can a gal or guy buy? [note: I am a lecturer in marketing who moved into teaching in Higher Education after years in retail - I have some knowledge in this area]. Which takes me to another piece of missing information: On those 'extra' 20 visits, do the visitors buy anything? If not, the whole exercise is a waste of time.

Does this mean that shops should not set up e-commerce [f-commerce?] facilities on Facebook - instead drive them to the shop's own domain? Surely, and extra barrier in the purchase funnel?

"We then also looked at the propensity for people to search for those retail brands after a visit to Facebook using our Search Sequence tool."

If they search for the shop after being on Facebook - surely that means that they have not [a] searched for then shop on Facebook, and [b] not 'friended' the shop, otherwise they would follow the link from the shop's Facebook page?

Perhaps the give-a-way is the statement: "With this in mind we've decided to launch a new service today in partnership with social media experts Techlightenment".

Ah, so this article is more a promotion for this 'new service' rather than it is a piece of independent research?

As a footnote I have to add that I am a sceptic in this whole Facebook thing. I am doing some research [of an academic nature, not to promote anything :-) ] and I am struggling to find people who, [a] although they have a Facebook page, use it at all, never mind regularly, and [b] have friended, liked or whatever any brands or products. Who are all these millions of people that various statistics tell us are regular visitors to Facebook?

As an aside to this footnote: I would look at the methodology for such stats on Facebook use. For example: find ten people who have Facebook pages. Ask them how often they look at that page in a month. Nine say once a month or less. One is a Facebook addict. She checks out her page [via work PC and her mobile phone] twenty times a day. The maths of that works out that total visits for these ten people per 30-day month equals 9 + 600 = 609 / 10 = each person makes 61 visits to Facebook per month.

Oh, now I've got started, I can'st stop. Take a look at some other 'facts' from the article [though these are commonly quoted elsewhere].

"1 in every 6 page views from UK Internet users goes to a Facebook page".

Again, see my last equation. Several 'addicts' - OK, let's call them enthusiasts - will skew the stats. Plus, it is one site versus millions. I rarely visit my Facebook page [it exists only for my research] - let's say once a week. But let's also consider my other commonly visited sites? Google, obviously. My football team's best blog [once a day in the season, rarely off-season]. Sites related to my research [I teach and write books on e-marketing], so Searchenginewatch, Clickz, eMarketer Daily plus a few others once a day. Amazon, but only if I want something. Ditto eBay. Do you know, that's about it [I'm ignoring my own sites]. Of course I visit hundreds of sites a week - but as irregular or one-off visits. What that means is that in terms of raw data, even as a declared non-believer in Facebook I have it in my own 'top-ten visited sites list'

Then there is:

"20 million hours are spent on the website every day from UK users alone."

Now - 'visits' and 'time on site' are very different. Judging by my research, some Facebookists open their Facebook page in a browser window or tab and then surf on another. Or watch TV. Or send texts. Or make a cup of tea. They leave Facebook open so that their friends can see they are 'live' and start up a 'chat'. Or maybe they leave Facebook open because they are scared of missing something? [ooo Alan, you bitch]. Using the same sample as my hypothetical research above; the single Facebook enthusiast might clock up 10 hours a day with her Facebook page 'open' - the others five minutes a month. I'll let you do the maths this time [OK, I know, if you are in America it is 'math'].

Homer [Simpson, not the philosopher] says: "people can come up with statistics to prove anything. 40% of people know that."

He has a point.

As I have said elsewhere, Facebook can work for a very few organizations - but for the vast majority [say, 99%] it is not an effective medium for marketing.

Well ... I had finished this musing - but I just took a quick look at the Topshop Facebook page. OK, so hardly a reliable sample - but on the 'wall' I couldn't see one entry from Topshop's marketers. The comments were mainly 'friends' telling - with links - about where they were selling clothes on eBay. Or online stores [ie Topshop's competitors] blatantly promoting their sites. Or just comments that had nothing to do with Topshop or clothes. Has any one come up with the term Facebook spam yet? I fail to see how this Facebook site is benefitting Topshop - or driving visitors to their site. I refer you to the title of this musing.

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