What is the dollar value of a single Facebook "fan" to a brand? Five dollars? Twenty? A nickel?
Stop wondering because Vitrue has "developed the first-ever published Facebook fan valuation." The Atlanta-based firm, which launched in 2006 with a user-based advertising platform, today bills itself as a "comprehensive social media management" company with just the kind of deep resources to pull off such an ambitious project.
Its research tapped into "over 45 million fans" of brands on Facebook, and sampled "varying pages from digital entertainment to retail to B2B to CPG to publishers to quick serve restaurants" to try to put a dollar value on a fan. The magic number: $3.60, about the current commodities market price of a pound of copper or a single In-N-Out Burger Double Double. And this valuation is about as meaningful to most people as those latter comparisons. However, that won't stop it from being repeated—a lot.
Dismissing for now the conflict of interest inherent in a social media branding agency doing this research, here's how they arrived at the $3.60 valuation. Vitrue's math: one million impressions on the brand's page multiplied by two wall posts per day for 30 days equals 60 million impressions per month. At a $5 CPM or cost per 1,000 clicks, those 60 million impressions are worth $300,000 or $3.6 million per year.
Immediately questionable is the $5 CPM figure, which many online, ad-supported publications would kill for; but we'll pass on that quibble. Also, let's allow that no brand's Facebook fan ignores a wall post. We'll even ignore that an impression from, say, a luxury clothing brand fan is equal to an impression from, say, a fan of Spam's Facebook page. Finally, let's just assume, as was done by Vitrue, that "Facebook" equals "all social media."
But $3.60 is the kind of quantifiable amount that the social media branding and marketing business is desperate for, with so many companies trying to justify their dalliances in social media. It's a hard number, which is why this figure is going to be thrown around authoritatively everywhere you look—until a new dollar value supplants it.
In many ways social media marketing is similar to product placement, another field for which hard-number metrics have continued to elude ROI-seekers. No product placement is equal to any other product placement, with the quality of connections made between product and audience completely dependent on each individual setting.
Likewise, fans of brands on Facebooks are fans for many different reasons. Some brands attract particularly obsessed "fans" while others are fans for less valuable reasons. Some users "fan" brands simply to be "ironic." By Vitrue's numbers, the 31,000 fans of Spam's Facebook page is worth around $112,000 a year in real marketing terms. Heck, preposterous blanket-sweater brand Snuggie's Facebook page boasts 133,338 fans, making its social network page worth at least $480,000 a year. And maybe it is! Meanwhile, Ford Trucks' page has around a quarter as many fans as Snuggie's. Which kind of fan would your brand rather have?
While it's understandable that those working in social media are desperate to assign dollar values to their efforts (as their bosses are demanding ROI assessments), this kind of single catch-all number is counter-productive. As anyone serious about branding knows, trying to make a number mean everything makes it mean nothing.