In the last year, the term ‘engage­ment’ seemed to over­take every social marketer’s vocab­u­lary. As a social mar­ket­ing com­pany, we under­stand engage­ment is one of the most impor­tant met­rics of suc­cess for many of our cus­tomers. In fact, our met­rics are around ROE: return on engage­ment. How many peo­ple engaged with an offer or pro­mo­tion?  Did a social cam­paign result in the acqui­si­tion of a new or repeat cus­tomer? Did it con­tribute to an increase in sales? We absolutely believe that the key to run­ning a good social mar­ket­ing pro­gram is under­stand­ing how to cre­ate real engage­ment. But what about grow­ing fans and followers?

Some mar­keters have been vocal about fan count being a ‘van­ity met­ric’- some­thing that doesn’t actu­ally impact brand loyalty.

It’s not one ver­sus another. You need to do both: build a large fan base and gen­er­ate high engage­ment.  A large fan base is point­less with­out engage­ment.  Engage­ment across a few fans can’t gen­er­ate the impact of large scale mar­ket­ing programs.

Hav­ing 1 mil­lion fans might not mean much if these fans aren’t actu­ally engag­ing with your page, par­tic­i­pat­ing in your give­aways or shar­ing apps with friends. That said, fan growth is still a valu­able met­ric and some­thing that most well regarded brands do and will con­tinue to care about in 2011 –and here’s why:

  • We’re still in the early days in social. In fact, we believe 2011 kicks off a new decade of social mar­ket­ing.  So let’s start it off by exam­in­ing your cur­rent user and fan base and set­ting some bench­marks for what this base could be in 2011. One bench­mark for what your brand page fan base could be is your active email and mobile mar­ket­ing list: these users are already online and have demon­strated their will­ing­ness to hear from your brand. A sec­ond bench­mark is the num­ber of par­tic­i­pants in your exist­ing loy­alty pro­gram: these par­tic­i­pants have demon­strated they like your brand enough to be rewarded and rec­og­nized for their loyalty.
  • Crit­i­cal Mass: In order to build aware­ness, you need num­bers. Sure, your num­ber one, die-hard fan might inter­act with your page on a daily basis and share deals with friends, but by not try­ing to grow your fan base, you’re lim­it­ing your­self to few devoted fans vs. many fans.
  • The math is sim­ple: 100 fans = 100 oppor­tu­ni­ties to engage. If each fan has an aver­age of 130 friends, that’s a poten­tial reach of 13,000 impres­sions. 1,000 fans = 1,000 oppor­tu­ni­ties to engage. If each fan has an aver­age of 130 friends, that’s a poten­tial reach of 130,000 impressions.
  • Sta­tis­ti­cal Sig­nif­i­cance: when con­duct­ing research and devel­op­ment for new prod­ucts and ser­vices, com­pa­nies will often pool together qual­i­fied resources across a num­ber of func­tions, geo­graphic loca­tions and age groups. There has to be a large enough pool for this input to be sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­canct.  The more fans you have, the more oppor­tu­ni­ties you have to under­stand a broader cross-section of cus­tomers: what they care about and what they want to hear from your brand.

The bot­tom line is: 2011 is still a year to grow your fan base –organ­i­cally with highly viral and social expe­ri­ences fueled by paid media.  Of course, the tac­tics you employ to engage these fans will prove, long-term, whether these ini­tial, early-stage fans will actu­ally con­tinue to engage with your brand.