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.