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Facebook engagement for publishers

May 1, 2012
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Facebook engagement - can statistics stack up?

A big issue for publishers right now is how much time to invest in Facebook and how to measure it. As I’ve said before on A Brand Day Out, many publishers simply “go through the motions” when it comes to Facebook but there are ways to measure engagement and to focus initiatives. Now there’s some new research about the genuine effectiveness of Facebook marketing and what it might mean, so let’s take a look…

The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science has recently published some research by Karen Nelson-Field and Jennifer Taylor which shows that in 200 top brands, only 1 brand showed an engagement figure in excess of 2% (where engagement is a relationship between an established “fan” and that fan “talking about” the brand, and where newcomers are netted-off to give a more accurate trend figure).

The research also goes to show that only 10% of the 200 brands achieved an engagement figure of 1%, with the remainder achieving an average of 0.54%. They also pointed out that passion brands achieved only marginally better engagement figures of 0.64% on average. What should this mean for publishers?

Nelson-Field and Taylor argue:  “Even if these top 200 brands achieved ten times their current level of engagement, what that ultimately means for the brand is uncertain. The push for engagement fails to explain what return, in real terms, a brand achieves by having highly engaging ads, on highly engaging vehicles or media. Behavioural engagement measures such as time spent looking at/reading/listening, sharing or repeated use of a media or vehicles tell us little about the end result that advertisers seek – sales. As McDonald (1995) points out, rarely would it be disputed that sales is the inevitable objective of ‘for profit’ organisational success; the final measure of advertising impact should be whether the viewer has a heightened propensity to purchase the product.”

This is compelling and alarming. But it should not be a mandate to do nothing with social media. Publishers have something that many big brands like the cola company, Coca-Cola, cannot have: an ability to sell direct. Marketers at publishing companies can choose to argue that they are increasing engagement and that they have more “fans” (thereby, hopefully, appeasing the marketing director or the board). But this – like that odious phrase, “creating awareness”, is a red herring.

Marketers at publishers can, instead, monitor results effectively via social media and their own websites with an assessment of revenues and sales. In my experience, social media engagement can lead to significant uplift in sales of a new edition or a new title in the range. Whereas uplift through a promotional email might be 30 units, I have experience of a social media engagement driving sales in excess of 200 units. This is how engagement can and should work. And of course, the figures I cite are direct orders and do not include orders through the book trade or elsewhere.

The creation of engagement in social media is akin to attracting and retaining subscribers to a service or members of an organisation. Effective measurement of engagement, netting off “new” advocates can be measured by intense analysis of “fans” and “likes”.  A marketer’s job becomes tied to attracting fans, keeping them engaged, not boring them, and ultimately retaining them over time to attract new fans to the brand. Sharing has a key part to play – even for B2B, as we discussed in these pages last week.

And sharing can also be tracked in depth, helping marketers to understand what material is most likely to be shared. This video from the Ehrenberg Bass Institute is particularly interesting in this regard referring to “arousal emotions” which drive shares – in particular positive emotion arousal (laughter/happiness) outperforms negative arousal. Feel good is better than feel bad – but boredom must be avoided. Let’s not forget that marketers become bored with their brands very quickly – social media will be unforgiving about the same old hackneyed nonsense and instead will respond to inherent truth.

Today, on this very topic, I received a link from Alastair Sawday’s, the travel publisher, which has a particular nuance which makes it attractive to social media. In this video, Alastair himself visits the North York Moors in the pouring rain. He’s not selling books. He is not talking brand. He is not selling guides to B&B /hotels/places to stay (what his company produces).

Instead, he’s doing what he likes doing best: visiting very interesting places and meeting very interesting people. Alastair is the brand. Sharing of videos like this creates a “feel good” and a sense of consistency among fans which is good for brand. By serendipity, if someone saw this and then did a search for Alastair Sawday, they’d find the website and maybe even become a fan on their Facebook page so the brand would grow…

But finally there is the issue of the numbers. Philip Kogan, chairman of Kogan Page, once told me that in the end it’s the sales that count. He’s absolutely right – and in that regard, social media still has a long way to go to replace the sales generated through the book trade or through Amazon.

But here’s the big issue for publishers: brand relevance in a commoditised information space. Social media is key to brand experience and a brand and marketing strategy without it is working on borrowed time.

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