WEDNESDAY 28 SEP 2011 3:38 PM


This month's digital discussion focusses on social media activity and engagement. “The focus on volume in social media activity – such as the number of Likes on Facebook or followers on Twitter – distracts from the real issues of engagement and isn’t the most useful or understandable metric of success.”

Arguing in support of that motion is Robin Grant, managing director of social media agency, We Are Social. In the ‘against’ corner is Hannah James, online marketing specialist for full service media agency Interdirect.

Dear Hannah,

If I had a penny for every approach we’ve had from a prospective client saying they want 500,000 fans on Facebook without them being able to articulate the business objectives behind that number, I’d have about 36p.

In these nascent days of social media, marketers seem obsessed with numbers that are easy to measure but have no real meaning.

To stay with the example of Facebook, to look at the number of fans you have in isolation is worthless. Due to the vagaries of Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm, without newsfeed optimisation, on average only 5% of a page’s fans see updates from it.

In terms of Facebook specific metrics, it’s much more useful to judge success by looking at measures like unique active users (the number of people, both fans and non-fans, who have been exposed to your page’s updates) or average impressions per fan (the number of times the average fan of your page will have seen updates from your page), and if you’re trying to measure Facebook specific performance, then look at figures such as post engagement (the percentage of fans that engage with each post), the percentage of active users and the percentage of fan growth.

Obviously, although we’ve injected some meaning above, we haven’t yet linked any of this to business metrics. For ecommerce clients, we’re now pretty good at directly measuring the revenue we generate from social media, and good metrics to use here are average revenue per fan and fan lifetime value: measures that are taken seriously at board level and really do prove the value of social media.

Cheers, Robin

Good morning Robin

I think any Facebook business page that has managed to achieve 500,000 likes must be doing something very right, and whilst I agree that it is important to use other tools to measure the success of your social media strategy, I still strongly maintain that the volume of likes – or followers – is essential to the success of an online campaign.

Look at it this way: the sheer volume of followers, tweets, and mentions, or likes, and wall posts, shows that people are interested in what you are saying; they want to know what you’re up to; and they may even want to talk to you. After all, it is just as easy to unfollow, or unlike a page, as it is to like or follow it in the first place, so continuing to capture and maintain visitors is proof that you are running a successful social media strategy.

Most businesses join Twitter and Facebook to raise brand awareness, increase the number of hits on their website and to promote their products and services – so many would say ‘the more the merrier’! Creating and publishing highly optimised content for social media pages is also very important, but this is worthless without a good number of likes and followers to read it.

In terms of measuring success, a recent study revealed that a Facebook like is worth 20 additional visits per year to a website. This study used a unique methodology that took the top 100 pages ranked in the classified category and benchmarked visits to those websites against the number of likes those brands had on their Facebook page.

Regards, Hannah

Hey Hannah,

Your response shows a certain naïveté – a brand’s Facebook page might have acquired 500,000 fans through a variety of means. That could have been through media spend on Facebook or a particularly appealing promotion, both methods in effect ‘buying’ fans. Obviously if they’ve acquired those fans by engaging with their existing fanbase rather than bribery, then yes they’re doing something right, but the total number of fans is not the indicator of this. In all cases, whether they’re doing something right is all down to what they’re doing with those fans, and what number of them they’re doing it with (pointing back to measures like unique active users and average impressions per fan).

The basic truth of the matter is that when someone ‘likes’ a page you have in no way captured them. If you’re not engaging with your fanbase well, the overwhelming majority won’t even see your updates, so in effect you have no direct relationship with them.

As for the Hitwise study you mention, this was based on data from the UK’s top 100 most visited retail websites and their corresponding Facebook fan pages, which in fact showed that on average each of their fans visited their websites 20 times a year. Yes, there is correlation here but not necessarily causation – obviously if I shop at Amazon or ASOS a lot, then I’m much more likely to become a fan of them on Facebook – i.e. those visits may not be a result of me being a fan, but perhaps I’m a fan because of those visits…

Cheers, Robin

Hello Robin,

Yes, you can use a variety of methods to ‘buy’ Facebook likes. However, as I said previously, it takes just the click of a button to unlike, so continuing to grow Facebook likes would indicate that a business is successfully engaging its visitors.

I disagree with your statement that “the basic truth of the matter is that when someone likes a page you have in no way captured them” – the person clicking Like has consciously chosen to receive further information about your business, campaign or products/services, in much the same way as they would opt in or out of receiving email newsletters and marketing.

Anyone that likes a business page will see regular wall posts, photos, and comments posted by the business on their own newsfeed. Whether they read and respond to these updates is a different matter, but this is no clearer when measuring the average impressions per fan, because an impression just proves that the person has clicked on the page, it doesn’t tell you if they’ve read it or responded.

Overall, if there is an open channel of communication to the potential consumer, through a like, whether they choose to action any of the information put forward or not, that communication channel is open and therefore the consumer is ‘warm’ to the brand/service/product, making them much easier to influence. It’s about creating that ‘chance’ to influence – likes and follows are the consumer’s personal choice, and therefore a credible audit of how popular the brand/service/product is.

Regards, Hannah


“The basic truth of the matter is that when someone ‘likes’ a page you have in no way captured them. If you’re not engaging with your fanbase, well, the overwhelming majority won’t even see your updates, so in effect you have no direct relationship with them”


Hi Hannah,

Let’s break that down.

1. If you’re not engaging with your fans, they won’t see your updates, meaning they’d have no reason or prompt to ‘unlike’ you, and as I previously pointed out fan growth is not necessarily a sign of successful engagement.

2. Yes, when someone has liked your page they have consciously chosen to receive further information from you, but if you can’t reach them with that information, then you really haven’t captured anyone!

3. People that like a Page will not see regular updates from that page, unless that page is engaging with its fans well. Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm determines which of your posts are shown to which of your fans. On average only 5% of a page’s fans see updates from it. It’s entirely possible, if you’re not engaging well, that 99% of your fans will never see your updates.

4. Average impressions per fan is the total number of times updates from a page have been shown to users, divided by the total number of fans. You’re right when you say it doesn’t mean that they’ve read the updates, but this is still the best measure we have for ‘frequency’. However, as I suggested in my first email, keeping track of post engagement will tell you precisely how many times people have responded (by liking updates or leaving comments on them).

When it comes to measuring an open channel to potential consumers, there’s no escaping the fact that the meaningful measures are the number of people you reach, how frequently you reach them and how many of them are interacting with you. None of these measures are related to the number of fans you have.

Cheers, Robin


“There is an open channel of communication to the potential consumer through a like. Whether they choose to action any of the information put forward or not, that communication channel is open and the consumer is much easier to influence”


Hi Robin,

There are two ways to view newsfeeds on Facebook, meaning that anyone that likes a page can – if they choose to – see all updates. The newsfeed options include a summary of the top stories called ‘Top News’ and a live feed of all stories called ‘Most Recent’.

Top News shows popular stories from a user’s most viewed pages. Since it is based on an algorithm, it uses factors such as the number of comments and likes on a post to aggregate content, displaying stories based on their relevance, rather than in chronological order. Therefore a high volume of likes is vital, as more likes equals more page/post views, more opportunities for comment, and a higher ranking in Top News.

Most Recent shows all updates from your friends and pages. This newsfeed constantly refreshes so even if your post doesn’t make it into the Top News feed, people that are interested in your business can see all updates.

My final thoughts? Firstly, there is no better way to reach a high number of people via social media than getting them to like or follow you. Secondly, the more likes and followers you have, the higher the chance of people interacting with you, and with one another, about your business. And finally, creating optimised content for Facebook or Twitter is a waste of time if you haven’t got any likes or followers to read or engage with it in the first place.

Thanks, Hannah