"What's Goin' On?" Fan-Gated Promotions and the Lie of Facebook Research

Sorry about the brief hiatus. Business development trip got in the way. 

Maybe it's because I'm listening to Marvin Gaye's best album ever, but I'm finding myself questioning what's going on in the advertising industry more today than usual. 

There's a very strange hypocrisy at play regarding social media that seems to be going unnoticed and I'm ready to blow the whistle on it. When we (we being marketers) want to help one of our brands add friends to their Facebook page we will invent all kinds of manipulative tactics such as:

  • Become a friend to enter to win a car
  • Become a friend and you can get free products
  • Become a friend for free music downloads
  • And the list goes on

We call it fan-gated promotions and some consider it the gold standard of fan acquisition. We often report our Facebook media results based on "cost of fan acquisition." This means that the vast majority of fans become fans only to get something free. It doesn't represent their true passion and there's not really anything wrong with that.

But here comes the hypocrisy.

We conduct research using tools that report what other pages our Facebook fans have become frinds of, as a way to understand what they care about and what will resonate with them.

For example, lets say an agency is working with a a shoe brand. Through research they find that the brand's fans are often fans of Coke. They assume it would be a great idea to run a promotion featuring Coke as a partner. This may be true. It may also be true that Coke just offered a trip to the Oscars and gained 50,000 fans who only wanted a chance to win something. The data may not reflect the insight about motivations they think it does.

And another thing

I was recently sitting in on a demo of a brand new social media research tool that created psychographics based on what Facebook users would fan. Those who had become of a fan of a significant number of brand pages were considered "brand conscious."  They might actually be someone who is not at all brand conscious but someone who likes contests, or uses coupons, or is a bargain hunter. 

Here's my point

Facebook is great. But it is not the answer to every question. It can help us understand the language and tone of the consumer. However, we still have to do the hard work of talking to consumers and conducting research to get the understanding we need to make smart marketing decisions. The online revolution has made this easier and faster to do, so there's no reason not to.

Now, back to Marvin, "Mother, mother, there's too many of you crying. Bother, brother..."

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