Facebook Fans: You Get What You Pay For

Take a look at the Facebook Fan Pages of some brands and what you see is not a pretty picture. Oh, the numbers look good, but when you dig a little deeper a different picture emerges. Walls filled with off topic conversations at best, vile language and real antipathy for the brand at worst. What happened? Wasn’t having thousands of fans supposed to be a good thing?

Well, yes and no. Sure, it’s great having several hundred thousands fans. But how did you come to get those fans? Did you earn them through fantastic customer service, fulfilling the brand promise, providing value to the community in an authentic and passionate voice, or did you run a Facebook ad campaign and hit the broadcast airwaves with a promotion?

Let’s look at  my old favorite, TGI Friday’s:

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Remember that ad? Pretty cool, right? In fact, as I recall, they got over 1 million Facebook fans. Google TGI Friday’s Fan Woody and it looks pretty good.

But then something not so awesome happened. All those fans wanted their free burgers and they wanted them now! TGI Friday’s completely lost control of the page and eventually doled out a lot of free burgers. Now from a short term perspective I’m sure they did ok on the deal. People came in and ate their food. But they could have accomplished that with coupons in the mail, the newspaper or by an email list. But they decided to go the Social Media route.

Now, let’s take a look at what the Friday’s FanWoody Facebook page looks like today:

Whoops! It’s gone.

Apparently Woody and his 900,000+ fans went poof. How come? I’m guessing it had something to do with the venom and general anarchy the page had created by buying fans rather than growing them. A TGI Friday’s Facebook page does exist, with roughly a third of the fans they used to have. TGI Friday’s pretty much had to spray Agent Orange on their relationship with 600,000 people.

It’s easy to pick on TGI Friday’s but they certainly aren’t the only guilty party. I think plenty of brands have heard the siren call of Facebook ads. The ability to target your demo is really terrific, but you’re in danger of creating a relationship with fans that ultimately is built on a “what have you done for me lately” foundation.

First, you essentially bought these fans. You paid Facebook for the right to target them. Then in the case of TGI Friday’s or other brands that offer free product or discount coupons, you are essentially buying them again. This sets up a pattern where the consumer now expects to be rewarded for being your fan with a tangible item, that is, free stuff. That’s not a bonus item, it’s now a standard part of the agreement. Want me as a fan? Give me free stuff.

The point of Social Media isn’t to distribute coupons and a real fan wants to engage with a brand for a whole host of reasons, often free / discounted product is the least of these reasons. I’m not saying that special bonuses, or ‘surprise and delight’ offers aren’t ever a good thing. I think when used properly they can be terrific. What do I mean by used properly? As a reward for people who have engaged with the brand in a meaningful way. Send us a picture of you wearing a brand t-shirt and sure, you’ve earned a free sandwich. Recruit some friends and I’m happy to give you all some coupons. But when fans enter the relationship feeling they are entitled to free samples and you’re in trouble.