Jan 26 2010

3 Ways to Use Your Facebook Fan Base for Marketing Research

One of the big, obvious differences between eCommerce enterprises and traditional bricks and mortar set-ups is this: the bricks & mortar shops can “see” their customers, talk to them, and develop a stronger profile on them. Sure, if you’re an eCommerce company with strong analytics, you can analyze keywords, bounce rates, referring links, etc. But how clear is that physical picture of your ideal customer?

Luckily, that’s all changed, thanks to Facebook fan pages. Now you can actually see and talk to your biggest fans directly (and when I say talk, I mean talk–there’s a great voice chat application for Facebook called Vivox Voice Chat, which I’ve used. The sound quality rivals Skype. And guess what? It’s free. Vivox is the same company that does voice for Second Life. And full disclosure: I’ve done work for Vivox in the past). You, in essence, have the best of both worlds: the scientific analytics and the insight you gain from having real-life human interactions with fans and customers.

All of us–you, me, and everyone else running Facebook fan pages–are pioneers. There are no rules (yet). And all the benefits of having a strong Facebook presence are still revealing themselves. So I thought I’d share three ways you can use your Facebook fan base to conduct that all-important marketing research. These are things I’ve discovered as I’ve been managing and launching fan pages for clients.

One disclaimer: the three items outlined below will work best when you have a “clean” Facebook fan base, meaning the people who fanned you are real fans and not people who were pushed to fan you. Prediction: the new “link farms” of 2010? People who claim they can deliver to you hundreds and thousands of fans (and the truth is, they can, but there’s no guarantee on the quality, just like many of those useless links from link farms).

My philosophy: I’d rather have 500 devoted, hardcore fans who are active in my community and who buy from me than 5000 robots. While I do agree that people are more likely to fan a page that has a healthy number of fans, the “healthy number” is debatable. It might take longer if you’re truly building your fan base organically, but it will be much more beneficial to you, your company, and your fan base if you do it that way. (I’ll get off my soapbox now. And, of course, I reserve the right to modify my position as Facebook evolves. I also welcome other people’s thoughts on this. Leave it in the comments section.) By the way, my philosophy is the same for email lists, too. (I’m a disciple of Seth Godin and permission marketing.)

So let’s talk about those three ways you can use your Facebook fan base for marketing research:

1. Before you buy a new line, share it with your fan base and get their reaction. Think about it. Your fan base is essentially a FREE focus group. There are a couple of ways you can set this up. You can simply do a status update with a link to the line. Facebook will pull all the images that appear on that page and will allow you to choose which thumbnail to use. Or you can set up a poll (either as its own tab or in the Boxes section) and drive people to that page through a status update. Let your fans know that their opinions count and that their opinions will influence your decision. (Give ’em power!) People love sharing their opinions, and people value companies that care about their customers’ opinions.

2. Before you discontinue a line, ask your fan base about it. Are you thinking about discontinuing a line that’s not selling well? Before you deep-six it, ask your fan base what they think of the line. You don’t need to tell them you’re thinking of discontinuing it. Pretty much approach this “poll” the same way as I mention in the previous point. Just let them know you want their feedback on this particular line. If you get a positive response to the line, the questions you need to ask yourself are this: why isn’t the page converting more, converting better? Do you promote the line properly? What changes can you make to the copy, layout, design etc. that might help it perform better? Do some A/B split tests. You might be surprised–perhaps the problem isn’t the line, but rather your marketing of it. (And you wouldn’t have known this if it weren’t for your asking your hardcore fans directly.)

3. Test marketing messages.
We all know that the way you position your message makes all the difference. Test messages on your fans.  Here’s a real-life example. My client and I were debating what to say in an email subject line: “30% off” or “Save 30%.” I turned to my personal fan base and asked the question. Here’s how it played out (I’ve redacted identifying information to protect people):

ME: Poll time: What do you find more persuasive and compelling as an offer: “30% off” or “Save 30%”? Why?

Susan: My gut says “Save 30%.” It makes me feel more virtuous. “30% off makes me wonder why they have to put it on sale to get rid of it.”

Christine: I agree with Susan. I couldn’t have told you why my gut reacted to “save” vs. “off,” but I like Susan’s explanation.

John: It depends on if the discounted item is a necessity. If you don’t need it, paying anything for it can’t ‘save’ money. If it’s something I am going to need to buy then saving gets my attention.

Roger: I agree. It depends on the product & the target. “30% off” helps rationalize an impulse or unnecessary buy — “It’s O.K. I buy this now, because it will be more expensive in the future.” That is opposed to the product I buy every week or month, where I may be actually saving 30% because I might use it to buy more necessities, or maybe even save it!

ME: Love these insights and want to hear from more people…comment away, folks!

Billy: 30% off is for haircuts, corporate earnings estimates, and runway approaches for Minneapolis/St. Paul. Save 30% is for sales.

Steve: Macy’s uses both on their home page. Cheaters.

Tara Y: 30% off makes me think about the 70% I’m spending

Debbie: Save 30% off I like- my eye see SAVE and I read on to see how much I am going to SAVE- Key these days

Beth: I’m with the guys on this one…”Save 30%” means “Spend 70%” in my mind.

Tara K: I prefer 30% off.

Talk about valuable information! Even though we didn’t get one definitive answer, we got people’s reasoning…we got inside their heads. It’s possible that you may walk away with a definitive answer. Other times, you’ll walk away with a strategy for testing. And still other times, your fans’ insight will help inform the decisions you make (much better than making decisions based on your gut alone). When we launched this client’s particular fan page, we used this concept to ask what people valued more during the holiday season: discounts or free shipping. When you think about it, the possibilities are really endless in terms of the information you can get from fans, especially if you have an engaged community (which goes back to the point of having a clean fan base).

Just don’t overdo it. Like everything else, your fan page requires a good balance between “fun” status updates (e.g. including links to relevant videos), informative updates (calling fans’ attention to a sale, for example), and “investigative” updates (e.g. market research).

No doubt, there are other ways to use your fan base for marketing research. If you’ve used yours in an innovative way, we’d love to hear about it. Leave your thoughts in the comment thread. And, as always, thanks for reading!

Blue Acorn


Zach Philip
Feb 16 2010

i like the part about adding a mixture about fun and seriousness. i also read up http://bit.ly/aKM5NF which i found useful!

Feb 16 2010

“I’d rather have 500 devoted, hardcore fans who are active in my community and who buy from me than 5000 robots.”

I couldn’t agree more. Same thing goes for Twitter, LinkedIn or any other social network. Its not the quantity, but the quality. Its amazing on Twitter (I know we are talking about Facebook, so hang with me a sec), how many initially follow me, but when I see the poor quality of their content and I do not follow back, how many drop… All they seem to be looking for is the return follow so they can spam me with their get rich quick schemes.

Over time the size of the quality followers (or in Facebook’s world –fans) over quantity, becomes WAY more valuable to you when it comes to conversions.


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