The Power of Facebook: Friends of Friends

Dear brands who are spending their whole social media strategy on building snazzy Facebook pages: you are preaching to the choir. You’d be a lot better off figuring out ways to get the choir to sing for you.

An eye-opening new research study released by Facebook and ComScore found that visitors to the social networking site are 40 to 150 times more likely to consume branded content in it’s various forms within their personalized Facebook newsfeeds than on branded fan pages. That’s because the newsfeed, much derided when introduced in 2006, is the hub for activity of most users.

The basic takeaway of the report, which drew upon data collected from ComScore’s 2 million person panel, is this : brands can spend all day long getting their biggest fans to like them, but it’s those fans’ friends who represent a much broader target — and are more ripe to respond to brand messaging. That’s where advertisers should focus the bulk of their social media efforts.

According to ComScore, the “friends of fans” audience set for the top 100 brands is on average 34 times larger than those brands’ actual fan groups. That means brands should focus not so much on sheer number of fans but those who are likely to take some kind of action on a brand’s content, since this is what will trigger brand impressions in their friends’ news feeds.

ComScore and Nielsen believe the industry would be better off collectively measuring “social media brand impression” rather than just counting fans or likes. Social media brand impressions can happen in numerous ways, and have the potential to reach far more consumers, the study’s authors argue.

For example, social media brand impressions occur both on a branded page when a person ‘likes’ that brand, and concurrently when Facebook publishes a notice about a that person liking that brand.

And, of course, social media brand impressions are recorded when brands mentioned in paid ads, such as Facebook’s Social Ads or Sponsored Stories.

That’s not to say that fans aren’t valuable. The study identified brand fans as crucial for their influence.

“When a brand focuses on acquiring and engaging Fans, it can benefit from a significant secondary effect,” reads the report. “Exposure among Friends of Fans that often surpasses reach among Fans.”

That’s simply due to the sheer size of the Facebook newsfeed versus individual pages. Amazingly, newsfeed represents 4 percent of all time spent online in the U.S.

“Friends of fans are also an intriguing audience for marketers for a couple of reasons,” reads the report. “First, since these consumers have yet to identify themselves as fans of a given brand, there may be more upside in messaging to them – either for brand-building or increasing consumption. Brands can also take advantage of these users’ social proximity to fans to deliver stories about those fans’ interest and engagement with their brand.”

As part of the study, Facebook and ComScore released three brand cases studies, from Bing, Starbucks and Southwest. In each case, Facebook’s newsfeed significantly amplified the reach and impact of a brand’s fan page.

For instance, in May of this year Starbucks generated 156 brand impressions across Facebook for every one page view on its fan page. Similarly, Southwest delivered 42 total Facebook impressions for every fan page impression, while Bing deliver 45 total impression for every one fan page view.

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