Let's Agree To Stop Trying To Value Facebook Likes in 2013.
Please. Please? Please!
We have all Googled it before, "What is the value of a Facebook Like?" There are many answers to the question and most of them are completely wrong. Even worse, most of them actually set such a bad expectation for non-profits that they lose sight on the tremendous value Facebook can have for an organization's mission.
When I set out to write this post I thought I would present some resounding evidence that would debunk all of the myths associated with calculating the worth of a Facebook like. I realized in my research that there are some folks smarter and more articulate than me that have already done the leg-work. I am going to try and whittle it down to some digestible chunks that prove the point and let each of you go on the same voyage I did in discovering the value of a Facebook like.
Spoiler Alert: There is no measurable value in an individual Facebook Like. But there is measurable value to Facebook when approaching it as a platform, rather than a collection of individuals. This means we can't think about Facebook Likes the same way we think about email or direct mail or any other vertical donor model. The power, dare I say, the beauty of Facebook or any social media platform, is that you are able to reach users that you were not previously connected. Social Media allows for people to share your organizations content, your mission well beyond you own broadcast capabilities - often out of your control and measure. For this reason we need new ways of thinking and modeling out return on investment and new strategies on how to get the most out of them.
Starting point zero
Almost three years ago Forrester Research wrote a blog about the value of a Facebook Fan (Can we also start calling them that again in 2013?) While we rely on Forrester for providing great research this blog post catered to our more philosophical side stating simply - Facebook Fans have no value unless you do something with them.
If you find it concerning to think of Facebook fans as valueless, perhaps you might consider the difference between potential value and realized value. There is an appropriate and interesting corollary in the world of high school physics: If you lift a ball off the ground and hold it stationary, it has no kinetic energy but it does have potential energy; drop the ball, and the potential energy becomes kinetic energy. Facebook fans are like that -- all potential energy until you introduce something that creates kinetic energy. As such, the operative question isn’t, “What is the value of a Facebook Fan?” but “How do I make my Facebook fans valuable?”
Mathematical savants and self-professed digital alchemists
This maybe one of the funnier lines to come out of digital marketing nerdom (of which Media Cause is a proud member). Olivier Blanchard wrote the book on calculating Social Media ROI (literally). His blog takes to task the absurd valuation people (read section heading again) make about the value of a Facebook like: $1.07 (Source: WSJ), $3.60 (source: Vitrue), $136.38 (source: Syncapse). Oliver lays out his 5 rules to keep in mind when trying to calculate the value of a Facebook Like:
- A Facebook fan’s value is not the same as the cost of that fan’s acquisition.
- A Facebook fan’s value is relative to his or her purchasing habits (and/or influence on others’ purchasing habits).
- Each Facebook fan’s value is unique.
- A Facebook fan’s value is likely to be elastic.
- A Facebook fan’s value varies from brand to brand and from product to product.
This is great advice for brands who have a singular mission on social media - drive sales. For non-profits we need to nuance our understanding of Oliver's rules just a bit. For that, let us jump to the next reading.
The vortex model
In November last year, Julie Dixon and Denise Keyes of Georgetown University's Center for Social Impact Communication wrote an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review entitled, The Permanent Disruption of Social Media. In the article they introduce the vortex model of fundraising. While we don't believe that the primary role of social media for non-profits is fundraising, there are three interesting points the authors make to help us better understand how to measure the impact of Facebook.
- Diversifying calls-to-action - The emphasis can no longer be just about donation. Social media audiences require more actions to take and these should vary depending on the level of commitment (read slacktivism to activism).
- Redefining contribution - The diversifying of calls-to-action means that we need to establish a monetary value to these other actions. This is where non-profits have a challenge and need to start thinking like for-profits to be able to gain efficiencies by establishing how to get more value out of their outreach.
- Sustaining Continuous Communication - Non-profits struggle to keep up with the speed and resources needed to be effective on social media. It requires continuous output and engagement that is far from traditional models of one-way communication implemented by non-profits for decades.
What do we know at this point? Facebook Fans (that's right I said it in 2013) have no inherent value unless you do something with them. Calculating the value of a Facebook Like is not a simple task, if possible at all. We can't apply learning from brands directly to non-profits without taking into consideration the multiple ways Facebook users can get involved with a non-profit. And finally that we need to assign values to these additional calls-to-action if we want to truly value the return on investment non-profits makes on Facebook.
So what does all this mean? For non-profits it means stop trying to figure out the value of a Facebook like and start figuring out the value of Facebook as a platform. It means looking at everything you are putting into operating successfully on Facebook and measure what you are getting out of it. Hard data. Real numbers. Below we take what we hope is just a first pass at an equation to help non-profits figure this out. It is by no means definitive, but a starting block that can be morphed to fit your organization's unique communications plan.
OUTPUT (emails, donations, actions, page views (sponsorship)) -INPUT (time/money/agency/software/content/advertising) = ROI
First, we need to assess all of the inputs (costs) that go into the equation:
- Time - How much staff time goes into your social media efforts? What is the value of that time?
- Agency costs - Are you working with an agency to assist or run your social media? How much are you paying them? Monthly retainer? Project basis?
- Media costs - Are you spending money to advertise on social media platforms?
- Content production costs- Are there costs associated with purchasing images, producing videos, creating infographics? Is there more staff time devoted to modifying this content before posting?
- Software costs - Do you use social media monitoring/publishing tools? Or custom tab creators?
Every organization's inputs are going to vary, but the exercise is an important one. Some of these variables might not be exclusive for social media. For example, you might produce a video that is being used for a presentation to board members and have repurposed it for Facebook use. You will have to make percentage estimates on costs like these.
Next, we need to assess all of the outputs (value) for the equation:
- Donations - How many donations can your track as originating from Facebook? This is much more difficult than it sounds and requires a tool like Google Analytics integrated with your payment processing platform. If you can't tell where your donations are coming from online, then how do you know where to focus your efforts?
- Website traffic - Have you assigned a value to visitors to your site? Do you have sponsorship placements on your site that make it easier to determine these values?
- Email capture - Are you capturing new emails through Facebook? What value have you assigned to email?
- Actions - What is the value of an advocacy action? A new volunteer signup? The calls-to-actions are on your site need to have a value to your organization. This might be a lot of leg work, but there is tremendous benefit beyond Facebook for know the answer to these questions
- Brand awareness - This is always a difficult thing to measure, because it varies for every organization.
What you put in during one quarter might not pay off right away. It might take until the end of the year to pay off, so it is important to constantly track this equation and look at trending over time to anticipate when Facebook becomes a revenue positive platform.
There is no value in a Facebook Like, only in Facebook as a platform. Measure your ROI on Facebook by calculating the resources needed to run your efforts against what you are accomplishing. Having a better understanding of the ROI your organization has on Facebook will help you plan and allocate resources better in the future. This will become increasingly more important as digital natives become a larger chunk of your supporters and expect to engage with your organization on these mediums.
About the author
Cody is President and East Coast client lead at Media Cause, a digital advertising agency that focuses exclusively on the non-profit sector.