What If You Offered a Great Deal on Facebook and Nobody Came?

Consumers like or join a brand’s Facebook page for very specific reasons, conventional wisdom says. Namely, they want deals or bargains that they cannot get elsewhere by merely joining coupon clipping sites. But what if that is only half the story behind a company’s Facebook page success? What if, shocking thought, the tailored offers were only an incidental element to the success?

Bargains Galore

Certainly there is a sizable contingency of Facebook users that would not agree – they want the bargains. And just as certainly, companies have observed this and tailored their offers, accordingly. Multichannel Merchant points out some recent examples, such the Sierra Trading Post Facebook page, which offers visitors a discount off their next purchase if they “like” the discounted products merchant on Facebook and Title Nine, which gave away a $199 gift card to random visitors who liked its page.

Yet research from a variety of companies suggest that these discounts are not the primary drivers behind the likes or visits to a Facebook fan page. While it would be a mistake for companies to pull back from such offers, it is an equal oversight to ignore other reasons why a consumer might like a page – or conversely, cut one off.

Consider, again, Sierra Trading Post. According to DM News, the retailer just launched its e-commerce-enabled Facebook page, an update to its traditional fan page. Part of the rollout strategy was to involve its customers by asking for feedback. Since its February 14 launch, Sierra Trading Post has posted 6.25% conversion rates, double the conversion rate of the company’s traditional e-commerce site, DM News says.

So What Else Works?

A study last year by Psychster [pdf] and commissioned by cooking/recipe hub Allrecipes.com found that those ad formats that were the most engaging – such as sponsored content ads – produced the least purchase intent. The format that registered among the highest purchase intent were corporate profiles, according to the study – namely profiles in which people could become a fan and put a logo on their own profile. In fact purchase intent was significantly higher when people could become a fan of a corporate profile than when this functionality was absent. Similarly, people were significantly more willing to recommend profiles to friends when they could become a fan than when they could not, the study also found.

Other formats studied included “give and get” widgets, that is, widgets in which individuals create and customize something. These were determined to be more engaging than traditional banner ads, but no more likely to produce an intent to purchase.

Another study by ExactTarget noted that 70% of consumers who “fanned” a brand on Facebook did it to express their personal endorsements and approvals of companies with other Facebook friends. Only 31% of consumers become fans to get freebies or giveaways and 25% to receive sale notification.

What Doesn’t

Too frequent posts are apparently the kiss of death for brands among fans, according to a separate report from Exact Target and CoTweet. Cited by 44% of respondents, it was the most-given reason by Facebook users for “unliking” a brand once liked on Facebook. That was followed by an overcrowded wall, at 43% (more than one answer was permitted). Other leading reasons include content becoming boring and/or repetitive (38%), and only liking a company to take advantage of a one-time offer (26%).

Consumers to Facebook Brands: Please, Waste My Time

Exact Target also found that consumers are not looking for a short and quick experience on Facebook, even with a brand’s page. Consumers linger on Facebook because, simply put, it is fun. In fact, 30% of consumers think of it as a guilty pleasure much like the secret pint of ice cream in the freezer, and 31% say they must monitor the time they spend online because it is addicting, ExactTarget says. “One participant shared, ‘I got to the point where I was neglecting my ‘real’ life in order to play these games. Why? It killed time, and put me in a place where nothing mattered and no one judged me. It was like an alternate life.'”

What also appeals to Facebook users is its serendipitous quality. “Its greatest strength as a marketing channel results when consumers discover things they didn’t set out to find in the first place.” Friends’ recommendations, for that reason, are particularly valuable, ExactTarget said. The “endless connections that make up social communities like Facebook provide an opportunity for viral marketing to be unleashed, and this can be a powerful way for marketers to increase their brand awareness – even when consumers aren’t consciously looking for brand messages.”