One of the chief benefits of Facebook for marketers is the earned media opportunities it provides, according to a comScore report released in June 2012. Using large brands as test cases and analyzing the impact of this earned media exposure among fans and friends of fans as compared to a control group, the study finds a lift in online and offline purchase behavior among the former group. For example, examining the impact of earned media exposure on online and in-store purchasing at Target, compared to the control group, fans of Target were 19% more likely to purchase at Target in the 4 weeks following exposure to earned messages, while friends of fans were 27% more likely. The testing methodology ensured that both groups had nearly identical levels of purchasing in the 4 weeks prior to exposure.
In a separate analysis of 4 leading retailers over the 2011 holiday period, comScore determined that exposed fans spent more than twice as much at Best Buy and Amazon as the average internet user (with spending indices of 231 and 209, respectively). Friends of fans also spent more at each of the 4 retailers, with the highest indices at Best Buy (204) and Target (151). The purchase behavior of friends of fans is important, given that the study suggests that most leading brands on Facebook extend the reach of their earned media exposure of fans to friends of fans by 50-200%.
The comScore research comes after recent survey results from Ipsos and Reuters which found just 1 in 5 Facebook users saying they have ever bought a product or service due to advertising or comments they saw on Facebook.
Earned Media Exposure Contributes to Offline Purchase Lift
The comScore study also takes on Starbucks as a case study, comparing the in-store purchase behavior of exposed fans and friends to a control group for each of the 4 weeks following exposure. The results showed that as the weeks progressed, the purchase behavior lift among the exposed group grew. By week 4, the test group had a purchase incidence of 2.12%, 0.58% points higher than the 1.54% incidence in the control group.
Mixed Picture For Brand Page Importance
The comScore report suggests that brand pages have an important role to play as a place for brands to engage with consumers, particularly as these pages now typically outpace their corresponding brand websites in terms of audience. However, the report also notes that brand pages have not served as the main way for Facebook users to engage with brands, as users spend the highest percentage (40%) of their time in the news feed, making it the primary channel for brand exposure.
A separate analysis from Rubinson Partners and Compete released in June takes a different perspective to the issue, claiming that brand marketing on Facebook should be centered on the brand page. Studying 63 brands across 4 months, the report found that liking a brand on Facebook is only valuable if the fan engages by returning to the fan page. For those who do return to the page, there is a four-fold rise in their visits to the brand’s website after liking the brand. Among those who do not return to the page, there is almost no difference in web visits. All told, there is an 85% point lift in the number of sessions on a brand’s website within 30 days for users who become fans of a brand.
The study also admits that only a small percentage of fans return to the brand page, so the overall impact is relatively muted. However, because return visits are needed to boost website visits, the study suggests social impressions in a news feed should concentrate on drawing fans back to the fan page.
- According to the comScore study, during the 2011 holiday season’s heaviest promotional week covering Black Friday and Cyber Monday, 4 brands studied (Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and Walmart) saw significantly extended reach to friends of fans, generating significant brand awareness during the promotional period.
- Paid media exposure can also have an effect for brands. Studying a large retailer and examining the effects of exposure to Facebook Premium Ads on in-store and online purchase behavior, the report finds statistically significant lifts in the incidence of both online and in-store purchases following exposure to premium ads, when compared to a control group.
- As reported by Econsultancy, some points are worth noting when looking at the comScore study findings. For example, Facebook is a comScore client and the companies collaborated on the report.
- Also, the existence of “earned media” on Facebook can be challenged. Econsultancy argues that through its EdgeRank algorithm, Facebook can control brand messages’ reach, meaning that brands don’t necessarily own their brand pages.
- Finally, as Econsultancy points out, “earned media” on the site is not really free – as brands invest significant amounts of money for content creation and Facebook initiatives.