December 13, 2009...6:13 pm

An Open Letter to Companies on Facebook

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Dear Companies with Facebook Fan Pages,

It’s not you, it’s me.

If I’m your fan on Facebook, please know it says very little about whether you are doing a good job with your social media strategy, although this may very well be the case.

Adding your page to my profile is more akin to me wearing your logo on my sweatshirt or handbag than it is indicative of a conversation I am willing to have. Please don’t feel free to “engage” me with your news or press releases. While I appreciate your presence on one of the world’s largest social networks, I am much more impressed when you offer a good product, honor things like warranties, have a human being available to take my phone calls and credit my account when I pay my bill.

Although, like most other people, I am more than willing to enter a contest in hopes of winning something of value or pass along a coupon or discount, this means that I am a savvy consumer who cares enough to share good things with others. This does not mean we are friends. It just means that I like your products or services enough to admit it in public.

If your company is doing a bang up job aligning a Facebook presence with accountable marketing initiatives and solid metrics that indicate a positive ROI, please feel free to correct my position in the comments.

For everyone else, please add your voice in the comments and help stop the Facebook madness.


Shannon Paul

P.S. Don’t just take my word for it, The Slate just put out The Big Money Facebook 50. The factors were number of fans (companies had to have more than 200,000 fans to be considered for the list), company engagement and user generated content. Nothing about ROI, increased revenue or brand awareness in other channels. I’m not saying a fan page doesn’t have value, but can we please stop making this out to mean something more than it does. After all, according to the study, even fans of incredibly delicious Ben&Jerry’s ice cream got upset when the company got a little too enthusiastic about frequent posting.

Photo Credit: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

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  • Social networks are not billboards.

    • Thanks, Mona!
      I’m so with you, but then again, maybe a billboard is okay for brands in Facebook. I just don’t think billboards that accept user generated content should be lauded as social media success stories or as an open invitation to send me their junk. But, you already know all of this :-)

      • Quantity != Conversion in digital medium — and I’m sticking to that.

        We should apply for grants that’ll enable us to conduct academic research on behalf of an institution. Someone needs to prove models have changed; why not us? ;)

  • Thank you, Shannon. This is madness and unsustainable. Especially if the measurement is all about fans. Let’s cut through this garbage to something that means something.

  • olivier blanchard


  • Yet another moment when I admire your eloquence and ability to zero in on something so clearly. Well done, and hey, companies? What she said.

    So then. If we all agree that being a fan does not a betrothal make, what *does* consititute a gesture of interest beyond the superficial? Is there such a thing? Is Facebook the wrong vehicle?

    All rhetorical. Just making me think. Again. (ow.)

    • Amber,

      Good question — I wonder if superficial is okay. As a consumer I’m perfectly fine with superficial relationships with brands. I like to know companies care about my level of satisfaction with their product or service, but I don’t feel the need for a connection much deeper than that.

      I think understanding the type of information and how it gets shared on Facebook is important. The gaming aspect is also something that’s pretty fascinating when you start to inspect its reach.

      Maybe having a Facebook page at this point in time is just a requisite for entering the consumer market — like having a website. I don’t know all the answers. Like you,I just get frustrated when “success” is determined by numbers of fans or followers. Of course Harley Davidson is going to have a ton of fans on Facebook. Does that help them sell more motorcycles? I’m skeptical.

      Love your questions — love that you make me think, too. :-)

  • Absolutely! It seems to me that a brand’s success in developing the “fan relationship” should be about a brand’s capacity to add *genuine* value to the relationship – rather than just adding numbers. I suspect that some brands may still think that its all about reach.

    • Peter,

      That’s a great point – it takes a lot more “impressions” to equal the reach that one ad campaign had just 15 years ago. I think you have a very valid point there.

      I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong for aiming for more impressions, I just get tired of seeing these things lauded as social media success stories.

      Thanks so much for the comment!

  • I totally agree. You don’t need to blast a billboard post to the group. You need to interact and become a member of the community. Which isn’t done by press releases and statements which are one way.

    • Hey Jamie,

      Thanks for the comment. I’m still on the fence with this one regarding Facebook. I think the billboard aspect may be okay there, but I just don’t want this type of thing to become the measure of success. I just want to get past the shiny object syndrome and push for better indicators of success.

      Thanks again!

  • The scariest part is when we have these studies (like the one you linked to) that gives companies praise to numbers that have no relevance whatsoever on the *business* – but even worse, fails to communicate why/how it could make sense for other organizations.

    That’s where the worst disconnect is in all of this, IMO.

  • For most brands, a Facebook fan page should only be a small part of the big picture, but most won’t understand that until they actually see the big picture. For now, it’s immediately gratifying to “collect” fans and followers. Maybe it’s okay for now, but not for much longer. I hope all companies will move forward from this soon.

    Thanks for another succinct and thought-provoking post, Shannon!

    • Hi Veronica,
      really, REALLY well said!

      “For most brands, a Facebook fan page should only be a small part of the big picture, but most won’t understand that until they actually see the big picture. ”

      I totally agree


      p.s. great, thought provoking post Shannon :)

  • timkerrickDOTcom

    I know facebook is a free service and therefor really all of this is for moot, but aside from that little blurb of devils advocate I think pretty much everything you’ve said here is true.

    Fan pages to me are a joke – if I like something I’ll tell someone about it. Fuck, I’ll more then likely find a way to force it into a conversation because I’m “that” guy. On the other hand, social networking sites are just that “S-O-C-I-A-L” but the wrong jack of ass with the right idea came along and said hey “buy this, becuase I said so and were friends and if your my friend you should be friends with this product that I may or may not but mostly likely do represent and if you don’t well then fuck you I hate you I don’t want to be your friend anymore and you can’t come to my birthday party where you and others will bask in the privilege that is giving me new toys because I accomplished the amazing task of staying alive for 365 whole days also use coupon code SAVE30 at check out to save 30% on your total order free shipping on all orders of $75″.

    Fan pages take away from the social aspect of it all. true someone has to pay facebooks bills and I’d rather it be some company and not me – but god damn it’s getting to be over kill.

  • While you’re right that becoming a fan of a company on a social network is closer to wearing their branded sweatshirt than anything else, I do think this relationship is changing as more and more companies take an active role in their social presence.
    It used to be that most of the groups/pages were run by fans of the company, and you were basically just checking the ‘Yes, I like this company’ box when you yourself became a fan. Now though, you’re showing your connection to the company, but also opening up a semi-direct line of communication between you and the company so that they can send you the coupons/discounts/contests that you’re looking for as a savvy consumer in an arena that you frequent. (When was the last time you got a coupon in the newspaper for a company you like?)
    Smart companies are going to go beyond that relationship and provide value in other ways as well, but I think it’s important to not discount the ROI that a strong social presence can provide in terms of customer retention, customer service, and customer satisfaction.

    • I agree, Cory, the social media connection has become more personal (or should be). I’m the admin for my workplace’s (local florist) Facebook and Twitter. We like to use it consistently and in moderation as a helpful way to stay in touch, keep our customers updated on what’s going on or what’s available that’s new/relevant/on sale, and provide things of interest to talk about. Especially as a local business, it’s great for us to have this give-and-take with people that scheduled monthly sales e-mails don’t have. It’s not all about pushing products or getting our brand in circulation; most of our fans/followers are already customers. I’m excited when the fan #’s grow, but not as much for $$ as the opportunity to provide better customer service, and sometimes make a positive difference in our community. I think it’s nice that the local businesses I follow (like the library) can reach out personally via social media.

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  • Great post Shannon-

    I would like to go back to the basics here. A fan page is only as good as the content provided. If it is all stuffy and push marketing than the entire point of the social media page is moot.

    However, if the content is engaging and creates some conversation then the social media marketing tool is being used correctly.

    I agree, # of fans shouldn’t be the bar!

    • Exactly Beverly, it’s all about the content. If you can engage with fans with content that interests them then you’ve got an opportunity to build on the relationship and perhaps elevate them into brand advocates (it depends on what your goals are).

      As a final point I think we should steer clear of simple criticising Fan Pages – that like’s criticising the telephone – too broad to give any meaningful insights.


  • The language is all wrong for a “fan” page. I may not be a fan; I may be someone who wants to keep an eye on what you are doing. I may be your competitor. I may want to have another avenue to take you down. I may be there because I’m testing something out. Or, I may just like you and really be a fan.

    In this past election, I followed everyone who had a Facebook presence; left, right or nutty. Why? Because quality citizens are informed citizens and I write political opinion on another blog.

    Companies need to quit trying to be my friend, just like parents need to quit being their child’s friend. The roles are different and becomes slimy when they are pursued across the lines. Just because it is online, doesn’t mean folks will act differently. Really, weird in real life is weird online as well.

    When you demand a hug, it is called a mugging. Brands should remember that of their customers.

  • You raise a damn good point Shannon.

    I think as a marketer we tend to become focused on the constant touch points with consumers that exist within this space.

    We think in impressions instead of engagement. This is where we fail as marketers and brands. Facebook pages should become more valuable as time goes on, but at the moment? It merely feels like a supplementary tag on.

  • I manage two company “fan pages” on FB and agree with your post, Shannon.


    • I manage my company Facebook Page too and I agree as well. I really try to limit the posts I make to the main feed and always ask myself if anyone would really care before posting something. I never just post press releases.

      Most of my time on the page is spent commenting on customers posts, answering questions and updating the page with features.

  • Great discussion! A good premise to subscribe to is that customers don’t care about you, your brand, etc…they care about themselves. If your facebook content helps customers solve a problem or provides information that is helpful & relevant, it can still act as a functional communication channel.

  • Good post. Two things I’d add here. First, there’s a difference between casual fans and Raving Fans. We all want to believe that every fan is a Raving Fan. Not always the case.

    More importantly, however, is that we see companies viewing these “assets” in a way that is more 1.0 and than 2.0. Broadcast and push instead of converse and WHOA…LISTEN!

    That’s what the purpose, mostly, of the fan page is, I believe. A listening post…and a place to bring like-minded folks together.

  • Great post! I couldn’t have said it better myself. I’ve written a few articles about the functionality of FB Pages on my site a href=”” title=”(keywords)”>(keywords).

    I’d like to echo the idea about Pages as a way for brands and companies to exist in the same space. Existing in the sense of having a Page available for people to browse and look through, possibly want to receive information enough to become a fan. Constantly posting status updates with stale, irrelevant content does not fall under my definition of “exist.”

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  • Great observation Shannon.

    With the updates recently made to the “News Feed” and “Live Feed” algorithms, companies are challenged with staying in front of Fans on their Home tab. Using the medium simply for promotional purposes is a more effective measure to add conversation that’s valuable to the Fan and generates potential activity to the Fan Page.

    It almost appears companies know they need to have a presence on FB, but aren’t sure how to capitalize in the space yet. In turn, their presence is diluted as the value of their activity diminishes due to poor Fan engagement.

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