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The Power and Value of a Fan - 1/5/2010 -

Here's how one social media advocate figured out the true value of a website fan.

By Thomas Baekdal

EVERYONE WHO WORKS WITH SOCIAL MEDIA WILL TELL YOU THAT you should create a Twitter profile or a Facebook page and start to build up fans and followers. And the same people will tell you that you only need a few fans, compared to regular exposure, because a fan is worth much more than an ordinary person. But the question no one has answered is: How much is "much more” than ordinary?

Recently, I decided to find out exactly how much a fan is worth. I wanted to be able to say, for example, that one fan is exactly worth 1,000 ordinary people. I also wanted to know if what I had been saying was how the world worked.

The first thing I did was to see if I could find surveys studying this. I did find some, but none of them provided any useful information. Their findings were incredibly vague and didn't bring me closer to answering my questions.

So instead, I turned to my own site (baekdal.com), and based my analysis on my social channels, my website, and social universe around it. All of the numbers in this article are based on these sites. This is an actual analysis of a real-world scenario. (Editor's note: Everything in this article is a case study based on how baekdal.com performs in the social world. Your association's site might be different, and the author encourages you to create your own analysis to see how your site performs.)

Here's what I learned: The short story is that one active fan is worth 445 people. And you need to reach 14,000 people to get one active fan—which also means that only 56 active fans can create just as much exposure than a website with 25,000 visitors.

What is a Fan?

There are many ways to define a fan, but to me, a fan is one who either follows everything you do or actively points other people to your association – or both.

So, the first thing we need to look at is the number of fans, which can be divided into three groups:

  1. Fans, subscribers, or followers on your social channels (like Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed etc)
  2. RSS subscribers
  3. People who keep coming back to your site (which I define as someone who visits a site at least once every week or repeated visitors with four or more visits in a month)

The second element of fans includes all the people who are not included in the first group, but repeatedly share your articles and recommend people to visit your association's social profiles. I define this as anyone who shares two or more of my articles/tweets per month, but is not listed as a fan.

Therefore, these two groups combined comprise your total number of fans.

Let's Get to the Numbers

I measured my traffic/fans for the month of July, and this was the result:

  • 407,406 absolute unique visitors
  • 3,854 new fans
  • 334 new fans on social channels (Twitter, Facebook etc.)
  • 1,789 new RSS subscribers
  • 1,544 more repeated visitors (who visited the site more than four times per month)
  • 192 new fans via other channels
  • 1,466 people sharing content (mentions)
  • 24,108 total fans across all channels (including the website, social, and RSS)
  • 179 active fans per month (fans who retweet or share content)
  • 445 second layer followers/fans (how many followers my fans have on average)

Now that we have some numbers to work with, we can make sense of it all. The first interesting thing to figure out is: How many people do you need to reach to get one fan? Well, out of 407,406 visitors, I got 3,854 new fans across all my channels. So, therefore:

407,406 / 3,854 = 106 visitors = 1 fan

We can also look at banner advertising and calculate how many ad impressions we need to get one fan. The average click-through rate on banner ads (in general) is 0.2%. So if one fan equals 106 visitors, and 106 visitors is the result of a 0.2% click-through rate, then you need:

53,000 ad impressions = 106 visitors = 1 fan

Active vs. Passive Fans

This, however, is where it starts to get complicated because there can be a huge difference in active versus passive fans. As you can see from the numbers above, "only” 179 fans out of 24,108 fans are active (0.75%).

And yet, both types of fans are very important to your association. Your passive fans form the backbone of your site. They provide you with a reliable level of traffic, and if you have a web shop, they are the ones who keep coming back to buy your association's products.

Your active fans are the ones who help you grow. They are the ones who recommend your organization to their friends and help spread your message -- and potentially make it go viral. From a business perspective, you need both your passive and active fans; but from a marketing perspective, it is the active fans that matter.

So how many ad impressions (or visitors) do you need to get one active fan? Well, if one active fan is 0.75% of your total number of fans then you need:

7,049,000 Ad impressions = 14,098 Visitors = 133 Fans = 1 Active Fan

Fans Creating New Fans

Now that we know how many visitors we need to get one fan, we need now to turn this around and figure out how much value a fan actually generates. One way is to look at the amount of exposure a fan creates for your association. Since we know that one fan has an average of 445 fans, then:

1 fan = 445 people

This means that when you upload an image to Facebook, and 15 people decide to comment or ‘like' it, then they are in turn exposing the picture to 6,675 other people. That's huge!

Knowing this, we can then figure out how many fans you need to match your website traffic levels. In short:

A website with 25,000 visitors/month = 7,491 fans
(of which only 56 need to be active)

Mentions and Sharing

It is one thing to figure out the power of a fan. The really interesting question is: What is best—traffic or fans? To figure that out, we need to look at mentions or how many times somebody shares or talks about your association's site.

A total of 1,466 people mentioned this site, of which 179 mentions were by my active fans. And we know that one active fan equals 133 general fans, which gives us:

133 fans = 1 person sharing your content

Compared to regular visitors that means:

316 visitors = 1 person sharing your content

Obviously, your association's fans clearly share more content than strangers, and as such, your fans are very valuable to you. But the number of strangers, who are also socially interacting, is actually quite high. In other words, 316 strangers versus 133 fans is not that big a difference.

It is not just your fans that are valuable to your association; it is everyone who is actively sharing your content. And in many cases the strangers coming to your site are often creating far more exposure than your fans.

25,000 visitors = 79 people sharing your content

1,500 fans = 11 people sharing your content

This came as a bit of a surprise to me. I believed that my fans would be the main force behind sharing my content. But, while my fans are certainly better, they are far fewer (and thus less effective), than all the strangers simply visiting the site.

Creating fans boosts the engagement level by 230% (which is a big deal). But you need 30% or more of your traffic coming from your fans before they can be considered the dominant force (only 12% of my traffic comes via fans).

The bottom line:

  • An active fan is worth 445 people.
  • One active fan will generate four new fans every month.
  • For every active fan, you probably have 133 passive fans (fans that follow everything you do, but do not act on it).
  • It takes 14,000+ visitors to generate a single active fan, but it only takes 106 visitors to create a passive fan.
  • Your general visitors are much more important than what you might think because they are often the dominant source of social interactions.
  • One out of every 316 visitors will share your content, and that person is just as valuable as your active fans.
  • 30 active fans are just as valuable as 70 visitors, but very few sites will have that high a fan vs. visitor rate.
  • Your active fan level is critical. Having three million fans, matters little if only 0.002% is active. It is much better to have 10,000 fans of which 1% is active.

The best strategy:

  • Focus on getting everyone involved—not just your fans.
  • If you create fan-only events, make sure that everyone can become a fan.
  • Making sure that people can engage, share, and talk about your content is more valuable than building fans.
  • But, if you can engage everyone and get them to become fans, then you are a sure winner.
  • What matters is to create social engagements. So treat everyone as a fan, even if they are not following you.

Thomas Baekdal is a writer, social media advocate, and Internet manager. Follow him on Twitter @baekdal.


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