‘Likes’ and ‘followers’: true indicators of a brand’s capacity to attract customers?

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The rise of social media technologies and tools certainly had a huge impact on the way in which products and brands are conceived, designed, promoted and sold. It is safe to say that social media also changed the market by building new spaces for the dynamic relationships between the offer and the demand of goods to take place, and making them accessible to a larger audience.

That is true to the extent that building thoroughly conceived and well designed social media campaign and marketing strategies is paramount for a company to increase brand awareness and strengthen its reputation.

Still, some questions arise as to whether the number of ‘likes’ and ‘followers’:

  1. Is an adequate indicator of the successfulness of a marketing campaign and of the ability of a brand to attract the interest of prospects.
  2. Is an indicator of a product’s capacity to stay and compete in the market.
  3. Can predict and influence the sales level and performance.

The answer to these questions relies, I believe, on what one thinks social media should express and focus on when it comes to on-line advertising and communication.

In an earlier post I explained why I think social media channels like Facebook are not the right place for promoting products and focusing on their features, and I why I think they should be used to link the product with the kind of identity, atmosphere and meaning it conveys.

I also briefly explained why the number of likes and followers are not a viable way to assess a product’s market fit. A luxury brand such as an ‘exclusive’ jewellery or car maker may have thousands of i-likes and followers. Yet, as these are niche markets, how many of these likes and followers actually convert into sales? How many of those users ‘liking’ and ‘following’ can actually afford to buy a luxury brand item?

The examples of Marsh Insurance’s digital behaviour, a global insurance broking and risk management solutions company, demonstrates that it is not the number of likes and followers that really matters. The company adopted a well designed on-line strategy: a combination of web, blog and social media marketing in which information and content are shaped to the specific characteristics and functions of each channel.

Marsh’s Facebook posts do not talk about the company’s products. The company’s Facebook page only features posts from a professional blog, which offers insights into the economic, political and social processes that may have an impact on the insurance market: a tool for business and policy makers that results in no more than 10 likes for each Facebook post. This is the reasons why Marsh is not interested in posting fancy posts to attract the widest audience, but to:

  1. Project an image of knowledge and competence in very specific areas of expertise.
  2. Capture the attention of those ‘few’ ones (the niche) who are really interested in getting useful information on what might influence their business.

However, there is a more subtle reason as to why the number of likes and followers is not a good indicator of an on-line marketing campaign’s efficacy or of a product’s capacity to perform well in the market.

As an article recently published on the Italian financial and economic newspaper, ‘Il Sole 24 Ore, explains (Luca De Biase, “Se il progetto è l’architettura del successo”, Il Sole 24 Ore, 3 September, 2017, p. 7), technologies may wane and disappear, but results remain. Results, not the number of likes and followers, determine whether a company will thrive or just cease to exist (as the case of Blackberry shows).

It is only recently that social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the likes have become tools for brand and product advertising. The same is true for politics and political competition – candidates and parties’ appeal to the electorate being measured against the number of likes and followers.

Marketing, advertising and political campaigns are being conceived and designed with the sort of social media audience in mind. Still, as the coming to prominence of social media platforms as tools for marketing and advertising should teach, everything is subjected to a constant dynamic of change.

Thus, what appear to be today’s viable solutions and approaches to attract customers might result inadequate and obsolete in tomorrow’s market conditions. It might sound rather extreme, but it is worth asking ourselves: what if social media platforms disappeared tomorrow? what of all those likes and followers? how will businesses and companies continue stay in the market and communicate their value?

According to the article mentioned above, the key to success cannot rely on anything else but project and business design. To this, I would add:

  1. A thorough marketing strategy clearly stating the business aims and objectives, and the strategy to achieve them.
  2. A strong idea of what the product is, what problem it solves, what and whose needs it answers, what is its values proposition, where the business is to be in 3 to 5 years time.


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