Numbers can be deceiving


February 16, 2012

Media and newsmakers love to toss great big numbers, it seems to instill a sense of credibility where some perceive a lack. Thus 2012 is the year where many social media will reach important milestones:

– Facebook has over 850 million members and should reach one billion by this summer!

One Billion Members!!

– Twitter should reach the 500 million members mark by the end of February;

– LinkedIn had over 135 million members as of November 2011;

– Google+ is growing at speed-of-light pace, with an estimated 100 million members at end of January, and an estimated 400 million members by end of the year!

The fallacy behind these numbers is that having members doesn’t mean having active members. In fact, a recent report found that up to 36% of all accounts on Google+ are ghost accounts, meaning no photo, no bio and no registered activity. Another report found that only 25% of accounts opened on Twitter are actual real followers with up to 49% either fake or spam accounts. Not to mention all those accounts of loved ones who passed away, yet still have their Facebook page semi-active

Garbage in, Garbage out

Anyone remotely familiar with database marketing knows there is hardly anything unusual about this situation. Databases are living and breathing entities that require daily attention, cleaning up and analysis in order to provide value to all sizes of companies alike. Unfortunately, this is the un-sexy part of this marketing field, and too many brands delay before tending to it properly. I recall a couple of years ago, when I was in charge of the loyalty program in a big company, senior management was delighted with the fact we had close to 500,000 names in our database. Problem was, this database had not been cleaned up in its 10-years of existence. Thus, one could find:

– Customers who registered into the loyalty program but never experienced the service;

– Customers who registered into the loyalty program, tried the hotel, train or ski resort, then never came back again;

– Customer registered multiple times: J. Smith, John Smith, John Smithe, Mr Smith;

– Customers who passed away.

Any of this sounds familiar? Then, of course, were the names of people that were very similar, but with spelling mistakes or different email address, or physical address. So, if you are to keep names in the database, you must establish a threshold, say rolling back to 3 or 5 years, and delete all inactive names prior to that threshold, depending on the nature of your business, whether there are lots of repeat or not, etc. In the example above, the database ended up shrinking to a little over 230,000 names, of which some 120,000 had shown some form of engagement in the past 18 months. A sobering exercise compared to the initial 500,000 figure, but a more realistic number moving forward to adopt tactics accordingly.

So why does this matter?

It matters because not a day goes by when I don’t read a post, comment or question in chat rooms where people seek to get more fans, more followers, no matter what. Some brands will even pay to get fans on their Facebook page just to spike up their fan count. Not only does it not work, it actually becomes detrimental as it affects your Edge Rank score. On Twitter, some will follow just about anybody in the hope that just about anybody will follow them back in return.

Truth is, there are no shortcuts and there are no silver bullets!

Truth is, there are no shortcuts, and there are no silver bullets: in order to grow your fan base, followers and overall customer database, you will need to put in the effort to provide quality customer service first and foremost. Then, have a strategy that combines strategic ads with quality content online, engaging customers through social media, blog posts, newsletters and whitepapers.

Key take-away: Focus on the numbers that count for your business, and don’t lose sleep over how many fans you have on your Facebook page. Yes, quality and quantity go hand in hand, so long as you can validate that quantity as real customers, real fans or real followers. Not folks who joined just for a contest, never to come back again… 🙂

Frederic Gonzalo
Frederic Gonzalo

Senior marketing and communications expert & speaker with more than 20 years of expertise in the travel and hospitality industry. Consulting since early 2012, I provide strategic planning, social media & mobile development counseling to small and medium businesses alike. Reach me at frederic@gonzomarketing.biz

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