Monday, August 8, 2011

Do small social networks offer better opportunities for brands?

By Nigel Hollis, Millward Brown
My colleague, Gordon Pincott, recently suggested that while we all default to Facebook as the model of a social network, the smaller, more focused social networks may be far more engaging and useful to marketers. Obviously the key property that Facebook offers advertisers is scale. But what about engagement? Do people spend longer and interact more on targeted sites?
Gordon proposed the example of Mumsnet. He suggests:
Mumsnet is hugely powerful because it allows people in specific situations – trying to conceive, dealing with miscarriages, bringing up toddlers, relating to teenage children - to relate to other people in those situations. Your Mum obviously once brought up a teenager, but you will probably pay more attention to someone facing the issues now than you would to her. And for advice about diapers, or car seats, or medication – the same would be true.
Small Networks
Social networks like these are often the equivalent of specialist magazines. Here are just a few examples:
  1. GoFISHn
  2. Beer Bloggers
  3. Velo Space
  4. Star Trek
  5. Hikers Passion
Each one seems to attract a targeted and engaged audience that could be of interest to a specific brand. But based on Millward Brown’s Value of a Fan research, my colleague, Juan Manuel Hernandez, is not convinced there is just one answer to whether smaller is better. He states:
Some massive fan pages are highly engaging, highly branded, exciting, and even cool. While smaller ones (less than 10,000 fans) have a very strong sense of community about them, centered around a brand-sponsored theme that resonates with all fans that interact on the fan page. Both types of fan pages can then be extremely relevant to a fan and thus create an excellent platform for the brand to build that relationship with its consumers.
He cites the example of the Harley-Davidson community as one that, while relatively small, is willing to allocate resources to the brand: time, social and financial.

Another of my colleagues, Dave Barrowcliff, sent me some data from that seems to side with Gordon in this “discussion.” It shows that the fewer fans a Facebook page has, the higher its Engagement Rate. But then Dave promptly deflated that finding by suggesting:
As fan pages increase in number of fans, there will be more “activity” in the stream (more fans contributing) and conversations may be pushed down the stream much quicker than on a fan page with less fans. This could mean that on busier sites, conversations get buried quicker and result in less engagement.
Mmm…so which proposal should we go with? Small is better, big is better or it depends? Please let us know your thoughts and share the data if you have it. Thanks.

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