1 Facebook fan = 20 web visits – we don't think so

Hitwise data reveals the importance of Facebook marketing for online retailers

In a recent post Robin Goad of Hitwise reminds that "Facebook is the second most visited website in the UK after Google and is now the second biggest source of traffic to other websites as well. 1 in every 6 page views from UK Internet users goes to a Facebook page, and 20 million hours are spent on the website every day from UK users alone."

So far, so good - we know Facebook is big! There's no question of the importance of social media, content and inbound marketing, with Facebook being an important part of that ecosystem. The Hitwise research data stresses the value of Facebook for multi-channel marketers. According to Hitwise, the same names are dominating - Topshop, ASOS etc - the majority being own or one-brand online retailers.

The context here is that Hitwise are launching a new service called the 'Facebook Fan Acquisition and Analysis service' and they're keen to promote those benefits with statistics that can help us better understand what the ROI is. Great, so what we can take from this insight?

Well looking at the headline figures is dangerous I think (lies, damned lies, etc). Particularly when it's reported out of context. For example, Search Engine Land picked up this story and presented it definitively using this graphic and presented it as fact without discussing the methodology or even the time period (it's per one month we think):

The danger is in the statistics vs the conclusions drawn

As the comments made on the Hitwise blog suggest the 1:20 inference is tenuous. Hitwise stress that we're looking at the most active in Facebook yet the numbers simply don't stack up in terms of the linear conclusions drawn if we're trying to evaluate ROI:

  1. The top online retailers can expect an avg of 62,000 visitors per month when they have zero fans (so, 0 fans = 62,000 visitors)
  2. WHSmith are the notable exception, not because they're a non-fashion retailer in the top 10 - but because they have 562 fans compared to New Looks 1m or Miss Selfridges 800k, the two businesses that sandwich WHSmith's position. They do no marketing in Facebook that I can see, so go figure!
  3. Topshop (1.5m Likes), Boohoo (41k Likes) and Jack Wills (249k Likes) lead the pack, with consumers being 54% more likely to search for the ‘Topshop’ brand after a visit to Facebook than they would in a normal everyday search in Google, Yahoo! or Bing. We're to assume this is because of what Topshop do?

What we think

  • There is no evidence of the 20 web visits for every like, which feels high. Is that average data for the "top 10 retailers" or what any of us might expect?
  • The conclusions being drawn are hasty, it appears to assume people are on an informed linear journey when evidence suggest most people are just seeking entertainment or information when online [see the rft index] i.e 19 year old girl access Facebook from her phone whilst killing some time, then pops on to Topshop to check the latest offer - is that Facebook marketing, the fact she get's emails from Topshop and saw that before Facebook, or is it where she spends her money for clothing and they're simply 'top of mind'
  • Facebook Likes or doing any Facebook marketing are not a directly related indicator of direct traffic, brand popularity or searches after Facebook. The data serves only to prove that investing in building a brand and a strong product means you "front of mind" for the consumer. Facebook has much to leverage here, and they're one place where your consumer could be (probably are!)

Given Facebook has become such a ubiquitous tool, are we being too hasty in drawing direct relationships from its use and subsequent brand traffic or brand searches. I think so - what do you think?

Share your thoughts

  • I’ve redone the maths and estimate the effect vanishes.

    Issues are:
    * Fashion retail searches after FB visits are increased by 103.5% because of the greater number of women in the sample.
    * Fashion retail searches after FB visits are increased by 114% because of the greater number of young people in the sample.
    * Retail searches after FB visits are increased by 114% because both are more common at non-work times.

  • Agree 100% with the article and the other comments so far. For a typical SME online retail business with 1,500 fans on Facebook, I see between 2,500 and 3,000 visits. So maybe there was a typo in their original article? 1 Facebook fan = 2 web visits. In there defence they don’t put a time period on their estimations, so over a longer period of a year then a 1:20 ratio maybe achievable?

  • Danyl commented on June 28, 2011

    Thanks for the comments, I agree Paul – too much rubbish masquerading as research in our industry. It’s those marketing types, doh 🙂
    In my opinion this research is indicative of the of the down-sides to digital marketing and its obsession with isolating tactics and techniques as magic bullets. The top brands that Hitwise are focussing on are top brands irrespective of Facebook, though can of course benefit from it. WH Smith suggest this, as does their own stat that ” top online retailers can expect an avg of 62,000 visitors per month when they have zero fans”.
    If only building a memorable and inspirational brand where as easy as some new software and amassing fans in Facebook.

  • I just rolled my eyes when I read the Experian blog. As Pete says, it’s all about correlation and no work whatsoever is done on looking for causation. In other words, it’s just noise. It’s a PR piece dressed up as research and there’s too much of it in our industry.

  • Experian seems to have identified a correlation between searching for fashion brands and liking fashion brands on Facebook, but correlation != causation. We do not know that one causes the other. Possibly these activities appeal to the same type of person (young-ish women?) and it’s nothing to do with marketing.

    The marketing value of a “like” is difficult to assess, because it self-selects people who are already loyal customers. You would need to compare their buying vs an equivalent qroup that’s also more loyal then average, but has not liked the brand on facebook. I have not seen any research which has attempted this.

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