Is a Facebook Fan Worth a $4 Bag of Chips?

If you want to set off a raucous debate in a room full of social media gurus, pose the question: How much is a Facebook fan worth? The answers will run the gamut, pretty much arriving at the old ad industry dodge, “it depends,” or even “nothing unless you do something with it.”
These are true, but it’s clear brands are putting a high value on piling up social media fans. There’s much lip service about the raw numbers not being the story. Sometimes that seems like the old saw: “When they say it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.” Numbers clearly matter — and brands are willing to pay to get them.
Witness PepsiCo brand Frito-Lay’s recent stunt to pile up Facebook fans — and a world record to boot — by offering a coupon for a $3.99 bag of chips to new fans. That led to 1.5 million new Facebook likes in a single day. To be sure, Frito-Lay ran an integrated media campaign that included a replica Frito-Lay kitchen in Times Square and, of course, Facebook ads. But make no mistake, this was pay for liking. Pepsi shelled out to the virtual crop-hungry FarmVille set. It dangled the coupon offer to lure in the legions. And it worked. Frito-Lay now has its robust Facebook fan page
The question is whether this is worth it. When I tweeted about the approach, the official PepsiCo Twitter account was quick to inquire about my opinion. I decided to use the chance to ask for an interview with executive to fully know the strategy. Pepsi brushed that off down the “we’ll see if we can set something up” PR dodge. Never did hear back.
My chief question is how much pressure brands feel from rivals that have piled up big Facebook numbers. Everyone at Pepsi must be well aware that Coke is held up as one of the top brands on Facebook, boasting an astounding 26 million likes. Whether brands like to admit it or not, this kind of one-upmanship is inevitable.
It’s certainly not cheap at a $4 bag of chips per fan — that’s some $6 million worth of chips if all the new fans got in on the offer. (Yes, that’s the retail price, I know.) Bryan Wiener, CEO of 360i, which works with Coke, wasn’t too impressed.
“Big difference between encouraging brand love/emotional connection vs give-aways,” he tweeted. “Not sure what they proved.”
Frito-Lay definitely proved that people love free stuff, really love it. This is now becoming a regular formula for piling up likes. Finding engagement numbers is hard independently. Since its record day on April 11, Frito-Lay’s fan base continued to expand, albeit much more slowly. Brands have found that large fan bases tend to spawn even larger ones in a network effect thanks to the Facebook news feed. Frito-Lay is using the page to 1.98 million.
The problem is the free stuff can’t continue forever. Frito-Lay is apparently keeping it up, however, giving away another 24,000 bags of chips to celebrate its world record.
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