If you are even vaguely in touch with goings-on in the business world, you would know by now that every web commentator and their dog is on board the social networking bandwagon.
It’s easily the most blogged and discussed business topic going around and for pretty good reasons: The main one being that a quarter of the world’s population now engages in online social networking, making it a truly revolutionary communications medium.
But whilst the consumer world has clearly embraced the phenomenon, what is less clear is how and which businesses should jump into a medium that still – let’s face it – hasn’t yet been properly toilet trained.
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The latest panacea
The aforesaid pundits are knocking each other over in an attempt to lead business operators to some kind of virtual nirvana.
And this blog is no exception. It’s on the record as saying that some businesses can gain significantly from engaging in social networking.
But it has equally been careful to stress that it’s not for everyone.
As this blog pointed out some time back, those brands or organisations that engender a high degree of consumer passion – that is your sports, food, fashion, music, technology, etc – are most likely to attract ‘friends’ and ‘likes’, which in turn will convert to attention and sales action.
Now the latest data from the US gives some practical numbers to this theory.
The eMarketing bible eMarketer recently published the results of a study that looked at which company types Facebook users in the USA became fans of.
Passion proves the fan magnet
Leading the charge, unsurprisingly, are Entertainment-related people or organisations, which attracted an impressive 46% of Facebook users.
And why not? Who doesn’t love at least one form of entertainment and want to find out what’s going on in the worlds of your favourite performers?
This was followed closely, also unsurprisingly, by Food (41%), Restaurants (40%), Apparel (35%) and Electronics (29%).
After this, a few surprises emerge. Next is Non-Alcoholic beverages at 29% – several points ahead of their alcohol-included brethren at 24%.
Personal care products are also surprisingly high at 24%.
But fans can be bought
What’s interesting about this Facebook ‘ladder’ is that whilst passion for a pastime still rules the roost, consumer products with bigger budgets are proving very influential when it comes to persuading consumers to engage with them on Facebook.
I think it’s fair to say that categories like beverages, household products and telecommunications are, by their nature, less likely to attract fans than the more pastime-oriented categories.
But equally, what the popularity of these categories suggest is that provided there are enough incentives to attract consumers, their hearts and minds (if not their purses and wallets) are open to the notion of engaging with these otherwise less exciting product categories.
And, in turn, that may provide some hope to businesses who are struggling to understand why consumers might want to engage with them in this highly personal medium.
Still no free lunch
What might be less encouraging for smaller business are the budgets some of these organisations have to throw at the medium.
Whilst it may well be free to join and join in, attracting your market to it requires significantly more planning, resourcing and promoting than most SMEs could hope to have at their disposal – proving once again that there is no such thing as a free lunch, even if it’s a virtual one.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond. www.theeteam.com.au