The typical social media advice you hear from Facebook gurus is that your brand should setup a fan page and then start recruiting your customers as fans. But that seemingly simple advice works for only the simplest cases. What if you don't have an ongoing relationship with your fan base, but you interact with them in a transactional manner?
LendingTree.com is a website that allows consumers to comparison shop for mortgages from different lenders. They do not themselves make or hold loans, but simply facilitate the transaction. Your or my relationship is entirely transactional and brief, so a long term relationship is not appropriate. This is why this company with more than $200mm in revenues in 2009 only has a Facebook page with less than 400 fans. While Facebook is valuable to LendingTree, it's the eyeballs reached through advertising, and not a fan page, that is the right vehicle for them.
Becoming a fan of an organization that does a tremendous amount of work in many different places or issues can pose the same problem. The American Civil Liberties Union has a policy briefing book as big (or bigger) than the Yellow Pages, and odds are good that no ACLU member agrees with all of them. Becoming a fan of the ACLU, especially in a social medium where all of your friends see that you have become a fan, means tacitly endorsing their entire agenda.
The ACLU presumably recognized this and recently tried a different tactic: they created a hot-button single issue fanpage around their defense of Constance McMillen. Constance tried to to take her girlfriend to her high school prom in Fulton, Mississippi and was told that they could not come together and they could not slow dance together even if they arrived separately. The high school eventually canceled the prom entirely rather than deal with the legal consequences of their discrimination.
Instead of merely updating their fan page with their work on this issue, the ACLU created a Facebook fan page called "Let Constance Take Her Girlfriend To The Prom". The affirmation and narrow focus of the issue meant that it was very easy for people to decide how they felt about the issue, and become a fan. Of course the viral nature of becoming a fan on Facebook meant that every time someone became a fan, all their friends saw both the policy message and were given an opportunity to join.
As of today the Constance Prom fanpage has over 328,000 fans. The ACLU national fan page has around 28,000. Both of these dwarf the population of Fulton, MS, which has a population of around 4,000 people.
A similar tactic was recently done by the Trust for Public Land who ran a campaign to save undeveloped land around the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles. To make their point, they wrapped the globally recognized letters with a new message "SAVE THE PEAK". The mission-focused name and single issue of the campaign garnered over 23,000 fans as of today. The Trust for Public Land's fan page has a little under 3,000.
So the technique works, but what are the challenges? In particular as the campaign progresses, or even if you're successful, you've got to find a way to migrate the individuals who have become fans into your larger, more general fan base. Many of your campaign-specific fans don't want to be a part of your larger supporter base. You have to handle them carefully, and gently message them about other related work once you've won your initial goal.
Some may never move into your general supporter population, and you need to look for opportunities to give them another, similar cause to rally around if they do not wish to be mainstreamed.
But I think these are good problems to have, and I suspect that TPL and the ACLU would rather have these large fan bases to experiment on than not at all. If you've got a big campaign coming up, here are three things to remember when considering a single issue Facebook fan page:
- Use a narrow, mission-focused fan page name. Ideally the page name should be a call to action.
- You're in it for the long haul: You're going to have to maintain this fan page along with your own main organizational page, and you can't just copy everything you do.
- Consider the end game: When this campaign is over, think about the audience. Will you have other similar campaigns in the same mission that you can promote to this audience? Start thinking early about creating crossover appeal. Something as simple as branding the Constance page profile photo with the ACLU logo reminds fans who is running this campaign.