Monday, March 02, 2009

Lessons from a Facebook Group Failure...

Following a recent conversation that got us both fired up, my friend Kevin Rice and I decided to run a highly scientific experiment. We both believed that, with all the billions of dollars being spent on economic stimulus, some of that money would be more wisely spent by helping to eliminate student loans for graduate students.

In order to test our hypothesis that such an idea would warrant lots of public support, we created a new Facebook group...

This experiment would be simple. After creating the Facebook group, we invited approximately 200 people to join. All of these invitees were direct "friends" of ours on Facebook. No other marketing for the group would be attempted in order for the experiment to clearly test the viral capacity of online social-networks.

What were the results? Within the first day, the group had 12 members. After a week, it had 29 members. And finally, a week-and-a-half after the group was created, it hit 37 members... which appears to be the final total since it has stabilized there, unchanged, through this, now, the third week.

On the surface, 37 members is hardly the rallying response that we had hoped for. As Kevin observed in an IM conversation, "What a giant bust".

However, 37 members out of 200 original invitees translates into an 18% response rate. That's a number that telemarketers, mail-order catalogs, and spammers only dream of.

Furthermore, it's notable to observe that of the 37 members, 28 of them were direct Facebook "friends" of mine, and therefore received their initial invite for the group directly from me. Only 9 people joined the group through an extra degree of separation. And of these 9 members, 6 of them were referred by the same individual. (Thanks, Nathan :-)

So what can we conclude from these results?

First of all, the failure of our Facebook group, for which we had such high hopes, might have been disappointing in terms of the actual numbers of supporters, but the 18% response rate demonstrates that it wasn't necessarily a failure at all. Online social-networking is indeed more effective than traditional marketing strategies.

Our "failure", then, was not due to the dynamics of Facebook groups. It was caused by our decision to only invite 200 people.

Second, the ability for these groups to go viral is still largely dependent on the actual content of the message being presented. In retrospect, perhaps we could have widened our audience by proposing that the government eradicate student loans for all college students (rather than only those in graduate school). Or, as Kevin observed, perhaps we needed a more "attention-grabbing headline".

Lastly, having a large online social-network is still not a real substitute for an effective marketing campaign. While the first point still holds true - that online social-networking is more effective than cold-calling or advertising to strangers - the fact remains that you still need to have an intelligent marketing strategy geared towards those people within your social-network. In other words, simply inviting your "friends" to join your group may not be enough. You'd be better off promoting your group additionally through wall posts, status messages, blog posts, Twitter updates, etc.

Social-networking is not a substitute for marketing; rather, it is an effective venue for it. Such is the lesson from one Facebook group's failure.


At 2:55 PM, Blogger Robert J. Domanski said...

UPDATE: A new Facebook group has been created which includes undergraduate student loans as well. As a result, it has over 145,000 members!

At 2:56 PM, Blogger Robert J. Domanski said...

The link for that group:


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