The Difference In Fan and Customer Acquisition - Social Media Explorer
The Difference In Fan and Customer Acquisition
The Difference In Fan and Customer Acquisition

The CMO of a large retail brand stood on stage recently, proudly showing off a fan acquisition campaign that had successfully driven tens of thousands more “Likes” on Facebook. A hand went up in the audience. “Those ‘Likes’ are impressive, but how many of your products did you sell as a result?”

The CMO shrugged and said, “Well, that really wasn’t the point of the campaign. It was about acquisition.”

It’s a good thing that CMO was talking to an audience of marketers and not his or her board of directors. If they had been, that would have likely been the last words he or she uttered as CMO of that particular company.

Unfortunately, many marketers hear the word “acquisition,” and have a Pavlovian reaction, assuming as long as they do more of it, everything will be copacetic. Certainly, “acquisition,” was the point of the exercise, but it was fan acquisition, not customer acquisition at play.

These are two very different concepts.

Fan acquisition means doing something to get the attention of users on a social network so they will opt in to your messaging. Customer acquisition is doing something to convince a person to purchase something.

You can’t make payroll with more fans.

The big difference? You can’t make payroll with more fans.

Certainly, more fans gives you a better opportunity to convert them to customers. But far too many marketers see acquiring a fan as acquiring a customer and are losing in the end as a result.

I sat through two Boards of Director’s meetings recently. One for the company I work for. The other for an organization on whose board I sit. The metrics that are discussed the most at the board meetings I have exposure to include:

  • Top-line revenue
  • Bottom-line revenue
  • Cost-per-acquisition
  • Year-over-year growth
  • Revenue projections
  • Cost-per-unit-sold
  • Customer lifetime value

The metrics that are not discussed:

  • Number of fans
  • Number of followers
  • Number of likes
  • Number of comments
  • Number of shares

The marketers of today will not be the marketers of tomorrow until they understand which metrics matter to their organization’s ultimate decision-makers. Even if the decision-makers don’t yet know it, they want the former metrics, not the latter.

Connect those dots and you’ll keep your job. Don’t and good luck finding a new one.


About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at
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    nice info

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  • “But far too many marketers see acquiring a fan as acquiring a customer and are losing in the end as a result.”

    There is a definitely a big difference! A large fan base might look and sound good, but how does that impact your bottom line? Fans are more likely to buy from you, that’s true–but do fan acquisition programs go after the kind of people who really want buy from you or are just in it for the deal they get by becoming your Facebook fan?

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  • Interesting response coming from the CMO. There’s absolutely no point in having large fan bases if your business goes off the radar due to lack of sales. Even celebrities know this. Surely that CMO will know that the bottom line in all marketing efforts are the volume of sales they generate. If he’s not concerned about this, then marketing to him is just another job. tsk tsk

    • Fair point, Shelly-Ann. Thanks for chiming in.

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  • Thanks for the article, Jason! Finally some sane words in this ocean of buzzwords.

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  • HOPE should never be counted as part of someone’s strategy. Otherwise we could just HOPE we make the number in the end of the year. We need to be proactive and engage ‘Fans’ in order to generate quality leads that will result in sales. Not forgetting, of course, the sales team and customer service to turn the quality leads into sales.

  • Very well said “you can’t make payroll with more fans.” But there is always a hope to convert fans into customer as they are your database.

  • Whether it’s a Facebook fan or a newsletter subscriber, this is part of the sales funnel. Clearly, it’s not the end of the funnel. And hopefully the CMO in question realizes that.

    I actually interviewed Marcus Sheridan on my podcast last week and discussed something very similar. He had seen a list of Top 8 KPIs that included comments and social shares. And his argument was that the list should have stopped before those two.

    I agree for the most part. Whether it’s comments, social shares, subscribers or Fans/followers. Those metrics don’t mean much in and of themselves, and aren’t all equal. Someone can easily fake many of them. Are they KPIs? Probably not. But when highly targeted, relevant and strategic, these are key components of that funnel.

    • Good stuff, Jon. I like to think that the social metrics we’re so fond of are follow metrics. If you do good content, provide good reasons for customers to interact with you, those metrics will follow. But customer acquisition is a different animal. Related, but different.

  • Atul .

    Social media is reactive (and even pro-active at times) unlike conventional media. So the right perspective about social media spends should be levels of ‘customer engagement’, and not ‘top line/bottom line impact’. Imagine all the yesteryear days when a brand had to spend top marketing dollars and rely on external agency reports on what the customer perception about their brand was. Social media makes that ‘customer engagement’ incredibly closer, direct and virtually possible even with thin timelines. It is wrong to equate social media objective to product sales though that’s the desired direct/indirect outcome of all marketing spends.

    • Pushing back a bit, Atul. If I shouldn’t be looking at top or bottom line impact, then social media is a hobby. Guess what doesn’t fly around most businesses? Hobbies. There needs to be an effort made to illustrate how there IS a top or bottom line impact or decision-makers at most companies will lose interest and push their support for social elsewhere.

  • I think a lot of people have talked themselves into believing the Facebook lingo. A friend is not really a friend (unless they have proven to be in “real life”) and a fan is not really a fan. I prefer saying “connections” and “followers”.  

    Looks like brands are still having issues adapting to what has been there all along. 

    “You can’t make payroll with more fans.” – Of course, more fans means more opportunities. But at the end of the day, if all you do is try to force your beliefs or self-promo on this audience, you won’t achieve anything more. 

    Thank you for this article, Jason! 

    • Thank you, Cendrine! Appreciate the comments.

    • Thank you for the comment! Glad to spark some reactions.

  • While fan/follower acquisition campaigns in and of themselves won’t drive more money to the bottom line, it does open the door for marketers to cast a larger net.

    Now, I agree 100% that the real focus should be molding those fans/followers into rabid advocates and purchasers, but occasional acquisition spends can be a necessary evil – just so long as those campaigns are targeted to specific groups and not just blind spends to the entire user base of any given platform.

    • Amen to that, Dave. 

    • Agree with that, or sure. The social as customer acquisition play is almost the occasional drop in with a deal approach while you build that more long-term loyalty. Thanks for chiming in.

  • Add ‘fan’ to the list of terms that’s been totally corrupted by social media.  A fan is not what Facebook says it is.  Real fans are passionate about their favorite brands and create far more (greatly untapped) value for the brand than the average customer.  

    Facebook ‘fans’ typically click Like to get a deal or discount, and never visit the brand’s page.  We need to get rid of hollow metrics, but we also need to get better clarity around the terms we are using.

  • Agreed – too many marketers are obsessed with the vanity metric of simply how big their page’s audience is.  

    One aspect CMO’s should be focussing on is the whole journey from fan acquisition through to the botton line and considering the whole journey at each stage.  Often fans are acquired based on their price, rather than on finding the best quality fans who will engage with the page and reach the end goal of conversion.  


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