Does the Number of Facebook Fans matter?

What I call the “Fan Paradox” is the observation, that basically all marketers agree that the number of Facebook fans is a bad success metric for Facebook brand pages. Paradoxically, it is usually the first fact that marketers mention when they talk about their brand pages (“we have more than 500 000 fans”), followed by fan growth etc. This motivated us to look at the role of the number of fans in more detail.

Study and Results

In a recent study, we looked at university brand pages. We studied the role of brand reputation (as measured by ranking factors), market penetration (as measured by the number of students), the number of followers and the average number of likes, shares, and comments per posting (aggregated as ‘interactivity’). Additionally, we content analyzed the posting strategy of each university.

We found that brand reputation influences the number of followers (which is not surprising), and the number of followers influences the average interactivity rates. That is, if we assume organic growth, strong brands have more followers, and thus, have more higher interactivity levels (e.g. more ‘likes’ per posting).

When we looked at the relative interactivity – the interactivity level per fan – we found a contradictory effect: Brand pages with many fans have a lower amount of interactive fans. A possible explanation is that strong (and prestigious) brands are often followed for self-presentation reasons, rather than for real interest in the brand.

univ marketing

So what’s so interesting about that?

Interesting is the conceptual role of brand strength – a double-edged sword. Strong brands lead to a higher number of followers, which is good, because the absolute number of likes, shares, and comments increase. However, it is also bad, as the relative interactivity (interactivity per fan) decreases. Thus, well-known and reputable brands might have a large amount of fans, but a majority of them are passive. Smaller brands, in contrast, can benefit from relatively active communities, in which a smaller amount of user is, on average, more active.

That is, promoting a strong brand with a lot of ad pressure on Facebook is not a very good idea for companies that want a lot of active consumers on their websites. Thus, the study shows the potential for small brands with operating in smaller segments in which they are favored.



Brech, F.; Messer, U.; VanderSchee, B.; Rauschnabel, P.A.; Ivens, B.S. (2016): Engaging Fans and the Community in Social Media: Interaction with Institutions of Higher Education on Facebook. Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, forthcoming.



Although many universities use social media to interact with stakeholders, little is known about underlying mechanisms. Drawing on theories of self-presentation and community engagement, we develop a theoretical model to explain these crucial outcome factors. We then test the model based on secondary data from 159 universities. Our findings reveal the double-edged nature of community size: Universities with a strong reputation tend to have more Facebook fans, but having many Facebook fans has detrimental effects on individual fan engagement. Furthermore, the frequency of updates is a crucial factor, as too frequent and too infrequent updates lead to lower levels of fan engagement. We discuss theoretical implications for online communities and derive implications for social media managers.


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