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What's a Facebook 'like' worth?

What's the tangible, money-in-the-bank benefit of a Facebook follower? Social marketing mavens have pondered the question for years and we're still not any closer to a hard answer. Facebook last month swept fake "Likes" from its pages, to the chagrin of spammers. But do efforts at gaming the social network even pay off? If you're using Facebook for legitimate marketing, what's the ROI of having virtual fans?

Depending on who you ask and the metrics you use, a Facebook follower could be worth nothing at all, as little as $3.60, as much as $22.93, exactly $136.38 more than a non-follower, or a whopping $214.81 for a nonprofit organization.

That's a lot of numbers--and a gaping variation in the value of a "Like." Where does the truth lie?

Ecwid, an e-shopping cart provider and the self-proclaimed "second largest store-building application on Facebook," explored the data from the 40,000-plus Facebook stores that run on its software to try and determine the answer. The results Ecwid provided me are far from definitive, but they sure are interesting.

Sales and 'Likes'

Ecwid took the 12-month cumulative sales from the storefronts that use its software, then compared the total against each store's number of "Likes." The baseline provides some insight in and of itself: on average, each Facebook "Like" equated to just 21 cents in annual sales.

Drilling down further revealed intriguing details. For the top ten percent of stores by sales volume, the value of a "Like" increased to $1.20 a pop, soaring to $21.49 in the top one percent of stores. Some retailers obviously have some sort of secret sauce when it comes to engaging an audience and converting engagement into sales. One study showed that only 1 percent of Facebook fans interact with the brands they follow; I'm guessing those top stores keep things lively.

But do more "Likes" mean more sales? Not according to Ecwid's figures. In fact, the 25 percent of Ecwid-powered storefronts with the most "Likes" only earned 13 cents per "Like" per year, dropping to a paltry penny for the one percent of stores with the most fans. Neither of those numbers comes close to meeting the 21-cents-per-"Like" baseline average.

So What Does It All Mean?

Nothing of definite value, unfortunately, aside from that there's no definitive correlation between a "Like" and sales volume. Even that axiom isn't hard-set; a store with a million "Likes" will very likely sell more product than a store with 100 "Likes," after all.

That kind of dangerous thinking could lead a business to sip from the black-hat, social SEO Kool-Aid, but Ecwid's data shows that a torrent of "Likes" alone won't translate into sales; you aren't likely to see a good return on investment if you shell out company money for false "Likes" and inflated follower counts. I think Forrester's Augie Ray nailed it when he said that a Facebook "Like" is chock full of potential value, but very little real-world value--virtually none, in fact--until your nurture that connection.

Remember, it's not how many Facebook fans you have--it's all in how you engage them.

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