Four Types of Facebook Fans: are all fans created equal? Presenting a typology of Facebook ‘Likers’

Blog Post 16Why do people become fans of brands on Facebook? Are they motivated by their interest in the brand, or are they influenced by their friends, or by their personality traits? We recently conducted a study of Facebook fans that reveals four very different ‘types’ of Facebook fan, each with different motivations for ‘Liking’ brands, and each with very different needs and motivations for using Facebook. Some fans have lower self-esteem, and are very concerned about the judgment of others. They tend to ‘Like’ brands that they believe others would approve of. Others are more materialistic, and ‘Like’ brands that they think will make an impression on others. Others are more motivated by the incentives companies offer for ‘Liking’, and are less concerned with their own, or others’ opinions about their chosen brand. Those who have ‘true’ relationships with brands are less worried about their Facebook profile and have an online life that is more reflective of their ‘real’ world. Below we describe our study and the four clusters of Facebook fans we have discovered.

Facebook fans

By way of background, the Facebook fans included in our study are people who ‘Liked’ a brand on Facebook. People ‘Like’ brands, such as retailers (e.g. Topshop), or sports brands (e.g. Adidas) for many reasons – and not always because they are truly ‘fans’.  People become fans by clicking a ‘Like’ button on the brand’s Facebook page. When people ‘Like’ a brand, the brand also appears as a post on their personal Facebook page (e.g. “Mary Likes Topshop”). Mary’s entire social network can then see that brand on her news feed, and will associate it with Mary. In this way, fans are helping to promote that brand, by allowing it to become part of their profile on Facebook. The brand may also help Mary to ‘look good’, because the brand is self-expressive. In other words, if Mary ‘Likes’ a brand that is popular, her friendship network sees this brand as part of Mary’s profile, and the brand’s image helps Mary to develop her own Facebook image.

In addition, those interested in marketing and psychology want to know more about fans, because, in general, fans tend to be more interested in brands than non-fans and spend more money on their preferred brand than non-fans (Hollis, 2011).  Interestingly, ‘fans’ also tend to have more friends on Facebook, which means that they can potentially influence more people with their brand choices (Facebook, 2010). These characteristics of fans are valuable for companies, as fans spread the brand’s message to their entire Facebook social network (Nelson-Field et al., 2012). Understandably, companies often think that having more ‘Likes’ is a measure of their success on Facebook, and many organizations have been investing huge amounts of money in encouraging ‘Likes’ (Hoffman and Fodor, 2010). Yet these firms don’t always know whether there is a link between ‘Likes’ and other measures such as brand loyalty, brand love and word of mouth (Lapointe, 2012). Sometimes, companies incentivize people to ‘Like’ brands, for instance by offering them a discount or a prize for ‘Liking’. When customers embrace and accept these incentives, do they really care about that brand at all? Are organisations wasting their money trying to encourage these ‘Likes’? The science only extends so far, and this is where we come in.

The Cluster Analysis

Our study was undertaken with a large sample of students (N = 438) attending a leading Irish University. Our goal was to establish the reasons that fans ‘Like’ brands. The study used cluster analysis to identify different clusters of fans based on their characteristics. The study measured a number of key characteristics of students:

  • Brand loyalty (whether the person would think of this brand first when considering a purchase in that product category) (Yoo and Donthu, 2000).
  • Brand love (whether the person was passionate about the brand) (Batra et al., 2012).
  • Word of mouth (whether the person would talk about the brand to their friends) (Brown and Reingen, 1987).
  • Self-expressive brand (whether the person thought that the brand reflected their image). (Carroll and Ahuvia, 2006).

In addition, it was thought possible that the student’s social network structure, that is, the relationship between people on their Facebook page, could influence brands ‘Liked’. Network structure was defined in two ways:

  • Social tie strength (the number of people fans were connected to on Facebook, how close they were to them, and how often they were in contact with them) (Granovetter, 1973).
  • Homophily (whether fans thought that their Facebook friends thought like them or had the same status as them) (McPherson et al., 2001).

The cluster analysis also included personality traits that might also influence the type of brand fans that people become.

Traits that we measured included:

  • Self-monitoring (how much the fan was sensitive to their Facebook friends’ judgment) (Snyder, 1974).
  • Opinion leadership (whether the fan thought their opinions influenced others on their social network) (Goldenberg et al., 2009).
  • Materialism (whether fans believed that possessions and their acquisition leads to happiness) (Richins, 1987).
  • Self-esteem (the fan’s overall feeling of self worth) (Rosenberg, 1965).

All of these measures were included in an email survey that was sent to 438 people who were all brand ‘fans’ on Facebook.  60% of respondents were female. These fans spent an average of 2.4 hours on Facebook daily, with an average of 472 friends. Brands ‘Liked’ included clothing labels such as Abercrombie and Fitch, gadgets such as iPhones, and artists such as Florence and the Machine. A cluster analysis revealed four fan types:

  • First, the ‘Fan-atic’. This fan is most likely female, and spends 2-3 hours on Facebook every day. They are genuine fans, as they ‘Like’ the brand to find out more about it, they have a lot of brand loyalty and brand love for the brand they ‘Like’, and they spread positive word of mouth for the brand. They are highly materialistic, and think of their Facebook friends as people who have the same status as themselves. Therefore, they also ‘Like’ brands on Facebook to make an impression on others.
  • The second fan type we called ‘Utilitarian’.  Typically male, this fan has the least interest in ‘Liking’ a brand for self-expressive reasons. They have the least genuine interest out of all fan types in the brand they ‘Like’. They are least concerned about the opinions of others, and are not ‘Liking’ brands to make an impression. They are motived by incentives offered by companies for ‘Liking’. Their fanship does not benefit the company directly, as they have low brand loyalty, low brand love, and do not offer word of mouth. However, they have strong network ties, and so their association with the brand may indirectly spread the brand message to their Facebook friends, irrespective of their utilitarian motives
  • Fan type 3 is the ‘Self-expressive’. These fans become fans to make an impression on others. They have lower self-esteem than other fans, and they have high levels of self-monitoring, which means that they are very concerned about how they appear to others. This group is mainly male, and typically younger than other respondents, and has more Facebook friends. Compared with the ‘Fan-atic’, they don’t have high brand loyalty or brand love for the brands they ‘Like’, but they offer more word of mouth (WOM) than other fans. There may be an explanation for this high WOM when loyalty and love are low. Kozinets et al. (2010) suggest that some WOM occurs not because of altruism, but because the WOM giver wants to impress others (e.g. ‘haven’t you been to restaurant X yet? I have, and it’s fantastic!’). It is possible that this group, with low self-esteem and a large social network, offers WOM about brands just to impressing their Facebook friends.
  • Fan type 4 is the ‘Authentic’. Mainly female, and older than other fans, this fan has low materialism, and is less concerned with adapting behavior to impress others than other fan types. They do not ‘Like’ brands for self-expressive reasons. They have high self-esteem, and they have fewer Facebook friends but their friendships are stronger, with stronger social ties. They ‘Like’ brands due to genuine interest, and this is reflected in their high levels of brand loyalty, brand love, and word of mouth.

The study shows that not all fans are equal, and companies interested in enhancing ‘Likes’ for their brands should consider which type of fan they are attracting, so that they can better understand how ‘Likes’ may or may not lead to success in terms of brand love, brand loyalty and word of mouth. The study shows that psychological traits including self-esteem and materialism, influence consumers’ behavior on Facebook. We reveal that more materialistic consumers are likely to be brand fanatics. It is also clear that, for consumers with low self-esteem but a high number of Facebook friends, ‘Likes’ have little relationship to actual brand loyalty – instead the brand becomes a form of self-expression, and these consumers ‘talk up’ the brand to impress others. We also see that incentives for ‘Liking’ may not always be effective, as some consumers will simply ‘Like’ to receive a reward. We also identified a fan that is ‘authentic’ in terms of their loyalty and their brand love, but with smaller friendship networks. Managers who wish to spread WOM may wish to target the Fan-atic and the Self-expressive, with messages about the brand that appeal to their self-enhancement. By contrast, managers who wish to grow brand loyalty should also consider targeting the Authentic, but perhaps avoiding messages about image or materialism – instead messages about ‘expressing your true self’ may have more resonance with this group. Finally, as we provide new insights about ‘Utilitarians’, we suggest that managers think twice before offering incentives to ‘Like’, as these incentives may have little effect on brand outcomes such as brand loyalty or WOM.

A full pre-print of the paper can be found here: Wallace, E., Buil, I., de Chernatony, L. and Hogan, M. (2014).  Who Likes You and Why? A typology of Facebook Fans.  Journal Of Advertising Research. (In Press)

Originally published Feb 05, 2014 in ‘In One Lifespan’ @

Some links contained within this post are external


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