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This post originally ran on TechCrunch.  You might be interested in my previous posts detailing the 13 main ways that consumer web companies make money along with easy-to-use, downloadable models (part I, part II).

My last TechCrunch Teardown outlined the multi-billion dollar online brand advertising opportunity. As part of that research, I looked at the top Facebook brand pages to see how some brands were successfully using social media to connect with their consumers. With soaring Facebook revenues, a significant share of which comes from brand advertising, I went back again to look at how the top 165 brand pages performed in Q1 2011 to get a sense for which firms continue to get the most out of Facebook. And to see if some brands are showing signs of slowing growth.

For instance, here is how the 10 largest brands on Facebook are doing:

As you can see in the longer table below, which ranks the top 165 Facebook brand pages by growth, many of the top brands on Facebook continue to experience strong fan growth, even with bases of multi-million fans. For this research, I specifically looked at those brand pages that had an installed “fan base” of 500,000 users and above in December in order to get the best measurement of the health of the platform.

Facebook itself grew it’s users by 13.7% (from 585 million to 665 million, in terms of raw number of accounts) so I would expect to see the top brands seeing a multiple of this considering the nascent stage and untapped potential of commerce on Facebook. Conversely, if a brand page’s growth lags that of Facebook’s in general, it may be an early indicator of a stalled social media strategy.

Top 10 Takeaways

  1. Only 10 top brand pages grew their audience 100%+ last quarter and only three (Hollister, Sour Patch Kids, Trident Chewing Gum) saw 200% or more growth.
  2. 31 brand pages (19% of the total) grew less than the overall Facebook growth rate of 14%. Starbucks, the 2nd largest brand page on Facebook, was the largest brand in the bottom 31. By contrast, Coca-Cola, Facebook’s largest brand, grew 26%, and Disney, the new No. 3 most popular brand, grew its fans by 42%.
  3. Food and apparel retail are two categories of note that appear to be among the fastest growth areas. This is interesting considering consumption for these products mostly occur offline.
  4. Apparel retailers, specifically, seem to be doing a better job of tying their retail store promotions to their Facebook presence. Interesting to note that Hollister and Abercrombie are No. 1 and No. 4, respectively, and are owned by the same company. American Eagle, Forever 21, H&M, and Zara are all doing something right.
  5. Walmart was the No. 12 fastest-growing fan page, adding 2.5 million fans. Along with its recent acquisition of Kosmix, I believe Walmart will continue to invest heavily in social, commerce, and campaigns.
  6. In the next decile, quick-serve restaurants such as Domino’s, Pizza Hut, In-N-Out Burger, and Wendy’s appear to signal another trend worth noting. The key question for these firms is how to drive restaurant visits and sales from these pages when food is, by definition, offline activity.
  7. Fanning specific niche passion products (Olive Garden bread sticks, Sharpie markers, Swedish Fish, Cookie Dough) and seasonal items (Cadbury Eggs) may plateau when the initial novelty and/or the natural “audience” for those products is achieved.
  8. Inter-category brand differences are evident and warrant further investigation. For example, why are Hollister, Abercrombie, and Forever 21 growing so much faster than Wet Seal (27%) and Pac Sun (42%)? And why do these same three brands have 3X-4X more fans than their competition?
  9. An interesting brand story is happening right now in Dove soap. While Dove did not qualify for my initial analysis because it only had 271,000 fans in December, it’s 340% growth made it the No. 1 fastest 1-million fan brand page in my analysis.
  10. As brands achieve critical mass and become more comfortable investing in their Facebook presence, they will become far more concerned with fan engagement, fan differentiation, loyalty and efficacy. The key question is: once they have an audience, what will they do with it?

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