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editorial




Social-media valuation is still an arguably amorphous practice and far from an exact science.
ccording to British neuroscientists, my brain is likely denser than yours. Now before you go calling me a braggart, let me explain. Researchers at University College in London recently reported that people with an abnormally high number of Facebook friends possess more grey matter than others. Based on the Facebook stat that users have, on average, 130 friends, it would appear my 1,174 contacts put my brain at roughly nine times denser than most. But while the data does, in fact, link social-media connectedness with greater density in the superior temporal sulcus, middle temporal gyrus, and entorhinal cortex (oh my!) it does not - much to my dismay - mean I'm any smarter than the average bear.

It's somehow satisfying to know that all my status updates and Facebook photo albums are actually creating cranial connections and sparking synapses, but that bonus brain density seems about as useful as a Myspace page unless it offers some tangible value. So I sit, over-dense head in hands, contemplating the value of my popularity. How much is a Facebook friend or a Twitter follower truly worth?

When it comes to social-media marketing, there are several theories in the valuation debate, many of which offer scorecards to substantiate your social-ness with metrics beyond an aggregate number of followers. But oftentimes, those calculators don't allow much of a glimpse behind the curtain, eliciting the same amount of trust in their findings as in those from a Magic 8 ball. Two metrics, however, do seem a smidge more sophisticated than the arbitrary analysis of others.

According to Virtue.com, a social-media analytics company, Facebook friends (aka fans, followers, or likes) are worth $3.60. The math makes sense, at least to some degree. Virtue took the average number of messages the average fan receives from brands and factored the cost-per-impression that companies would have incurred to disseminate those messages sans social media. If Virtue is correct, my friends are worth $4,226.40.

On the other hand, Syncapse Corp. believes Facebook is worth more than that. According to its calculations, fans are worth $136.38 apiece, based on a complex algorithm that claims fans, on average, spend $71.84 more per year on brands they follow on Facebook, and are 28 percent more likely to remain loyal to those companies. So if I subscribe to Syncapse's methodology, my Facebook fortune reaches $160,110.12.

Still, I tend to think both metrics are inherently off target. After all, the idea that a friend is a friend is too broad a generalization. Just as certain clients are worth more to your company - either due to their volume of business or the magnitude of your margins - certain fans are worth more to your brand. Some are more enthusiastic, others have a greater network of their own to evangelize to, and still others are more or less inclined to recommend your offerings in the first place.

I suppose I could propose a calculation that divides Facebook users into categories based on the size of their networks, the frequency of their status updates, or their historical likelihood of evangelizing your brand. But ultimately I have to face facts and admit that, despite my remarkably dense brain, I'm just not smart enough to account for all the variables. I don't think anyone is.

Social-media valuation is still an arguably amorphous practice and far from an exact science. Perhaps when I hit 2,000 friends and reach maximum cranial density, the solution will seem obvious. Until then, I think it's best to treat social media like the social mixer it is and join the conversation. Facebook isn't likely to save your skin in a recession, and Twitter certainly isn't going to triple your sales for fiscal year 2012. But it can increase brand awareness, foster enhanced relationships with clients, and make your brand the brain-dense envy of competitors.e
Travis Stanton, editor;
tstanton@exhibitormagazine.com
@StantonTravis
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