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How to analyze fan growth charts on social media

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Peter Claridge

November 12, 2019 5 min read

Updated on November 12, 2019

In this article, you are going to learn the first part of doing social media analysis. I personally think it’s the most important part of any analysis because it lays out a path to follow.

Audience sizes and fan growth have been derided by many social media managers as being worthless vanity metrics.

There is some truth to that. But it’s also a myopic view.

Sure, in the early days of social media, brands were obsessed with growing their audience size to be bigger than their competition.

Today, influencers are doing the same thing. They know that for the vast majority of people, a larger audience equals better. So they go and buy followers to inflate their numbers.

Social media marketers know that it’s not how big your audience is, but the way they engage with your content. And it is this kind of thinking that confined audience size and growth metrics to the back of the class during analysis.

Analyzing audience size and fan growth is critically important

I have a different view to most ‘experts’. I believe that analyzing your audience size, and more importantly, your audience growth, is absolutely critical to your social media analysis.

Audience growth is the canary in the coalmine that points you in the right direction. Your entire analysis path can be laid out for you if you just start with your fan growth.

You see, what happens with a brand’s audience growth is usually a symptom of what is happening elsewhere.

To begin with, the social media analysis tool you use should have the ability to display the audience growth as a trending graph like the one below.

nike daily facebook audience growth

Facebook Insights has a graph that tells you how many new Likes you got in a day (as does LinkedIn), which is helpful, but other native social network analytics like Twitter and Instagram do not have this feature.

facebook insights fan growth chart

How to read audience growth graphs

The important things to be looking for in these charts are the spikes in audience growth. Where there’s a spike, there’s an insight to be found.

In this case, on and around the 4th of March, 9th of June, 29th of May, and 5th of September, there were spikes in fan growth. What you’ve got here are signposts on which path to be taking. On a separate piece of paper, write these dates down, you’re going to need them later.

When you’re using a social media competitive intelligence tool like Unmetric, you can even get signposts on where to focus your social media analysis, just by looking at the fan growth of your competitors.

In this case, we added a few of Nike’s competitors and looked at their audience growth in 2018 in the chart below.

fan growth on facebook for adidas, puma and nike

Yes, I’ll be the first to admit that this looks like the readout from a lie detector test gone wrong. There are actually three insights that I can take away from this chart though.

  • Under Armour is slow and steady when it comes to gaining fans. There is a bit of a spike early in the year and around early April that I might investigate further.
  • Adidas were adding lots of fans throughout the year, but like Puma and Under Armour, they struggled to see the same level of growth towards the end of the year. There are lots of spikes to investigate though, especially at the start of the year and in June and July.
  • Puma definitely did something towards the end of March which needs to be investigated further.

Continuing your analysis

Now that you’ve written down the dates when there were spikes in audience growth, you’ve got the directions for your analysis journey. To begin with, let’s see what Nike did around September 2018 to cause their Facebook audience size to spike.

A good social media analytics tool will let you go back in time to see every post a brand has made. Clients of Unmetric can see posts as far back as 2012 for many brands.

brand posting on facebook

So this is odd. Nike didn’t post any content in September 2018 on its Facebook page. What caused the spike in fan growth?

Part of any social media analytics is going down rabbit holes. Sometimes you come to a deadend, like in this case.

However, we’re not done yet.

Unmetric tracks the social profiles for a brand across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. Let’s switch over to Nike’s Twitter handle and see if they published any tweets in September 2018.

tweets by nike

Lots of tweets were published on September 5th – which coincides with our spike in fan growth.

Sorting the tweets by engagement quickly surfaces the tweets that should be of most interest.

nike tweets

I think we’ve found our “Ah-ha” moment.

On September 5th, 2018, Nike released an ad featuring Colin Kaepernick. It was one of those ads which you either loved or hated, but you couldn’t ignore it.

It generated over 730,000 interactions, one of the most we’ve ever seen on Twitter by a brand.

(Note: The tweet has since been deleted, something Nike seems to do a lot of.)

The spillover from this tweet and campaign impacted Nike’s audience growth even on social networks where it wasn’t published.

What comes next

The next step in the Nike analysis would be to see the impact the campaign had on Nike’s overall performance.

Ask questions like (and use data to find the answers to):

  • Did it help boost engagement in subsequent posts?
  • Was the reaction overall positive or negative?
  • How did competitors react to the campaign?
  • How did Nike continue the conversation after it began the campaign?

However, before you run down that rabbit hole, we saw that competing brands also experienced spikes in fan growth.

We need to check what content Puma, adidas, and Under Armour were publishing in those time periods that caused a spike in audience growth.

If you’d like to see what these brands were publishing, or any other brand for that matter, get yourself a demo of Unmetric and begin a trial of the platform.


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