Facebook Rankings Reflect National Stereotypes

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One thing appears to be constant: the prevalence of big brands at the top of Facebook page popularity rankings. Marketing departments around the world use their expertise to boost the numbers of followers of their corporate Facebook pages. As a result, companies such as Nokia, Starbucks and Nike consistently find themselves among the most-liked brand pages on Facebook, according to Socialbakers. It may well be that brands like McDonald's end up at the top of rankings simply because they have a bigger budget to throw around.

But gathering data on the most popular Facebook pages isn't as easy as it might seem. Indeed, it's difficult to get comprehensive country-specific data without intimate knowledge of national trends.

Socialbakers acknowledges that its data doesn't cover every fan page possible. "We are aware that these listings cannot be done by us alone," Socialbakers director Jiri Voves told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "We constantly encourage our users to suggest Facebook pages for our listings." Despite such efforts, blind spots are inevitable. Social media changes quickly, and a Facebook page can be created or deleted in minutes.

The Need for Dialogue

Internet marketing expert Matthias Bonjer urges caution regarding the Facebook page popularity contest, pointing out that a huge number of fans doesn't guarantee a page's success. "A 'like' is one important element but this is not the only thing that determines a page's success," says Bonjer, who is managing director of Zucker Kommunikation, a Berlin-based public relations agency that specializes in social-media marketing campaigns. "The dialogue between a page and its fans, through fan posts and comments, is an essential factor." Apparently it doesn't just matter how many friends you have, but how many of them actually want to engage with you.

Complicating the equation is the global nature of the Internet. Socialbakers categorizes country pages based on their target audience: While the English-language BMW USA page is obviously targeted at Americans, the German-language BMW Deutschland would be considered a German page. Hence, only the German page would be included in the top 10 for Germany.

But a page associated with one country can still be followed by users all over the world. While Guinness's Facebook pages may be among Ireland's most popular, not all of the people who "like" these pages are necessarily from Ireland -- they could simply be fans of Irish stout living in, say, the US or Germany.

While psychology professor Susan Fiske notes that there are more worrisome stereotypes to guard against, she advises against reading too much into the Facebook brand rankings. "We don't like to be lumped into one 'they're-all-alike' mass," she says. "Although I'm American, I don't drink sodas or eat hamburgers."

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