LONDON: Brands should use social networks to cultivate committed "fans" rather than focusing solely on reach, Trevor Johnson, head of strategy and planning, EMEA, at Facebook, has suggested.

Addressing delegates at the 2010 Social Media World Forum Europe, Johnson said social media reveals users as "individuals, rather than just IP addresses", allowing more effective marketing communications.

Figures cited during his presentation showed the effectiveness of social media for advertisers, with campaigns which leveraged social networks in some way typically increasing customer response rates by 25%.

More specifically, Johnson highlighted the case of the Royal Opera House, which has 20,000 Facebook fans, as being an example of how to use a "quality over quantity" approach to drive sales.

While it is far from being Facebook's biggest brand – Starbuck's tops the rankings with 6.1 million fans – the London venue has been able to attract an exceptionally dedicated group of followers, meaning it is now selling 30% of its tickets via this platform.

"Never before have organisations, whether large or small, been able to connect with someone who is an individual on an authentic level," Johnson said.

Speaking at the same event, Kevin Eyres, managing director, Europe, of LinkedIn, similarly emphasised the importance of viewing the online audience as individual users. 

Concepts of social media "identity" were initially in flux when users of platforms attaining early popularity – such as Yahoo Answers and MySpace – mostly opting for anonymity.

However, Eyres claimed that Facebook "introduced the concept of a name", and LinkedIn first made people's "professional identity" public.

As such, netizens are now identifiable online through their social networking profiles, boosting "trust" between members and allowing greater collaborative problem-solving.

Eyres revealed that around 1 billion searches for people had been made via LinkedIn in the past year, with around half that total relating specifically to professional skills. 

Alex Miller, head of Jam, a specialist agency in this area, sounded a note of caution, however, arguing the hype surrounding social media had become "a bit out of control".

Problems include the "inanity" and "meta" nature of much of the online conversation, which dilutes and devalues the usefulness of listening-based research. 

He also reported that only 4% of Facebook fan pages have over 10,000 fans, while just 1,000 of the 500,000 Facebook "apps" have 100 or more active monthly users.

Miller urged companies to think of their campaigns in terms of having better relationships with customers, rather than resorting to gimmicks to gain attention.

"I really do think it is time for brands to grow up. Social media is a mature space now," he said.

Full reports from the conference, including further insights from representatives of lastfm, Mercedes-Benz and Monster, will be available on Warc soon.

Data sourced from Warc