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Social Media Marketing's New Currency: Likes (Formerly Fans)

  |  April 27, 2010   |  Comments

What replacing "Fans" with "Likes" on Facebook means for social media marketers.

OK, in case you haven't heard, "Facebook Fans" are now "Likes." Let me repeat that so it sinks in - no more Facebook Fans. Those consumer relationships we've been chasing so diligently for two years - gone. Now we are chasing "Likes."

So instead of "Becoming a Fan," you can "Like" a Facebook Page, a general Web page, and, I'm sure in the future, everything from banners, videos, and applications to actual locations - kind of like Foursquare. People will turn on the geo-location, walk into a restaurant, and "Like" it.

Not to be too conspiratorial or grandiose, but Facebook aims to become ubiquitous on the Web. This "Like" feature is part of the social graph concept Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been talking about early on. Facebook's trying to layer the social graph all over the Web and in many ways, when it goes mobile with geo-location, over everything.

Now, one of my big interests is how the lines between social media, online media, traditional media, and search marketing have been blurring. Along those lines, building a base of "Fans" has been a common thread that has woven into every facet of a campaign, transforming all campaigns into actionable social media marketing campaigns. Kind of like when website URLs first started being incorporated into ads - you actually had to tell companies to list their Web page address. So now, companies and marketers have invested vast sums of money (much of it going to Facebook) to building their community of Fans, tracking the success of these efforts by counting their Fans. They have also been thinking of new ways to engage their Fan bases.

Let's explore whether we as marketers and media buyers will place the same ROI (define) metrics and value on a "Like" as we did a "Fan." Will "Likes" become the new currency of social media marketing?

Potential Downside of "Likes" Replacing "Fans"

Let's start by asking the following question with the knowledge that we don't have a choice in the matter: Is a "Like" as valuable to brands and marketers as "Fans," especially after spending millions of dollars over the last couple years trying to build communities of Fans? Will "Likes" have the same appeal? As a company, do you want a bunch of Likes or do you want a bunch of Fans?

In Facebook's initial announcement of the language switch, it noted that people were currently clicking "Like" almost twice as many times as they clicked "Become a Fan." Thus switching to "Like" would hopefully encourage users to make more connections. But is this because it requires less commitment?

To become a Fan shows a level of commitment. It shows that you don't just "Like" this company or product - it says, "I am a Fan of this company or product" and shares that affinity with your Facebook friends. It's a true and lasting connection and endorsement. It represents a consumer's desire to deepen her relationship with a brand and to connect to that brand in the environment where she is connecting with people and entities she values. A "Like" is simply a thumbs up. In fact, in Facebook vernacular, popular culture and imagery is exactly what that is. A simple post can get a bunch of "Likes" represented by this "thumbs up." It is really for people who are too lazy to comment. It's like when the waitress comes over and says, "Is everything OK?" and you give her the thumbs up sign. It's a quick acknowledgement of your satisfaction, but not a ringing endorsement of the chef's great food.

Also, it not only applies to Facebook Fan Pages (or whatever we are going to call them in the future), it applies to everything. It is more casual. So the bigger question is, will people who connect to your brand via a "Like" have a lower engagement rate (people who comment and post on your company Facebook Page) than people who are fans? Does "Liking" indicate as much desire to participate in a company's social presence as becoming a Fan?

Finally, will this lower level of commitment create so much "Like" clutter that it no longer matters - sort of "Like Spam"? If liking a brand, article, Web page, video, or anything else on the Web is the equivalent to the thumbs up you give the waitress in a diner, will it cease to have value? Will brands and media buyers spend money on Facebook Engagement Ads to get a Like instead of a Fan? Will people pay attention to them when they are so ubiquitous they stream like trending topic tweets?

Now the good news is, when you "Like" a company's business page (what Facebook seems to be calling Fan Pages now) it shows up in the news feed of your friends. I'm sure this was done to prevent a revolt from the thousands of Facebook advertisers that do Engagement Ads specifically for that impression echo effect. However, when you "Like" an item on the Web, not all of the "Likes" seem to be going into your feed and profile. For example, in a test, "Likes" from IMDB went into my news feed and got posted to my profile, but "Likes" from a blog post just got posted to my profile. So this may minimize the "Like Spam" I am referring to.

So, the downside for the immediate term has three main points:

  • We need to change our approaches and terminology fast, and change can be hard. Marketers and brands will quickly have to reevaluate the value of a "Like" vs. a "Fan" and modify their campaigns accordingly.

  • Although more people may "Like" us, the potential for lower engagement levels is out there. Companies will need to work harder to keep consumers who "Like" them engaged with their social activities.

  • Will this lower bar and commitment levels clutter the news feed and people's profiles with tons of meaningless "Like Spam"?
And if you can think of any other downside to the change, please comment below.

The Potential Upside of "Likes"

My next column will explore the upside of "Likes." These upsides will include the fact that we may have the potential to get more "Likes" than we did "Fans" and that "Likes" can be weaved into our marketing infrastructures and media programs in whole new ways. I'm sure more opportunities will surface - even within the next two weeks - so it's not all doom and gloom!

Please comment and let me know what you think, and of course tweet and share this column with the icons above!

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Harry Gold

As founder and CEO of Overdrive, Harry Gold is the architect and conductor behind the company's ROI-driven programs. His primary mission is to create innovative marketing programs based on real-world success and to ensure the marketing and technology practices that drive those successes are continually institutionalized into the culture and methods of the agency. What excites him is the knowledge that Overdrive's collaborative environment has created a company of online media, SEM, and online behavioral experts who drive success for the clients and companies they serve. Overdrive serves a diverse base of B2B and B2C clients that demand a high level of accountability and ROI from their online programs and campaigns.

Harry started his career in 1995 when he founded online marketing firm Interactive Promotions, serving such clients as Microsoft, "The Financial Times," the Hard Rock Cafe, and the City of Boston. Since then, he has been at the forefront of online branding and channel creation, developing successful Web and search engine-based marketing programs for various agencies and Fortune 500 companies.

Harry is a frequent lecturer on SEM and online media for The New England Direct Marketing Association; Ad Club; the University of Massachusetts, Boston; Harvard University; and Boston University.

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