Facebook Flips Switch on ‘Like,’ Advertisers Fret About Consequences

The fan is dead, as Facebook has finally pulled the plug after a day or so of teasing at the switch. So long live all those who… like.

The social site officially changed its “Become a Fan” button to read “Like” earlier today in a development that was first reported by ClickZ on March 29. Facebook users who want to make known their affinity for a brand will no longer be referred to as “fans.”

Or will they? Annie Ta, spokesperson for Facebook, said, “People can still refer to users who ‘like’ a page as ‘fans’ or ‘people who like this page.'” Kathy O’Reilly, director of social media relations for Monster.com, quipped in an e-mail when asked what she thought they should be called: “BFFs. Best Facebook friends.”

No matter what you call them, they are still viewable and searchable on a brand page’s left-hand side where the old fan box once appeared. But as Ta alluded, they are being presented as a collection of individuals ensconced by the following phraseology: “People Like This.” To be clear, here’s how Coca Cola’s followers are seen on Facebook: “5,392,382 People Like This.”

What does this mean for advertisers? We checked in with four social media agencies that manage Facebook pages for big brands to get their take on how the change may or may not affect their campaign planning.

As seen below, reactions were mixed. Some saw the change as a positive development, while others worried that it might water down the existing channel.

Daniel Stein, CEO of the San Francisco-based Evolution Bureau, wondered if the like/fan change added another difficult element to the already problematic issue of attempting to gauge a fan’s worth in the lead-gen sense. “‘Become a Fan’ definitely feels like it has more commitment to it – like you are actually joining a club. Whereas, ‘Like’ is more temporal. People can kind of flit in and out of liking something without jumping in with both feet… People are used to hitting the ‘like’ button when they simply like [a comment/update] on Facebook. Are they really going to be qualified leads when they don’t realize they are signing up to be a fan of a brand?”

John Keehler, director of interactive strategy for the Dallas-based Click Here, had similar concerns about how serious future likers/fans will be. “The language change doesn’t affect the core benefit pages provide, which is building community around a brand. However, it will affect how we measure the success of client campaigns, and how we determine if those who ‘Like’ our brand are indeed a part of our community, and not a passer-by…We will do this by placing more importance on engagement metrics such as wall posts and comments.”

Michael Scissons, CEO of the Toronto-based Syncapse, mostly disagreed with Stein and Keehler, suggesting that consumers will adapt and brands will be the beneficiaries. “The language change lowers the barriers for customers to engage with brands on Facebook by providing a more natural interface. Fans are now able to categorize the pages they like, and the pages their friends like. This will affect our clients’ campaigns by allowing them to increase the number of consumers that interact with the brand, [while improving] user experience and making Facebook an increasingly important part of the marketing mix.”

Kevin Barenblat, CEO of the San Francisco-based Context Optional, said the perceived value of “Like” will be heightened – as it replaces “Fan” and “Share” – because of its enhanced association with people’s interests. “The ‘Like’ button makes it easier for marketers to have their messages shared with people’s friends through Facebook. It’s essentially between the ‘Share’ button and ‘Become a Fan.’ For ‘Share’ in particular, the ‘Like’ button is an improvement because it will identify that action with the user instead of just presenting it as something shared.”

Update:This story originally reported that Facebook’s “Share” button was also being replaced by the Like button. Since then, it’s become unclear if the Share button’s role will change.

Follow Christopher Heine on Twitter at @ChrisClickZ.

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