Stop It With the “LIKES” Already!


The Ubiquitous LIKES

The Ubiquitous LIKES

For years you would hear it and see it:

Looking at those numbers, particularly if they grew big and fast, could make you feel very good about yourself, and certainly gave you the kind of strokes you wanted if you were a marketer working for a company of any size.

Then the whole conversation shifted to, “What are all of those ‘likes’ getting us?“, which led to a number of uncomfortable pauses in the report. While getting the right kinds of measurements in place years ago was much more difficult, nowadays there isn’t the thrashing about there used to be around them. You still need to have a clear goal around what you’re trying to achieve online…of course, the end is to generate sales, but following the trail, building the relationships, etc. with your customers hasn’t changed. The platforms and practices have to a large degree, when executing a digital marketing strategy (as opposed to what your company might have done 50 years ago…..), but people are still people.

So what SHOULD you be investing in?

In a recent article in the American Marketing Association Journal of Marketing Research entitled “Does “Liking” Lead to Loving? The Impact of Joining a Brand’s Social Network on Marketing Outcomes” (you may find the abstract here) I discovered a number of valuable insights to consider as a small business builds out their social / digital marketing strategy. The question that kicked the article off is this:

Does “liking” a brand on Facebook cause a person to view it more favorably? Or is “liking” simply a symptom of being fond of a brand?

The authors spent a bit of time setting up the problem and then provide some definitions that I find very interesting. The ones that stood out for me have to do with what they call associations with the brand’s Facebook presence. They identified first-order and second-order associations.

There are three subsets of first-order associations:
  • A pure treatment effect would suggest that SN (Social Network) membership induces change in a consumer. For example, joining Starbucks’ SN would cause a customer to spend more at Starbucks than (s)he normally would have.
  • In a treatment-by-selection effect, the effect of SN on behavior would be restricted to the subset of consumers with a predisposition toward joining the network. For example, joining the brand’s SN would cause loyal Starbucks customers to spend more relative to loyal customers who did not join but would have no impact on the behavior of non-loyal customers.
  • In a Selection treatment effect, the association between joining a network and spending may have no causal element: it could simply be a selection effect such that consumers who frequent Starbucks are more likely to join the brand’s SN than those who do not frequent Starbucks. In other words, spending money at Starbucks could be a cause, rather than a consequence, of brand SN membership.
A second-order association addresses a person’s friends and connections on Facebook. In their case, an individual “liking” a brand could increase the likelihood that one or more of their friends will purchase from the brands.

The article then goes in-depth, describing both the different experiments they ran to test the various hypotheses and variants.  This bit also included towering degrees of statistics and calculus, from which I will spare you….

In drawing the conclusions from this research and summarizing, these are my take-aways for you:
  • The mere act of “liking” a brand has no positive first-order effect on consumer attitudes or purchases; two meta-analyses suggest that, if anything, its effect is detrimental (I found this very interesting and a little scary…). The positive associations between brand SN (Social Network) membership and marketing outcomes are instead a product of selection: so, being fond of a brand (liking it) increases a person’s willingness to join its SN (“liking it”). Specifically, brand attitudes and purchasing are the same among people who are fond of the brand – regardless of when and whether they “like” it on Facebook. Basically, if you like the brand, you likely ‘like’ the brand….
  • Inducing a customer to “like” a brand may enhance his or her friends’ willingness to try the brand; however, the token nature of the endorsement used on Facebook is less effective than more meaningful endorsements that are external to Facebook. So, while there is some value to the company to garner “likes”, the visibility of those “likes” to the fans’ friends is of a bit more value…
  • Some roll-ups of related research cited in the article that are also helpful in going deeper in this topic:
    • Suggest that simply asking consumers to “like” brands  is unlikely to improve attitudes or boost sales. In fact, Facebook now claims to “punish” pages that aggressively approach others to “like” their page.
    • The act of “liking” a brand on Facebook – which requires mere seconds of attention and, by design, one click of a button – may simply induce too weak a signal of preference for consumers to infer increased liking for the brand. Making it more difficult to join such communities – for example, by requiring a series of actions such as a greater number of clicks to gain membership – might increase the impact of “liking”, akin to research suggesting that effort can lead to greater liking. Kind of like asking the potential fan for a bit more “skin in the game”, so to speak….
    • Research suggests that the positive outcomes associated with SN membership are driven by those people who are active in those communities and not by those who merely lurk, so marketers may wish to encourage, and possibly even incentivize, joiners to post content. Again, though, brands need to be VERY CAREFUL about incentivization for activity. Facebook keeps its virtual eyes wide open for pages that abuse this kind of activity….be sure you are up on the rules, and ask an expert if you’re still confused.
    • There is no evidence of direct, first-order benefits from inducing consumers to ‘like’ brands on Facebook. So spending huge resources on getting others to ‘like’ your page will not provide the results you’re looking for. In fact, consumers’ willingness to ‘like’ brands could give marketers the illusion that their social media efforts are having impact, especially because “number of members” is an easy metric to get.
    • Don’t spend a lot of resources on ‘likes’! By focusing on improving the content delivered on your network and eliciting participation you are much more likely to convert ‘likes’ into revenue.
Social Media is not totally ineffective. Facebook ‘liking’ may be valuable to marketers when used strategically as a relationship-building, involvement-raising, knowledge-enriching tool. Additionally, as a targeting and marketing communications tool, brand Social Networks enable consumers to self-identify as fans of the brand, potentially helping the brand build and engage with an audience that is predisposed to be receptive.

As a parting thought, here is the final quote from this article:
“So what are Facebook ‘likes’ really worth? Our results show that consumers are often willing to ‘like’ brands; thus, as a means to gain consumers attention – however briefly – ‘likes’ are effective. Turning that attention into improved brand attitudes and increased purchasing by consumers and the their friends, however, appears to require more than just the click of a button.”
So go for greater value than a ‘like”, for sure!

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