Social engagements are becoming more diverse by the second. Today I tweeted about a pin of a shared image; feel free to comment on that. As the powers that be create new terms for social media execs to ponder, try to measure and eventually argue over, one will always be the Granddaddy of them all: the Like. Facebook created a movement when it introduced the Like button in 1993 (#DidntDoAnyResearch). Whenever I ask a brand what they want to achieve through social, community size seems to always come up first. Everyone just wants to be Liked, I suppose.
That got me thinking…what does it really mean to them? What’s so important about a Like? I could answer these questions myself in a hundred different ways, but I’d rather hear it from the horse’s mouth. While we’re on the subject of what I’d like to hear (tangent alert!), if you know where the expression “from the horse’s mouth” came from, please explain via the comments section. I only used it as a backhanded way to call everyone I interviewed for this article a horse.
So I asked around about what it means for a user to “Like” a brand on Facebook. I asked via Twitter, not only because I love irony, but also because I believe if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. I was fortunate to hear back from some very talented folks at some of the world’s largest brands and agencies, and a couple Twitter Bots. I got some good answers and some great answers, but what I didn’t get was consensus.
Some described a Like as an opportunity for brands to involve their community in their stories. Some simply believe it strengthens a brand’s likelihood to pop up in a newsfeed. Some called it an invitation, and some went as far as calling it meaningless. Quite a few suggested that a “Like” is a way to deepen the social relationship between brand and consumer. Admittedly, I was expecting these mixed results. If I were given a nickel each time I was told by a brand that their primary (and seemingly only) social media goal is to increase their Facebook community size, I’d have a $1.15 (#Literal #ThatsALotOfNickles). If I had to give that nickel back each time the brand was able to clearly explain to me why they wanted to grow their fan base and what they planned to do with the increased attention, I’d have only slightly less money. For those who were confused by this flow of money, please see the graphic below, detailing a typical encounter of this nature:
I’m not sure a brand can get the full value of social without a clear, unified understanding of why they have a social presence in the first place. There are a million good reasons to have a large Facebook community – effective content distribution, greater earned media potential, stronger calls to action, an accurate calculation of (GASP!) social ROI, etc. I just think that the emphasis on size may be short sighted, and a Like can mean much more. I believe the true power of social is to turn a “Like” into a like.
Consider the long lasting implications of a cultivated Facebook community, especially for a brand whose business depends on high volume sales. Pepsi and Coke, for example, don’t really care if you buy a can of their soda or a bottle of their water. What they’re after is the sale before the sale. Like any company that needs to move millions of units to maintain profitability, Pepsi and Coke want you thinking about them (and only them) the moment you get thirsty. Better yet, they want the mention of their name or flash of their logo to make you thirsty. They don’t want to be viewed as a product. A product is perishable, replaceable and avoidable; a product has a cheaper version that’s just as good. Pepsi and Coke (and Nestle and Proctor & Gamble and SC Johnson and countless others) want to be viewed as an integral part of your life. In essence, they want you to actually like their brand. Social can play an enormous role in that long-term goal because it allows a brand to become a consumer’s friend and resource through genuine, two-way conversations that’s relevant and interesting to all parties involved.
I believe that when Facebook popularized the Like button, they did so with the hopes that brands would use their platform to gain true advocacy, not simply create a cult following around content and messaging. I asked Adam Kmiec, Global Director of Digital Marketing and Social Media for Campbell’s Soup my original question, and as with most things he had already been published on the matter. He summed it up better than I could have hoped for: “Likes give the belief that brands can form a relationship with Facebook users, but in truth, the relationship is being rented; that’s not authentic.“
So how do brands make it authentic? How do you build a community of brand advocates? For starters, I believe an emphasis on quality over quantity of followers is key. Putting your content in front of the right audience is just as important as creating great content in the first place. When you build a community of the right demographic (including not just ages, genders and locations, but also passion points), you know that the engagements you’re measuring are meaningful. This is especially critical for brands that run a lot of giveaways and contests on Facebook. Statistics can get inflated quickly when a bunch of irrelevant fans have crashed the party because free stuff is on the table.
To go into much more detail would be to give away Big Fuel’s secret sauce, and as their business development guy, I make a living selling that sauce. And quite honestly, there are a host of brands doing it already. I’m not calling for a paradigm shift in the world of social media; I just think the outlook of a Like can be more literal, and if we start with a foundation that translates to consumer actions, we will inherently produce marketing that follows suit.
I’d like to send a special thank you to all those who participated in my survey for this article. Especially Jon Budd, Senior Group Manager, CRM & Innovative Marketing for Hyundai, whose tweet reflected my sentiments exactly:
@mikemikho I believe it is the start of, or the deepening of a relationship. A lot like when you greet a new neighbor or meet a friend…
— Jon Budd (@joncbudd) August 3, 2012
Imagine that…brands and consumers being friends.
Follow me @mikemikho