THE VALUE OF A FACEBOOK "LIKE." And Why That Ad Click May Not Be What It Seems. 

We are several years deep into social marketing on Facebook and the value of doing so is a thing of praise. Wendy Clark will tell you advertising on Facebook and engaging with their consumers through their brand page and other tactics is part of a larger dialogue that is continued on the platform, GM will tell you it was a waste of money. And yet, many strategists advise firms, perhaps shortsightedly, that they need to be present, active, and advertising on Facebook. That a “LIKE” on Facebook is of great value.

But a deeper dive into behavioral attributes of users and analysis of their activity on social sites as opposed to other online properties tell us something quite different that can explain why Facebook should be approached carefully as an advertising platform, and why expectations for success should be seen through a special lens.

Does every brand need to be on Facebook? Well the numbers at least suggest it should be strongly considered. Social network adoption is through the roof; consumers are also increasingly seeking the advice of friends and even strangers on social networks for goods and services. “Over half of Millennials (consumers aged 18 to 34) trust the opinions of strangers online over those of friends and family.”[1]

But there are things marketers (strategist, consultants), because of an agent principle problem perhaps, will not suggest to their clients and that the numbers also forget to mention. One being, that not every brand has an audience large enough or engaged enough on Facebook to justify ad spends. Especially if the purpose of a brand is to drive consumers down a purchase funnel, which we still see it as a main goal of social marketing,[2] even if the data may be telling us otherwise.[3] Also, if you want to get someone in that funnel, that’s what search is for.

Why Do I Like What I Like?

In considering the act of a “like” we should also think about the motivation to like something. I’ll examine my own “likes” to illustrate my thoughts.

James Worthy. I decided to like James Worthy’s page on Facebook. What conclusions would a marketer make about my act of liking “Big Game James’” Facebook page? Would they say that I am also a Laker fan? I clearly love Sports, right? I surely followed the Lakes through the showtime years. And perhaps, a marketer may even spend a few dollars on targeting Laker tickets, memorabilia and live streaming games though display ads.

But how accurate an assumption would he/she be making? Does the marketer or data analyst know why I liked that page?

The other common occurrence for myself, and many of my colleagues while at business school over the past year, has been to “like” a Facebook Brand Page for personal relationship reasons that have little or nothing to do with the actual content of the page.

Example: a friend or colleague launches a Facebook branded page for a startup they are a part of, I receive an invite to like the page and by so doing spam the feeds of all of my friends, showing support for the start up. This being a venture that I neither like, truly support, or may fully understand. No harm here right? Wrong. I’m creating data, data that someone might find valuable and misinterpret in evaluating where to spend ad dollars targeting me because of my affiliation with a brand or product.

If Liking Is The Input What Is The Output?

I’d like to make a few comments about the role of data here. Data, illustrated as social marketing data in this paper (Likes, Shares, Retweets, etc), is only as good as the architect that put the infrastructure in place to collect, organize, and mine it. But the manner in which that data is interpreted is also of great importance. As accurate as a data model may be, if the marketer does not have a sound and intelligent analyst that understands their own biases, social biases, and other externalities that may be at play in the creation and interpretation of that data, inaccurate conclusions may be a consequence. This is especially applicable when analyzing user behavior online from different data sets that cover activity in different online properties. That is to say, my behavior on social media (intent, engagement, expectations, motivations) is different and should be considered unique to the experience that I am having on a social media property. Especially when compared to other online behavior that is not social (search engine behavior, email activity, etc).

Again, Why Do I Like What I Like?

So we go back to “liking” James Worthy’s Facebook page. Why did I do it and is it appropriate to target me with an ad? I liked the page because I saw that an old friend liked it. There was an element of nostalgia associated with my act. And it felt like a unique thing to do, that many my friends online had not done. Perhaps I liked the page because I am interested in shaping the perception of people who may come across my profile on Facebook. I did it to send a message, more than to make public that I like the Lakers and James Worthy.

I recognize this is knowledge that is difficult to attain unless you’re doing heavy research on digital social behavior. And that kind of data mining for individuals would surely be costly. But marketers need to ask questions when targeting on Facebook that are related to the previous example  “are stated truths really truths?” In my case, it sort of wasn’t. There was underlying element of social pressure driving my social activity that had no correlation to James Worthy at all. His page could have been substituted for the page of a lesser-known Japanese denim brand, or obscure California post punk band and my motivation to click “like” may have been the same.

One element of social advertising I find exciting is the integration of social activity into online search results. Bing’s Social Search and Google’s Search Plus allow for a users search results to be impacted, altered, influenced by the activity of people they are connected to on Facebook (for Bing) and Google + (for Google). Consider the type of strategy a firm would need to adopt in order to find relevancy if this type of user behavior is dictating marketing tactics. I have yet to encounter a strategist addressing this opportunity. It looks complex; evaluating user intent and the intent of the user’s social circle to influence marketing tactics. But it’s certainly something a sound strategist, a diligent marketer needs to start doing. Or thinking about the approach.

One element intertwined in a user’s experience with social search, and social activity in general, is the growing comfort with transparency. As detailed above, motivations to “like” something is influenced by a social radar, and the conscious realization that others will see what I like. Other will evaluate what I like. Others may make a judgment on the things I “like.”

You Are a Marketer, Now What?

So what will you use to measure marketing activity? Will it be a like? Will it be a conversation? I’d like to end with a quote by Avinash Kaushik concerning the value of a like.

“The metaphor I use is that the likes or +1’s are like one-night-stands. My metrics show how things went on a second or third date. How many got engaged or married to your brand? In this case, polygamy is OK. One-night-stands might feel good, but when you wake up the next day, you have nothing.”

Lastly, understanding behavior is absolutely essential to effective marketing. As detailed in this paper, an action is preceded by a motivation that is influenced by something…that something is what the marketer needs to search out.


1. "Social Trends Report 2012", Bazaarvoice, June, 2012

2. Pivot Conference, “State of Social Marketing 2012-2013,” July 22, 2013. eMarketer

3. Retail Loyalty and the Consumer,” by Conlumino September 13, 2013.

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 9.45.10 PM.png
Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 9.13.00 PM.png