Are Facebook “Likes” a Good Metric? Or a Metric at All?


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LikeSocial media has become a line item on virtually every agenda for marketing strategy meetings. There’s no denying that. But the questions reverberating from CMO’s and senior executive come down to ROI-a concern that is particularly bristly during tight economic times, as marketing budgets have in many cases been slashed the hardest. Yet, despite the fact that the ROI questions remain largely unanswered, many marketing departments have conceded to the indisputable impact of social media in consumer lives-and are shifting a larger chunk of their budgets toward social media, whether they can neatly analyze the return or not.

There is no standard set of KPI’s for social campaigns, when it comes to Facebook, the arena’s biggest outlet, the one unanimous metric is picked up in terms of “Likes”. In fact, some brands have been so captivated by the concept of accumulating Facebook “likes”, they have spawned entire multi-channel campaigns around the idea. In February, Heineken celebrated its one millionth “like” by creating a street team of “Heineken Huggers”, attractive women that darted in and out of bars hugging Heineken drinkers to thank them for “liking” their beer (catch the video campaign here). And while attaining a million “likes” is definitely a noteworthy achievement, I have to stop and ask, as every good marketer should: so what?

Ad agencies, PR firms, and internet optimization shops, all fighting over who owns the social media space, like to boast about their campaign successes in terms of “likes.” But what does a “like” really mean? Is a “like” really synonymous with a fan? Not necessarily, and there is the problem that’s too often overlooked. The fact of the matter is, all it takes to “like” a page is a click-a singular click that in no way verifies an ongoing consumer relationship. The reasons for the “like” can differ drastically, as can the outcome.

Companies are employing all kinds of strategies and promotions to encourage “likes”, but those strategies and promotions can completely change what that “like” means. A fan that goes out of his or her way to find the brand’s Facebook page on their own, browse the content on that page, and then “likes” the page as a reaction to the content is an ideal experience. A company can make inferences to draw insights from this kind of transaction. But what if a user “likes” a page only to get a discount or promo code, or to “unlock” exclusive content (which he or she may or may not have been interested in thereafter)? These “likes” mean something too…but something different.

People use social media to express their interests and personalities with their network. Many ofFlowers the interests they list are meant to reflect their identity, and they “like” certain pages to make a statement about themselves. They may “like” the page of their employer, or favorite sports team. These types of close connections are highly valuable to a firm using social media. But let me give you a different scenario. On Mother’s Day, I got an instant 15% off just for “liking” page. As a huge online shopper, before I make a purchase on any e-commerce site, I first check out the web for any special deals-I go to online coupon sites to check for codes, and if that fails, I find the company’s Facebook page to check for any promos there. So yes, I clicked “like”. But did I really like it? Well, not really. I forgot about the page and never visited it again, and the next time I revised my personal Facebook page, I removed it from my page because I didn’t feel I had no affinity for the company and didn’t particularly care to endorse it on my profile.

On the other hand, had I been too detached to even remove the page from my Likes, as many fans predictably are, the company can still think about success in other ways: the company has still attained a direct communication path with the fan, even if he or she isn’t necessarily much of a brand advocate at the moment. Thus the company has future opportunities to connect, engage and win the loyalty and business of the fan-using a channel that is cheaper, more direct, and usually more engaging than alternative channels, such as direct mail or e-mail. Furthermore, the dispassionate fan still ads to the number of Facebook subscribers the brand can boast-contributing to credibility with other users and visitors to the brand’s fan page. Additionally, while the “like” of a detached fan may not accurately convey their own level of affinity for the brand, but can still positively influence those in his/her network. The fan may unwittingly serve as a brand advocate by displaying a brand connection that displays on both their personal profile, as we as sakinafbtheir friends’ newsfeeds.

So am I saying “likes” are a useless metric? Quite the contrary. The simple, singular transaction of “liking” a page can tell an entire story about a consumer. But that story is different for every consumer, as well as each transaction, company, and industry. The bottom line is that “likes” are a metric, but they are not a constant, and have no universal applicability. Instead, they comprise a metric that should be seen as a constantly-changing value that each company must define-and continually re-define-for itself. The analytics involved in doing so with any level of accuracy are complex, and because of its constantly changing nature, forecasting and ROI analysis using the “like” metric is a challenge. Social media strategists can compensate for some of this ambiguity by enriching Facebook content with lots of opportunities for micro-conversions.

For brands that are intent on a fully entrenched social media strategy, customer engagement and analytics agencies can help implement and define as much convertible content as possible, and use complex propensity models and analytics to predict and measure results-and answer the big ROI questions. Macy’s, a leader in the digital space, has used advanced research and analytics to develop its Facebook content, which is also well-synced with its website and mobile presence. But for brands that are just getting their feet wet with social media, or are restricted in their spending, measuring “likes” is a fine starting point in terms of a metric-as long as their highly nuanced nature and many caveats are well understood. But for now, with other digital channels abound, I tend to I encourage these clients to think of Facebook as more of an awareness, branding and listening tool than a sales channel.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Sakina Walsh
Sakina Walsh is Sr. Manager of Strategic Planning at Quaero. With a strong background in digital strategy and multi-channel consulting, Sakina brings a deep expertise in the various nuances of the online customer experience to Quaero's Strategy group. Her insights help clients answer key business challenges, increase revenue, and create industry-leading interactive experiences.


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