The Facebook Like Button: What It Really Means and How Much It’s Worth


Twitter Trending Topics have been a great source of inspiration for me as of late. Today, while on Twitter, I saw these topics:

Twitter Trending Topics FB LIKES

The topic that captured my attention: #5reasonsIHateFaceBook (though, I admit that Waka Flocka Flame did catch my eye for about 0.5 seconds: No Hands!) I perused the tweets that used this hashtag, and came across one that I thought was especially interesting.

Too Thirsty For Likes

I’m assuming this person is referring to annoying, unnecessary posts like this one:

Facebook Zanda

(By the way, Zanda is going to need a lot more than 3,615 likes if he [she?] wants to succeed in the competitive entertainment industry where cats like Jinxy can be trained to flush toilets.)

But I decided to look at this case of like-thirstiness from a marketing perspective. Are businesses too thirsty for likes? Are they too focused on boosting the number of Facebook fans and not focused enough on building a community of engaged, interested, participatory fans? Just like I would doubt the fact that Facebook likes are going to get Xanadu Zanda any genuine, substantial fame, sometimes I’m skeptical of measuring the success of a social media marketing campaign by number of likes and fans.

I wanted to deconstruct the ubiquitous yet seemingly intangible and elusive Facebook like: why people click it; how important it is to a social media marketing campaigns success; and what the connection between the number of likes a Facebook page has and profit really is.

Likes on Likes on Likes

I think Facebook likes come into play in social media marketing in three ways:

1. Facebook fan-gating

Facebook Fan Gating

Fan-gating is requiring people to like a Facebook page in order to access or “unlock” the content. It’s an easy way to increase the number of page likes, if people think the page has content worth unlocking.

2. Generating engagement

Facebook Crystal Light

REI Facebook Like

I think the assumption with posts like these is that they’re an easy, quick, sure-fire way to prompt fan participation. Fans respond to most to posts like fill-in-the-blanks or questions that ask for one word answers, because they can be responded to quickly and simply. It would seem that the same would hold true for the posts of the “Click LIKE if…” variety.

3. Social sharing buttons

Social Sharing Button

A multitude of blog posts and articles feature the Facebook Like social sharing button, which allows people to broadcast their love for said post on Facebook.

Whenever I like something on Facebook, whether it’s a business page or a post, my friends will receive an update in their news feed informing them of my like. Thus, a like can generate free publicity.

Why People Click the Like Button

Clearly, companies want people to click the Like button. But, as all the Twihards who were hoping K. Stew could treat R. Patz right know, wanting something to happen isn’t enough to actually make it happen. So, what do brands need to keep in mind when trying to boost the number of likes on their Facebook pages? What exactly prompts people to click like?

According to an infographic from Get Satisfaction:

  • 36.9% of people follow a brand because they want access to special offers/deals
  • 32.9% follow because they are current customers
  • 18.2% follow because a brand provides interesting or entertaining content
  • 6.2% follow because they are friends of the brand
  • 5% follow because they want service, support, or product news.

Quantifying Likes

When companies measure the success of their social media marketing campaigns, they assign a large value to the number of likes their pages have received. According to Pagemodo:

  • 60% of marketers measure success by the number of friends/followers/likes an account has
  • 39% measure success by the number of people sharing, forwarding, retweeting, or posting brand content

Apparently like-thirstiness is a real, diagnosable social-media-marketing phenomenon. More marketers deem likes, rather than engagement, as the hallmark of an effective social media campaign. Is this wise? Should likes be the gold standard of Facebook achievement?

Research from Get Satisfaction suggests that when people follow a brand on Facebook, they are more likely to consider the brand when in the market for the product, buy a product/service from the brand, and recommend the brand to others at least sometimes.

A study from Syncapse looked at the average amount spent by Facebook fans compared to non-fans for 20 major brands like McDonald’s, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, and Nike. They found that Facebook fans spend more money than non-fans across all 20 brands.

The Caveats

Clearly, acquiring Facebook likes is important. A Facebook fan is a valuable customer, because they will shell out cash for products and services. They also appear to have a stronger level of brand affinity. Likes look like an apt measurement of social media marketing success, which actually greatly surprises me. I think that the ubiquity of likes makes them appear slightly cheap. Liking things on Facebook has become so common that it no longer seems meaningful. Also, commenting on a post or writing on someone’s wall takes thought and effort; however, how much can one say with a click of a button? Apparently, a lot.

Yet, I think there are a few caveats when it comes to the small icon that purportedly has big marketing power.

Why Engagement Might Trump Likes

First of all, prioritizing Facebook likes over fan engagement is risky. Likes are an integral part of the Facebook experience; they have become a staple of the social networking site. Consequently, anyone with a fan page has likes on the brain. Trying to conduct a Facebook campaign without taking into account the like button is like trying to listen to the radio without hearing “Call Me Maybe”: it can’t be done.

But, I think that some pages focus too intensely on getting new likes, and in the process, forget about engaging the fans whom they already have. I’m not lambasting likes; obviously they are important, because they boost credibility and social proof, and a page with very few likes obviously has a very limited sphere of influence. But, if a page has several hundred likes, and all of those have come from uninterested, unengaged people, I would question how valuable those likes really are.

Consider this example: Mashable points out that Starbucks has 31 million fans (26 million at the time Mashable wrote the article), but they’re engagement rate is extremely low: 0.28% Likes and 0.02% comments.

What I’m getting at (and I’ve written on this before) is that social media is more about quality than quantity. A few hundred interested, loyal, and participatory fans is far more valuable than thousands of fans who just clicked like to access a one-time deal but have no real enthusiasm for the company. Social media can be a valuable tool for crowdsourcing, gauging public sentiment, collecting popular opinions, and monitoring conversations, but that can only be done when a page has an active fan base. Likes aren’t the be all, end all. Brian Solis explains this extremely well. He says:

“Facebook’s like button is often confused as an ‘Opt In’ by marketers. All too frequently people who have clicked the like button are thought of as a captive community where customers have opted in to marketing and engagement.”

Solis points out that likes are not always a guaranteed sign of brand loyalty or endorsement. Facebook likes can kick start a social media campaign and get it off the ground by giving companies an audience, but making the audience interested and holding their attention is what sustains a campaign.

I don’t think social media campaigns have to consist of either or stipulations: either likes or engagement. Companies need to focus on likes and engagement: capturing the interest of the fans a page already has is just as important as amassing new fans. So, when it comes to like-thirstiness, while it seems like the only cure to social media dehydration is a thirst-quenching, replenishing drink of Facebook likes, a second option might be sparking the interest of current fans and encouraging them to start chatting.

How Much Is a Facebook Fan Worth?

Another Facebook-like dilemma has to do with the financial value of likes. Researchers trying to determine the monetary value of an individual Facebook fan have come up with vastly different answers. Virtrue estimates that a Facebook fan is worth $3.60. Syncapse says that the average value of an individual Facebook fan is $136.38 but this can swing all the way up to $270 or all the way down to $0.

These extremes in value make it complicated for any company using likes to measure social media ROI. One person might like a page, and this person could be worth next to nothing monetarily. He/she might like the page only to access a one-time deal with no plans of long-term endorsement. Another person might like the same page and have a greater worth, because he/she is a loyal customer.

The problem is there’s no way to determine whether the new fan a page receives is economically valuable. Thus, likes might be by and large relative.

Kathie Lee and Hoda Want Your Likes

When I was collecting research for this post and trying to assess the prevalence of like thirstiness, I found a Facebook fan page that is at the moment extremely eager for likes. On a scale of hydrated to parched, Kathie Lee and Hoda are beyond thirsty. (A side effect of imbibing too much vino, perhaps?) They’ve begged for more likes during the fourth hour of Today, and the MSNBC blog has posted on the topic twice within three days.

On July 17th, the Today show Facebook page reached one million likes. KLG and Hoda are desperately trying to catch up, though their page currently has only 430,000 likes.

Maybe if their show looked more like this, more people would like them on Facebook.

About The Author:Olivia Roat
Olivia Roat is an inbound marketing consultant at Mainstreethost - a Buffalo, NY search marketing firm / web design company. Connect with Olivia: Google+ | Twitter | Linkedin