Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

I Like You, But Just Not in That Way

Part 7 in a series introducing my new book, The End of Business as Usualthis is not content from the book, this series serves as its prequel.

You like me, you really like me!

Not so fast.

Businesses are using social media to earn Likes and Follows, engage with customers, and the more progressive brands, are extracting insights from social and interest graphs to improve and personalize experiences and products. The quest for a larger install base of social consumers is admirable and quite honestly, necessary in a new era of empowered consumerism. It is the intentions of businesses that I question as I believe that their vision and interpretation of acts of Liking and Following are clouded.

The importance of the 3F’s (friends, fans, and followers) does not lie in the initial conversion from consumer to connected consumer. Counting numbers as a metric here isn’t helpful or usefull. In fact, it’s misleading and potentially distracts any business from long-term success. The value in the connection is in understanding not only why a conversion took place, but learning about expectations and also studying behavior and preferences to deliver against them in social networks and in the real world.

Begin the Beguine: What does fan really mean?

Let’s begin the beguine. While the Beguine was a popular dance in the 1930s, it is derived from the French word béguin, which means infatuation. Certainly, infatuation is one way to describe the love affair between brand marketers and social media. And since we’re on the subject of definitions, part of the challenge that faces brands moving forward is how they conveniently define the words friends, fans and followers. In my work, I’ve long observed that sometimes businesses take those words quite literally.

In June 2011, ExactTarget published a revealing study that shed light on the discrepancy between how brands and consumers interpret the act of liking. For example, when you hear the word fan, connotations of loyalty, advocacy, and passion come to mind. But, for many consumers, clicking Like isn’t a profession of affinity as much as it is a reflection of support. In some cases, the gesture is merely a move to take advantage of an offer, contest or promotion.

According to ExactTarget, only 42% of active Facebook users view the act of a “Like” as a declaration of their devotion or support. On the other side of the coin however, 33% disagree with a Like equating to fandom. The other 25% aren’t quite sure what to think. Finding the meaning of Like is not unattainable though. Understanding what it means to different customers can only improve programming, service and engagement strategies. The reality is that people are actively Liking brands and many know exactly what they expect from the connection. Other consumers who do not know why they do so or what they expect will soon learn once they feel stream fatigue from the lack of focus in the content that flows through their timelines.


Of those polled, 45% have Liked a company on Facebook and 44% have Liked something posted by a company. It is when they were asked why that the study took on an entirely new level of relevance. The meaning of Like comes down to context and currency. First, context represents the situation, conditions, incentives, and intentions of how, when, and where the consumer is faced with the prospect of Liking. Second, Like is a form of social currency as it says to the recipient as well as to those to whom we’re connected, “I formally approve, support, or endorse this…” Call it Likenomics if you will, but until we understand why Likes take place in and around our brand and competitors, it’s impossible to understand its economic impact beyond superficial numbers.

ExactTarget also found that age is a factor when defining the meaning of Like. Younger consumers, those aged 15-24, reported that they did so as a form of self-expression and public endorsement of a brand. There was also a desire to obtain coupons or deals as a result of the connection.

Consumers 25 and up expect something of value in exchange for their Like. They are not interested in general conversations and are not afraid to unlike brands that fail to deliver discounts, relevant product information, or exclusive offers. Interestingly, when consumers Like something outside of Facebook, in many cases, it simply serves as a bookmark to review something later, perhaps to also share with friends. However, consumers are quick to note here, that this action is not indicative of any form of consent for marketing.

When we examine the demographic make-up of Likenomics, we can gain greater clarity into the activity behind the numbers. The majority of those aged 15-17, 55-64, and 65 and older do not Like brands with 46%, 55% and 69% respectively not following any business in social networks.  There are other age groups however, where following brands is just a way of digital life.

Consumers who Like 1-10 brands:

15-17 = 39%
18-24 = 51%
25-34 = 46%
35-44 = 53%
45-54 = 51%
55-64 = 41%
65+ = 27%

Consumers who Like 11 or more:

15-17 = 16%
18-24 = 23%
25-34 = 30%
35-44 = 21%

45-54 = 11%
55-64 = 3%
65+ = 4%

To earn a coveted spot within the social graph of your customer is indeed precious. To be one of 10 among the majority of users seems almost like winning the lottery. However, it’s not so much a game of chance as it is a reward for consistently delivering value. For those brands that earn a Like and engage beyond conversations, marketing, and elementary discounts, consumers are willing to follow you, even if the number of brands they follow soars above 11.

Those who Like 11 or more brands expect a reward in exchange for their endorsement.  ExactTarget learned that they are driven by tangible value including exclusive content, sales, and events as well as the possibility of discounts or promotions. In return, frequent Likers will display the company’s name in their profile, sharing brand information with friends, in addition to interacting with the brand.

“I expect to be given advance notice of upcoming deals, or an ‘insiders’ deal on products or services that the normal public will not receive.” – Leif (Male, age 23)

Of those consumers who Like at least one brand, 58% also expect to gain access to exclusive content, events or sales. Another 58% expect to receive discounts or promotions through Facebook. 47% expect to receive updates about the company, person, or organization in the News Feed. Consumers are opting in, but what they’re expecting to receive is most likely different than the editorial calendar or engagement program that you have planned through the end of the year. It’s time to realign marketing with the rest of the organization to introduce value into the brand stream unlike how information is broadcast through traditional channels today.

Permission Not Granted

What’s clear is that a Like doesn’t equate to permission-based marketing if communication doesn’t deliver the value expected. In fact, 39% of Facebook users that Like at least one brand stated that brands should never interpret the Like as permission to post marketing messages that would appear in the News Feed. However, to the benefit of brands, the majority feel that it’s sometimes OK to post marketing messages. Scratching your head? That’s what you should be doing just about now. If you’re not thinking about it, then your social marketing efforts are unfortunately an extension of a confused approach. Remember one thing here, your definition of Like and how consumers regard the act of Liking are contrasting.

“‘Liking’ a brand is too casual an action for marketers to assume that I have enough interest to justify accessing my personal information. If they want that information, they should ask for it another way.” —Jason (Male, age 25)

Outside of posting irrelevant content that may appear in the News Feed of a consumer, mining data without permission is the quickest way to not only lose a customer, but also lose their trust. Yet, when consumers Like a brand page, brands may misinterpret this action as permission to extract personal information about friends and friends of friends to personalize marketing. Overall, 56% of survey respondents indicated that marketers should not access public profile information even after a Like. For those businesses that seek deeper insights into consumer preferences and behavior, consider developing an app. Before you do however, consider the value that you will offer in exchange for priceless information that consumers connections will offer through a trusting act of opting-in.

The things that are often difficult or elusive to hear are the very pearls of wisdom that help us learn how to learn and grow. Without seeking information, we build an important strategy upon a house of cards. When asked why they do not Like brands on Facebook, 54% of consumers did not want to be bombarded with messages or advertisements. 45% wished to keep their profile information away from marketers. 31% opted not to become an accessory to spam, choosing not to feed irrelevant content into the News Feeds of their friends.

How does this affect your strategy as it’s designed today?

Before we walk away with an interpretation of these stats and ideas for developing a new engagement strategy, take a moment to heed the advice of your customers.

“Give me information about sales and events that are not broadcast to the general public. It makes me feel special and endears me to the brand.” —Sue (Female, age 26)

“I ‘Like’ a lot of different brands, and if they’re all constantly posting then it’s overwhelming.” —Aaron, 23, Houston, TX

Here’s what to do next:

1) Assume that there are great elements to your strategy and also that you’re missing opportunities.

2) Learn what it is your customers expect or prefer from engagement within social networks and deliver against expectations and aspirations.

3) Don’t confuse a Like with a traditional opt-in or for permission to market at them.

4) Don’t over step your bounds. Create a two-way street.

5) Don’t create content for the sake of maintaining an active pipeline or for staying top of mind. Communicate based on opportunities, need, or to improve experiences…nothing less, nothing more.

6) Reward your brand graph for loyalty, participation and advocacy.

7) Don’t host contests or campaigns just to boost numbers. In fact, don’t focus on growing the install base of your brand page. Deliver value and grow based on value.

8 ) When in doubt, ask!

Order The End of Business as Usual today…

Part 1 – Digital Darwinism, Who’s Next
Part 2 – Social Media’s Impending Flood of Customer Unlikes and Unfollows
Part 3 – Social Media Customer Service is a Failure!
Part 4 – I think we need some time apart, it’s not me, it’s you
Part 5 – We are the 5th P: People
Part 6 – The State of Social Media 2011: Social is the new normal

Image Source: DissociatedPress

56 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “I Like You, But Just Not in That Way”

  1. Nick Sweeney says:

    “[Liking a Page] is merely a move to take advantage of an offer, contest or promotion.”

    Amen. SO many companies just think that gathering ‘Likes’ like collecting Pokemon makes them ‘social’ (or worse, relevant).

    Most times, people just want a great deal so they can have an excuse to shop at your store. No, they don’t want to be your ‘friend’ or be marketed to; they just want a deal. The trick is to give them a deal, then WOW them when they come into redeem it.

    It also helps to be able to track that deal and analyze what’s working and what’s not. That’s what we do at  @CoupSmart:twitter. Give your customers what they want and THEN give them something unexpected once they show up at your business.

    THAT’S how they become actual fans. Actual human to human interaction. Imagine that – “new” media ain’t so “new” after all.

  2. Ypicommunications says:

    Great article, Brian. Very insightful! These are tools that should be used by all brands/businesses. A ‘like’ doesn’t give brands license to attack the consumer with “social junk mail”. Listening then acting accordingly is still the key in Social Media. 

  3. Harrison636 says:

    I was first intrigued by this post because of the title, so two thumbs up for being creative and catching a college student’s eye. Secondly, I was attracted to go on and read this article after I saw the graphic at the top of the page. Once again, very clever.
    I wanted to give my two cents as a college student in the age demographic of 15-24 years old. The statistics shown here are so true and I wante dto comment on them. In the early part of this post, you mentioned that my age group will “Like” something on Facebook because it’s a form of self expression of brand/product endorsement. I currently serve as the Director of PR on an Executive Board for Fraternity and Sorority Life, and I shamelessly promote the fan Facebook page through my personal page in hopes that others will see and “Like” it too.
    This stat is completely true and my age group  really does post and re-post items on facbook for the sole purpose of telling thier world “Hey! I like this, you should too.”

  4. This is brilliant.  Love the concept of “likeanomics”.  And the generational stats are so interesting and thought provoking.  It seems that a lot of “liking” evolves into a sense of entitlement.  Hey, I “liked” you so you should show me some love (like) too.  I wonder if this holds more true if the origin of the “like” was a promotion.  I’m a fundraiser, and we’ve known for years that folks who give in exchange for a premium are less likely to continue to give unless you offer them continuing premiums.  Very interesting stuff.  Thanks!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hey Brian – good take on an important topic.  I agree that a “like” definitely isn’t an implied endorsement or an offer to blast that endorsement across a social network. Many likes on Facebook are fleeting in nature, or responses to contests or promotions. To me, Likeonomics as a term describes something much bigger than Facebook … in fact, it’s the working title for my next book ( I describe it outside of Facebook as the idea that now our personal affinity and relationships with one another are driving all kinds of behaviour, from what we buy to what we believe. Our culture is one where what we truly “like” can be broadcast further and in more ways than ever before. That’s interesting as a cultural phenomenon and one that I think will last much longer than Facebook’s popularization of the term “like” – and their recent move away from the term as you can “verb” an “activity” instead.

    • briansolis says:

      Well done Rohit…First, it’s great to hear from you! I don’t see enough of you these days. We should go to dinner soon. Your book is going to be a winner…can’t wait to read it. Fundamentally, businesses have an unprecedented opportunity to tap into social currency in a way where they not only reap from it as its spent by others, but also earn it based on how they engage within social communities. The ability to plug into an audience with an audience of audiences extends reach and it also extends value. This is why businesses now more than ever, need to reassess their value, mission, and vision as it applies to a more connected consumer.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks, we are definitely overdue to connect.  Let me know if you’re ever in NY or DC and I’ll be sure to let you know the next time I pass through SF … all the best and good luck with your new book as well!

  6. Hey Brian,

    I found your post to be very insightful.  Thank you for bringing to light that Social Media Marketing is unlike regular Marketing.  People have become so numb to ads thanks to the radio/T.V./billboards so the last thing you should do is bombard your customers with even more ads.  I have a question, though.  Why is it that people “Like” large companies on Facebook even though those companies do nothing but advertise on Facebook??  Do you think that consumers have accepted that they will be flooded with advertisements anyways so they just “Like” the company just for the sake of “Liking”?  I only ask because I am a Social Media Coordinator for a small company and it drives me nuts every time I see a Fortune 100 company use social media platforms to advertise and not engage with their “fans”….

  7. This is a well written, well researched post, Brian.  Nice job!

  8. Cynthia C says:

    I love this info and it makes perfect sense about the demos with the most buying power, they are thinking more about those relationships. Can’t wait to buy the book!

  9. Ramona D says:

    I found your excerpt to be very helpful.  I actually don’t “Like” Facebook at all, but I’m taking classes on social media marketing and of course Facebook is the big jewel in the social media crown to most companies. It’s funny to see how many of them throw up a page and try to entice people to “like” them without really knowing what they’re doing.  I think your book should be required reading for any company/person already swimming or thinking about diving into the social media pool. Thanks!

  10. Hey Brian,

    Some awesome value and facts that I will take away and USE..I have made a post up today which includes your post hope you like it the trackback should be on the way shortly and again thank you for you awesome post today.


  11. People are very addicted to facebook because it can make people that are in the far places to in touch like their are in the same place and facebook is the worldwide phenomena.

  12. People are very addicted to facebook because it can make people that are in the far places to in touch like their are in the same place and facebook is the worldwide phenomena.

  13. Marieg says:

    Brian, I wish your emails would come in with a tantalizing subject to match your stellar posts. “PR2.0” is not compelling and gives out cues which many of us are averse to i.e. “spin”. This also means i am regretfully late to open your emails which i always cherish. But…I am human and to get my scant attention the bait must be hooked.

    You offer so much more and “PR2.0” is so limited. Mind you I myself am stuck with Branding2.0 since 2006! But I don’t use that to draw–it is merely an address now.


    Marie Germain

  14. Jenn Yin Wong says:

    I think your post is incredibly accurate. I personally am incredibly picky about “like”-ing a brand. I don’t expect anything, I just do it because I actually do like the brand. Or if I work for them, in which case I already kind of liked them to begin with. It’s the same odd thing with other companies and agencies that aren’t really selling you a product or service wanting you to like their page. I never really understood that.

    A lot of people think the number of “like”-s a page gets is the golden ticket to getting you more work. It might work for some people, but I don’t know about most.

  15. webpromo says:

    I was suggested this website by my cousin.

  16. Jon Anscher says:

    The meaning of a “Like” is a very interesting subject. I like the thoughts you’ve shared on this. I myself don’t really know what a “Like” means. There are some things I want to follow. Some I want to support. And some I just “Like” because a friend asked me to. I’m curious to see how sharing tools like that develop in the near future.

  17. Very interesting. Clicking the “like” button is such an easy thing to do, but there are so many things behind it! The chart of “expectations behind liking a company” and “reasons for not liking a company on facebook” seems very useful. If you want to promote your company of brand, you should definately understand these backgrounds of users.  

  18. Stanleyrao says:

    Your post is true! There are so many things behind this like button.

  19. Kathryn Beck says:

    Woah. This post was chalk-full of great information. As a past Social Media Director for Ethos Magazine, and creator of all Ethos social media websites and events page on its website, I must agree that I was absolutely looking for likes and clicks and re-tweets. But as our magazine started to flourish and we developed daily online content, and my boss wanted me to share this content via twitter and facebook several times a day (alongside our event posts) I realized that we were not gaining, but LOSING friends, followers, and clicks. I find the statistic that 54% of facebook users choose not to like a company for fear of being bombarded with messages and advertisements incredibly interesting as well. It makes sense, I don’t follow businesses for that exact reason, but then again, maybe there should be a better system in place for business pages, notifications, and calendars. 

  20. Wow. This data is a huge help with my business.


  21. Tess says:

    Hey, good to find soomene who agrees with me. GMTA.

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