Remember the time before the "like" button? Back then, we told Facebook our interests. Our interests were brush strokes that helped fill in the picture of who we are to our friends, the way we used to go to a new friend's home and look at their record collections (when there were records) or their bookshelves (when there were books) to get to know them better through these personal badges. Interests were converted to "likes" when that little button came into our lives. Why the button? Facebook understood that to create value for advertisers, they needed a lightweight, low commitment way to open a communication channel between brands and people.
This is the source of the tension you see as more and more people post that misguided privacy statement telling Facebook not to use their posts for advertising purposes. People expected to join Facebook for its original purpose -- as a connection platform. Now the stream of connection has been crossed with the stream of advertising. Those of us who remember "Ghostbusters" know what happens when you cross the streams: You get the gooey remains of the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man all over your community.
The problem, in most cases, is that brands aren't inherently likable and very few are worthy of being proudly displayed as badges. As the flow of sponsored communication increases, people are becoming more reluctant to "like" a brand and unleash a tide of what I call "newsfeed pollution." Though it is true that "recommendations from friends" is a top reason for purchase, people are often embarrassed that a brand they "liked" is using their implied recommendation in ads across their networks ("I don't love them, I just wanted the coupon"). One industry friend of mine refers to Facebook as "that CRM program I never meant to join."
So what is a brand to do? Social holds such incredible promise, but we don't want to be crashing someone's party and talking to strangers about how we're best buddies with other guests who are a little embarrassed we showed up. Here are six things you can act on today (and one thing Facebook should consider) to be a good brand citizen.
Ask people to "like" content not companies
People share content more readily than they sign up for a stream of brand chatter. Content still works as a badge. Content is happy just being shared and does not ask for anything more. You'll have to create more solid, not-overly-promotional content and spread it with a light hand. You'll have to always seek new audiences, because to "like" content is not necessarily to join your umbrella program. Though people "liked" Red Bull in large numbers after the space jump, many more people "liked" the space jump and talked about Red Bull without joining anything.
Expect your brand page to listen better than it talks
Increasingly, the Facebook Edgerank algorithm prevents your page posts from hitting the newsfeeds of all the people who you've gotten to "like" you. Perhaps Facebook wants you to "earn" less media so you'll buy more. But if you are getting traffic to your page you have an opportunity to analyze what types of posts (subject matter, photos, text, and videos) garner the most engagement (comments, shares, "likes," and positive sentiment). This will inform your editorial strategy and how you promote content through paid means or through non Facebook channels.
Don't offer coupons and deals in exchange for "likes"
Here is a quick personal story: My dad was coming over to babysit my four year old. Because he didn't really know how to relate to this strange creature, he walked into the house hiding behind a lollipop. What do you think my son saw -- his grandfather or the candy? What did he expect the next time my dad came over? Buying "likes" trains a very bad behavior and cheapens the relationship. Worse, it spoils the chance to build relationships in this platform for everyone. If you continue to communicate with the folks that didn't immediately "unlike" you after the coupon came, you better be holding another coupon, which is not the relationship you want with your consumer.
Target ads in less intrusive ways
People accept ads as part of life, and research shows they take them in and frequently act on them even if they don't click. Even those little Facebook ads. Heighten the relevance of those ads by targeting your audience's interests. Some companies will help you facilitate this type of ad buying against the stated historical interests. Another will target ads based on what topics a target audience is interested in right now. Instead of looking at your audience as monolithic -- say, men who like sports -- figure out what other things male sports fans enjoy. You can ascertain this through your intuition or through a technology, and meet these fans with a compelling ad that aligns with their interests.
Make creative that's as dynamic as the audience
Facebook creative doesn't require an agency, weeks of your time, and tens of thousands of dollars to make. So slice up the audience into the many sub-groups they actually are and address creative creatively. You can sell more beer to a Jets fan by talking about the Jets (or moaning about the Jets) than you can by saying, "Hey football fan!" While the creative is easy to make, optimizing it is hard and it's likely you will need help -- from a large internal team or an outside technology -- to manage dynamic creative to its best and most efficient performance.
Stop obsessing about the dollar value of a "like"
Relationships aren't usually denominated in dollars. I'm sorry, but if you only think of what people are worth to you, you don't need to be in social. You should also be thinking about what you are worth to them. I know we are talking about advertising, and ROI is legitimately important, but it is intrinsic to social spaces that value runs in two directions and you get non-revenue value from your audience that "likes" can't measure. What is it worth to you to learn something from your consumer? What is it worth to you to have an army of advocates you can mobilize if your brand has a PR crisis? What is it worth to you to be seen behaving as a three dimensional citizen in the world rather than merely as a logo and a product?
In conclusion, here is one thing Facebook should consider:
In addition to Edgerank, give users more control of brand relationships
The "like" button is a blunt instrument that does one thing -- it opens a door between a person and the thing they "liked." Most of the time, nothing walks through that door, as with a "liked" piece of content. Sometimes, it's a deluge, as with notifications that other people have "liked" or commented on the same thing you did. Edgerank is a good thing insofar as it helps place the potentially most interesting content in your newsfeed. However, it would be great to have more control in both directions. If I "like" a brand, I should be able to set the throttle so that I see everything it posts, nothing it posts, or somewhere in the middle.
Think about how these thoughts apply to you and how you can use them to help both consumers and brands settle into the kinds of relationships that benefit both.
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