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.