Who Likes you, baby

By Laura Haight

Originally published as the Digital Maven column in the Upstate Business Journal on Dec. 14, 2012


In the words of the estimable Bette Midler: "You gotta have friends!" Or in the case of your business and mine, Likers. Facebook Likers that is.

Or do you?

If your business has a Facebook Page, you probably check with some degree of regularity to see how many Likers you have. It's a slow and arduous process because you aren't selling widgets here, you are building relationships. And what good are 1000 Likers if they don't have a true affinity for your business or service?

Gaining Facebook Likers is like dating - without the movies and meals.

So before you go out and hire a marketing firm that promises to bring you 1000 Likers, be warned that there is an army of inexpensive labor around the world ready to hire on to like pages all day long. But that doesn’t make them a customer, client or advocate for your business.

For some types of businesses, Facebook Likes make sense, giving you a ready pool of interested consumers you can direct-market to. Retail shops, restaurants, bars and coffee shops all come to mind. For business-to-business brands, the value of a Liker is less immediate and a bit harder to quantify.

According to Facebook, there were 42 million Pages as of March 2012. The average Facebook user likes 4-6 pages each month. When someone likes a page, its postings are automatically added to their news feed. That’s good and bad. Because as the user likes more things, you are competing for position in their news feed with more and more Pages - many of which may be competitors.

Like-gates -- campaigns that offer coupons but require a Like to pass through to access it -- are popular methods of getting numbers up, but how committed are those Likers to your business or product? To some business, these are sleazy bait-and-switch schemes, but some very large and very reputable companies use them.

Still, amassing large numbers of Likers doesn’t guarantee a real “engagement” with them. For that, they have to get that actively involved in your page - reading and sharing your content, bringing their friends to your page, and posting content of their own - photos, videos, updates.

So who decides where you land in the coveted news feed? To some degree the user, but mostly it’s Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm, which determines the relevance, interest and importance of posts and positions them accordingly in each users’ feed. Bald-faced marketing ploys (“Like my page and get $1 off your next cup of coffee”) are identified and treated like email spam. So your content needs to be more interesting and relevant to keep you at the top of the feed chain - even once you get a Liker.

On average, Facebook says any post you place is likely to reach only 16% of your fans. In May, it instituted promoted posts which they spin as a way to reach more of your target market. It’s also a way for the now-publicly traded Facebook to monitize its massive audience.

Some small businesses (see Wall St Journal article for this info: http://goo.gl/2Jp6Q) say this has put them at a disadvantage with bigger competitors boasting larger budgets. What used to be “free” (excluding, of course, the time you put into maintaining it) is now a real-dollar marketing expense.

And what is the real value of a Liker? The Ritz-Carlton’s (167,000 Likers) Chris Gabaldon, chief marketing officer, admitted to Business Week that “direct revenue (gained from social media) is still undetermined.” While some companies, like Diamond Candles of Durham, NC (204,000 Likers), have used sophisticated metrics to track social activity against Web traffic and revenue to reveal the ROI of social marketing. In their case, they found each Like was worth a penny, but each “advocacy” -- where a Liker recommended a product -- was worth $1.07. In their first year, owner Justin Winter has said, they did $1 million in revenue with no paid outbound marketing and a combination of sponsored reviews, Facebook and other social media.

So, is Facebook worth the effort? A qualified yes. You have a spot in the largest single internet hangout in the world. But of itself, that’s not enough. You are putting time and effort into developing content and making posts. Make sure your Facebook page is part of a business and marketing strategy, that you know what you want to get from it and are tracking your results on a regular basis to see if your efforts are paying off.

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Laura Haight is the president of Portfolio (www.portfoliosc.com), a communications company based in Greenville. She is a former IT executive, journalist and newspaper editor. Connect with the Digital Maven on Facebook/theDigitalMaven and share ideas, comments, and suggestions.