Community Management, Digital Marketing, Social Media Tools, Blogging and Content Creation, Integrated Marketing and Media

Ra Ra Wrong. How Facebook’s Cheerleaders Are Blowing Smoke

Part 1 of a 3-Part Rant

I realize it’s in the best interests of Facebook, the media, application developers, and sometimes even brands themselves to concoct pseudo-science that “proves” that people that “like” your company are instantly turned into a zombie army of influential advocates. But it’s simply not true.

facebook is blowing smokeDespite a pile of coverage in the business press that would lead you to conclude the opposite, Facebook fan pages are not magic marketing potions. Or frankincense. Or even myrrh.

The most recent among these breathless accounts was an item in Adweek recently with the headline “Facebook Fan Pages Pay Off.” The article reported on a new study from global ad agency DDB that found that 92% of Facebook fans would likely recommend the liked product to a friend.

That statistic seems to make the case that Facebook fan pages are a fantastically effective marketing channel. And I won’t debate that point. But what I can’t abide, and what I want to put a stop to right now, is the notion that Facebook fan pages are a cause of advocacy. Instead, Facebook fan page “likes” are primarily the manifestation of advocacy that already exists.

In almost all cases, people “like” companies with which they’ve transacted. Why would you become a fan of something you’ve never experienced? Think about your own use of Facebook. How often have you “liked” brands that you don’t already like in the real world? Rarely, if ever.

In fact, the most interesting statistic in the survey isn’t that 92% of Facebook fans would recommend the brand, it’s that 8% wouldn’t. Who are the 8% that are “liked” the brand but don’t actually like it enough to recommend?

Preaching to the Converted

Predominately, the people that “like” your company on Facebook already like you in the real world. Consequently, your Facebook fan page is just another way to identify, corral, and (hopefully) activate them.

Psychologically then, your Facebook “likers” are eerily similar to your email list, except the Facebook crowd is less valuable on a per-person basis. This is because even though several studies (including DDB’s) show that the number one reason consumers like pages is to access to special offers, the non-deal seekers see their relationship with your Facebook page very differently.

ExactTarget’s research on “Facebook X-Factors” shows that only 30% of Facebook “likers” believe clicking “like” equates to “giving the company permission to market to me”. (disclosure: ExactTarget is a Convince & Convert client)

It makes sense though, doesn’t it? There was much gnashing of teeth when Facebook moved from “fan” to the more grammatically awkward “like”, but in retrospect, they were 100% correct to do so. “Like” much more aptly describes the relationship between brands and people on Facebook.

Like Isn’t a Blood Oath

For most people (~70%), “liking” a brand on Facebook is digital bumper sticking. It’s an expression of personality, preference, and predilection. That doesn’t mean it’s not important, it just means that Facebook fan pages – like email – should be viewed much more as a customer loyalty and retention tactic, than as a customer acquisition tactic.

A quote in the AdWeek article from DDB study leader Catherine Lautier underscores how misleading the “Facebook creates new customers and new sales” brigade can be:

“I was expecting (likers) to be a lot more benefits oriented, versus “I’m joining because I actively want to recommend it to friends.”

But yet, nowhere in the research does it show that consumers “like” brands in order to subsequently advocate on the brand’s behalf. It doesn’t even make the list of top reasons why consumers “like” brands.

And the Rich Get Richer

Ever wonder why “good” companies tend to be better at Facebook than mediocre companies? It’s not technology, or how adept they are at status updates.

It’s because your Facebook fan page is preaching to the choir you’ve already built through other social media, advertising, PR, and most importantly, through great products and killer customer experience.

Facebook fan page success is an effect of being a great company, not a way to become one.

(image by Shutterstock – a Convince & Convert sponsor)

Facebook Comments


  1. says

    How many times have you “Liked” a page on the first visit and then never returned. I have done this countless times. I like a page because i have had a positive experience with that brand somewhere. It may have been offline, it may have been online. Either way, I like the brand to show my support.

    Where most brands drop the ball is that they have a plan to get you to their page and like it. Where they fail to plan is what to do after they have you. They need to find ways to engage, interact, and make you want to spread their gospel.

    It’s no different than a store that runs a sale to get customers in the door but fails to plan methods of retention and repetition. There is so much more than just getting them there.

    The space and the tactics are still evolving, and quickly at that. It’s going to take some time to learn what works and what doesn’t but we’re getting there. Posts like this can help brands learn, if they read it.

  2. says

    You have some great and accurate points here. I particularly love when you say,
    “Facebook fan page success is an effect of being a great company, not a way to become one. ”

    As much as I love that statement, there are exceptions to the rule. I have seen companies shift as a result of the actions & attitudes it requires to have a successful Facebook fan page (or social media strategy in general). So while the statement is still true – sometimes it happens backwards – the company becoming great because of the goal of having a successful SM presence.

    Do you think that is the case? Have you seen companies kind of “give-in” and be great, once they figure out that social media is exposing them?

    • says

      I’ve seen companies get good at social media unexpectedly. Frankly, I’m not sure I’ve seen companies get great at social media unless they were already great companies. That’s because socialbility is ultimately cultural, not programmatic. And thus, the rich ultimately will get richer.

      • says

        I see what you are saying, and maybe the ones I have seen were great companies who did not show it well. In the auto-sales industry it is ingrained in the culture to be solely focused on sell, sell, sell.
        Because I am working in this industry I get to see companies that are great and some that are not. Both want to increase sales, but go about it differently. I guess what I am saying is – some that have gone about it in a hard-sell fashion before, are bringing it down a peg or two – and are fine tuning their customer service because they are now very exposed. Whereas before they could brush a few specs of dirt under the rug, they can’t any longer.

      • says

        I see what you are saying, and maybe the ones I have seen were great companies who did not show it well. In the auto-sales industry it is ingrained in the culture to be solely focused on sell, sell, sell.
        Because I am working in this industry I get to see companies that are great and some that are not. Both want to increase sales, but go about it differently. I guess what I am saying is – some that have gone about it in a hard-sell fashion before, are bringing it down a peg or two – and are fine tuning their customer service because they are now very exposed. Whereas before they could brush a few specs of dirt under the rug, they can’t any longer.

  3. says

    I couldn’t agree with you more. You have articulated a distinction which oft goes unspoken, the differientation between the already-positive fan versus a new prospect and how this relates to most facebook fan page “Likes”.

    I also agree with Katie regarding liking (pun unintended) your closing line: “Facebook fan page success is an effect of being a great company, not a way to become one.”

  4. says

    I have a sneaking suspicion those 8% who liked a brand on Facebook but wouldn’t recommend it are responding to a Like request or recommendation from a friend. I get them all the time: “George Washington likes Wooden Dentures on Facebook and suggests you like it too.” I ignore a lot of those requests, but sometimes I’ll think, “What the hell, if they’re so passionate about Wooden Dentures that they’re sending me Facebook notes, I’ll give them some love.” Or some like. What I’m really saying is I like you, friend, and I’ll support your cause.

    • says

      I think you’re right Ed (as usual). I’ve heard from a lot of people after writing this post that they are “liking” because they’ve been asked by a third party, not the brand itself. Interesting.

  5. says

    “Consequently, your Facebook fan page is just another way to identify, corral, and (hopefully) activate them.”

    Yup–and activation is the secret sauce that people often miss, or don’t know how to pull off because the brand|liker relationship is such an unknown quantity. Is asking for specific advocacy actions like trying to slip your arm around a girl in the movies on the first date?

    Facebook doesn’t create fans; it just lets you count them, and get a gauge for how much they really want to interact with you. But that’s valuable in and of itself.

  6. says

    One stat I would love to see explored is what % of people ‘Like’ at least one brand not because of their experience with it, but because they want to make a statement of some type to their friends who will see it in their timeline.

    I might ‘Like’ Bugatti for example. Can I really be considered an advocate if my influence fails to reach anyone with any potential to facilitate a transaction?

    These are lifestyle ‘wish’ statements, or statements of some past experience that no longer applies due to regional constraints, etc. to friends, and I see quite a lot of it take place within my stream along with other similar ‘Likes’ which have nothing to do with someones actual engagement with a brand.

    {Side Note: There’s actually a case to be made that says your advocacy does matter in some of these status symbols, even if your circle cannot purchase them, because they are purchased precisely because so many people who *can’t* have them want them. But that’s a different type of aggregate WOM influence….you take my general point though}.

    • says

      I allude to that in the post, but I agree 100% Matt. There are really 3 types of liking behavior:
      – I actually have transacted with this company, and prefer them, and make a statement to that affect with a like click;
      – I have not transacted with this company, but they seem pretty cool, and my friend likes them, so I’ll jump on the bandwagon blindly;
      – I have not transacted with this company, and probably will not, because I don’t have the money, room in my house, or whatever, but I will “like” this brand because I want my doing so to help define the persona I present publicly.

      The third is the online version of fake Gucci bags, giant Nike stickers on the back of car windows, etc. It’s social badging. And while that has some benefits to brands, it should not be confused with monetizable advocacy.

      And you are right that there is a $$ benefit, but it’s hard to calculate – at least by me.

      • Elaineperry says

        But i think that can be part of the branding objective. Few people can afford a rolex, for example, but there is a “cool” or “exclusive” factor that is part of the brand. If I “ilke” an exclusive brand and my friends follow suit, that could be supporting the brand objective, without ever resulting in sales. If that is your company’s branding objective (and I certainly dont speak for Rolex) then you’re right its difficult to calculate but could be effective.

        Good post though – I agree what you’re saying.

  7. says

    Now you’ve got me thinking. I’ve always had that “hhhmmm???” type of weird gut feeling when I’ve read that statistic showing the #1 reasons people “Like” or connect with a brand page on Facebook was for special deals and offers. It really doesn’t seem in line with what my reasons as a consumer are – or the motivator for my friends either.

    I’d be interested to see the other multiple-choice answers survey participants are offered when asked the questions of “What is your primary motivation when you ‘Like’ a brand on Facebook?” Wonder if they were able to choose from:
    A) I want to learn more about the product or brand
    B) I’ve been a loyal customer for years and want to show my dedication
    C) Makes me look good to my friends
    D) Everybody else was doing it, so it must be good
    E) Name of Page was funny and clicking “Like” was my thanks for making me laugh

    I’ve seen so many traditional “focus group” participants led to give the ‘expected’ or ‘desired’ answer or feedback, I’m sure these surveys can be just as faulty.

    Ironically, this same statistic is what proves the theory of your rant. Now I’m off to see what the other options for answers really are.

  8. Anonymous says

    I just use Facebook to bookmark companies I like. I don’t recommend them to anyone since it’s up to a individuals taste. My FB page is open to everyone if they want to view it.

    If companies that are present on FB want to engage me then their not trying very hard, since I don’t see them leaving comments on my FB page. It’s a two way street and their only driving one way and social media is two way.

    • says

      Brands aren’t posting on your Facebook page because they don’t want to engage you, but because Facebook actually restricts them from doing so. In fact, the options brand pages have to get their message in front of you are very, very limited. When page administrators are posting or commenting ON their page, they are shown as the page — however, the minute they do anything that is person-to-person ie: post on your page, send you a message etc, they are then shown as their own personal profile – not the brand page identity. ie: If I am the Starbucks page admin, and I post a comment under a photo you’ve upload to our page, it will say its posted by “Starbucks”. If I then click on your name and send you a private message, it will come from “Jen Grant”, not Starbucks.

  9. Anonymous says

    “Facebook fan page success is an effect of being a great company, not a way to become one”. I love this quote. This is my feelings exactly. I’m happy to see that someone has finally written an article and knows how to cut through the hype.

  10. says

    I agree that people who “like” your business on Facebook are predominately customers/clients IF you’re a large corporation or a major brand. But that may not be the case with small businesses. In my experience, many small businesses get “likes” because of the extended family and friends of the owner and employees or people who support local businesses. Many smaller businesses ARE getting added exposure to people who may not be customers.

    • says

      Right, but those likes are coming because of people that already like the company in three dimensions. What you’re describing is post-modern forward to a friend. The Facebook page didn’t create awareness or advocacy or likes. The Facebook page enabled existing fans to more easily recruit new fans, via the news feed.

  11. says

    Good one Jay,

    There are many reasons to like a fan page and many more to forget them. It’s even worse among people working the field. I ‘liked’ Delta to see what they were doing.

    What I found was most people “liked” them to complain. There is always more work to be done on a page if you want to turn it into a community of sorts. But the first step is appealing to the right people as opposed to big numbers.


  12. says

    I love this post :)

    Facebook fan pages can be a good way to galvanize your existing “army of fans” to promote you to their friend base and useful for building loyalty/increasing share of wallet (indirectly) for existing customers. But, selling tickets to a choir performance when there is no choir is not likely to be very effective.

  13. Spike Jones says

    Have you ever stopped to consider that in order to leave a comment on a brand’s Wall that you have to “like” them – even if it’s to complain or slam them? Remember how many people signed up for TGIFriday’s (Woody) page to get the free burger and left a message saying how much they hated them, but will take the free burger?

    Yeah. This calls for a re-vote (or re-research).

    • says

      Hey Spike. Great to have you here. The research bothers me, sure. But more than that is the flawed understanding among most companies that Facebook is somehow a fantastic customer acquisition tactic, when it’s really quite the opposite.

  14. Mistie Thompson says

    I’d like to offer up another exception to the rule (which I do think you’re almost entirely spot-on about) that people usually only “like” companies with whom they’ve transacted. Our Facebook page has actually been “liked” by hundreds of people BEFORE they became patients.

    We recognized early on that patients battling infertility are constantly online looking for the latest information, and we crafted our FB page to serve as a sort of “infertility newsroom” with timely and frequently updated headlines about the latest breakthroughs and studies. Occasionally we sprinkle in news specifically about Fertility Partnership, but mostly, it’s information/news/studies about infertility. When people search Facebook (and even the web) for infertility information, many links draw them to us, and since they like what they see, they “like” us and keep coming back for more.

    From there, many of them then join one of our webchats, read our latest blog post, etc (that we mention/post links to on our FB page) and decide to take the next step of calling us for a consultation. It’s become one of our greatest new patient recruiting tools as well as a great way for current patients to evangelize on our behalf. So for us, it actually does work as a recruiting tool – although I do recognize that it’s much more difficult for retail brands (who often don’t have the highly researched core topic that we do) to see the results that we’ve seen.

    • says

      People use the internet (as a whole) as a resource tool. Google is the first place people look to ask questions. Just look at the increase of long tail searches like “Why does my cat bite me” (yes, this is an actual long tail search with 277,000 results). People who conduct this search is looking for information.

      If you are a company with a Facebook page dedicated to animal behavior and specifically cats, you have a good shot at getting a new fan. If you post information about other bad things cats do along with cute pictures of why people love them, then you have someone who is interested in reading your status updates.

      Then, once you are a trusted resource of cat information, your recommendations for cat food, litter or cat obedience classes (do they even have those?) will be well received.

  15. Pjames says

    I think you are confused about the essential characteristics of social media…and marketing/promotions generally If we follow your logic, no marketing channel would ever grow beyond the standing choir of the moment. Something entices new customers to try the product/service. What is it? Clearly, effective use of marketing channels does create new customers. Why should FB be the only one doomed to preach to a static choir? It’s a social process…you just need to work out how to do it.

    • says

      I think you missed the point of the process, which is that Facebook is extremely effective, but (like email) the people you talk to there are largely already fans. Facebook doesn’t create advocacy, it harnesses it.

      Lots of marketing channels work to introduce your brand to new people. Among them: TV, radio, print, outdoor, direct mail, banner ads, public relations, search marketing (in some cases). Facebook just isn’t one of them, typically. That doesn’t make it less effective, just a tool for a different job.

      Does that show enough understanding of marketing and promotions to meet your benchmark?

  16. says

    The word “like” is fundamentally weak. “Liking” something on #fb is fundamentally easy. There’s no way it can possibly be important if it involves nothing but a miniscule muscle movement and a click of a mouse.

  17. says

    I agree with some of the comments that Facebook pages aren’t always populated by only those who already have a relationship with you. Often I join pages so I can get to know more about a person or organization. I join pages because my friends are a part of the page so I want to know why they like that company.

    I’ve helped small businesses get more customers and fans because they joined the Facebook page and became engaged through the posts and articles we shared.

    Whenever a business holds a Facebook contest where they give something away when they reach x amount of members, their current members are advocating for them by inviting their friends to join the page as well. They also inactively advocate whenever they choose to engage with the brand by commenting on a link or photo, and a blurb shows up on their profile saying “Jane commented on X,Y,Z Brand’s link” for all of their friends to see.

    You’re certainly going to have page members who are only there because they liked you three months ago and then forgot about it, or who only want free stuff, but if you learn to use the page to engage them with interesting information and ideas, you’ll find the page to be extremely beneficial to your company in maintaining current customers and getting new ones.

  18. says

    Great post. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: My friend bragged about his 10,000 Facebook “friends” who “like” him; I said have about 20 good pals – any of whom would buy me a beer if I asked them. What will your 10,000 do for you?”

    Until they tie “like” to something substantially causal, I will remain skeptical of the wild marketing claims…

  19. Marla Levie says

    What you have to say about Facebook fan pages is so interesting and true, especially your comment on loyalty. I especially like your post title and the accompanying graphic. I can’t wait to read rant #2!
    Marla Levie

  20. says

    I really like two points you made:
    1) Noting that Facebook fan page “likes” are primarily the manifestation of advocacy that already exists, and don’t cause new advocacy (very true)
    2) The phrase that “liking” a brand is “digital bumper sticking” (perfect!)

  21. says

    I’m a huge advocate of Facebook, and this series of posts was recommended to me so that I could give a retort, but the truth is I pretty much agree with what you’re saying here.

    Too often you see reports like the one from adweek that you referenced saying “Facebook this and Facebook that” treating it as though it is some magic wand that will instantly improve a business. There is a certain truth to this, but these articles are only telling half of the story.

    You’re right, just having a Page is not enough. In order to be successful, you must have a certain savvy when it comes to interfacing with the public. Call it Pr, call it customer relations, or call it just not being a toolbag, you need to have that.

    But even that is only half of the equation. What most people don’t realize is that the Pages platform, as well as the open apps platform, is a soft sell to buy into Facebook’s ads. It is here that you can acquire new customers without having a pre-existing relationship. Because their ad platform targets on the “likes and interests” section it allows you to attract new customers based on what you know about your existing customer’s psychographics.

    The reporting tools will also give you the common interests between the people who are clicking on your ad. If you’re smart you will use all of this information to create updates that you know are going to engage your likers, encouraging them to interact and subsequently sharing your brand.

    But the paid ads platform is the part that people miss. It’s a cycle, bring new fans in via ads, learn common interests, create updates you know will be engaging, acquire new fans. This is the only true way to beat the way that you talk about it here.

    Without the paid ads platform, everything you say here is spot on. Thank you for writing such a well informed post :-)

  22. says

    The people who like your page do so for various reasons (According to a recent AdAge article, it’s for the coupons). Are they advocates? Well not if all they wanted was a coupon. But now that they’ve liked your page some of your content is going to make it into their news feed. And if that content is compelling enough, they might come back to your page, comment, ‘like’ your post. When they do that, their friends see it. If some of their friends find that interesting, they might also like your page and start engaging in liking and commenting activity.

    That newsfeed spread is a kind of passive (and maybe unwitting) advocacy on the part of the original fan. That still has value because if you have a new product launch or a new sales promotion, you now have a built-in base to kickstart your effort.

  23. says

    OMG, it took me forever to read this (I have 3 kids) but I’m glad I did! The intricacies of Facebook marketing are getting more and more complex and the more success others have, the more it seems like ‘miracle marketing.’ Thanks for breaking down the false idols, Jay!

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