Social Media Research, Social Media Tools, Facebook

The Real Reason Your Customers Don’t Like You on Facebook

In addition to the controversial redesign of the news feed, and announcements from the f8 conference about the new Timeline profile and app-fueled Graph Rank, was another very interesting Facebook-related development last week.

facebook the meaning of likeMy friends (and client) ExactTarget released part 10 of their social media research series. This one is called “The Meaning of Like” and analyzes the psychology of consumer use of the “like” button.

(Note that the study was done before Facebook announced that the “like” button would be multiplying like a pair of rabbits on Red Bull, with new “want” “own” “drink” “watch” and “shopping” buttons being spawned).

Although I can see the wisdom (although I use that word in connection with Facebook very loosely) in giving users and companies more specificity in their one-click declarations, #winning with the “like” button alone is pretty damn hard – much less after a severe case of button creep.

How hard is it to win the “like” button game? Data in the free “The Meaning of Like” report shows that 32% of users have never liked a company on Facebook, and 23% of those that have liked a company in the past don’t do so any more.

facebook likes

The Magic 9.8

The average Facebook fan currently “likes” just 9.8 company pages. Nine point eight! I’ve come into contact with (or at least thought about) 50% more brands than that just while authoring the first five paragraphs of this post:

  • Facebook
  • Apple
  • Pro-Form treadmill
  • Trekdesk treadmill desk
  • Bic pen
  • Books from Que, Wiley, Pearson on my desk
  • Moleskine
  • ExactTarget
  • Red Bull
  • Spotify
  • Audio Technica headphones
  • rabbits (not a company, but should start one, and I nominate “the general” from Watership Down as CEO)

How many of those do I currently like on Facebook? Two (and I’ve liked a LOT more than 9.8 company pages in my day).

Likes Don’t Equal Subscriptions

Companies sometimes ask me why they have so few Facebook fans, in comparison to email subscribers and overall customers. If we have 100,000 customers, why don’t we have 100,000 Facebook likes?

Firstly, not every customer is on Facebook. Tom Webster from Edison Research says 52% of Americans are on Facebook, and when Tom Webster talks I listen. So that brings your potential like base to 52,000.

And 32% of users have never liked a company, bringing your theoretical maximum number of Facebook fans to 35,360 (52,000 x 68%).

In most cases, companies aren’t fully committed to promoting their Facebook presence at every turn, meaning that some portion of that 35,560 doesn’t even know you’re on Facebook.

Perhaps most importantly – as underscored by the 9.8 finding, a bunch of your customers – even satisfied ones – don’t think you’re worthy of a like.

Assuming that even your best and most loyal customers will “like” your page is a fallacy, considering you have to battle it out with hundreds of other brands to make it into that “magic 9.8” likes for the average Facebook user.

Maybe They’re Just Not That Into You

That’s a tall order for every company. Consider: I own two iphones, three ipads, three ipods, and two Mac computers yet I’ve never liked Apple on Facebook.

This defies current conventional wisdom, but the prime objective for your Facebook efforts should not really be to grow your like base, especially through aggressive “like” buying and special offers. Shoot for steady expansion, but recognize that you simply will not be in the “magic 9.8” for most people.

Instead, you should be redoubling your efforts to activate and encourage the customers who have already liked you. Because while a “like” is just one click, putting you in the “magic 9.8” is pretty special.

And don’t abuse that vote of confidence. The report shows that 39% of Facebook users do not interpret their own “likes” of a company to equate to permission for that company to deliver marketing messages to the news feed – potentially bad news for the revamped style of applications Facebook announced that will automatically deliver hyper-targeted info to your feed.

I’ve said in the past that the “like” is essentially digital bumper stickering. And now we now just how many stickers will fit on the cars of most Facebook users… 9.8. Our bonds between our Facebook fans and our companies are about to get even more complicated with the announcement that non-fans will now be allowed to post to the Wall, removing one of the rationales for putting you in the magic 9.8 in the first place. Yikes.

Facebook Comments


  1. nrobins1 says

    Great data here. I’ve always been a firm believer in steady expansion. As you say Jay, Social Media is about winning the hearts and minds of people one at a time. I’d much rather see 50 active and “real” customers participating on a daily/weekly basis than 1,000 people doing absolutely nothing. Like count is nothing more than social proof (which can be powerful for first impressions), but if you dig beneath the surface, most of the time 100,000 likes don’t mean jack for business value (unless you can somehow derive repeat business or move prospects down the pipeline AT A REASONABLE COST PER CONVERSION).

    • says

      @nrobins1 Great point about social proof. I think that’s true for individuals and unknown commodities, but I wonder how much of an impact it has at the company/brand level for stuff we know. For example would you think differently about restaurant A vs. restaurant B if you knew nothing about them except their number of “likes”? That is some research I’m going to do. It fascinates me! Thanks for the inspiration.

      • says

        @JayBaer I notice more news outlets using the alternative verb “Recommend” for the Facebook button – particularly when users feel reticent to Like an earthquake for example or a murder. Maybe for restaurants that is a valid option? Infact a diversification of the verb choice would be preferable to combat wallpaper blindness.

  2. kyleplacy says

    One of the more important comments on this post is related to subscriptions and likes. I feel like the majority of people view a Facebook “like” as a subscription and that is not the case. We need to get past the point of viewing “like” as a metric for customer development. It is not a metric but merely an action.

    Remember, somebody could be “liking you” only to tag your page with a negative comment.

    This research is excellent. I recommend everyone reading it… for their health.

    • says

      @kyleplacy Even though it sounded funny when they changed it from “fan” to “like” earlier this year (although it seems like about 4 years ago), “like” is a much more apt description for the psychology, as this research shows.

  3. says

    Great post, Jay. And great like-data modeling for answering clients’ frequently asked question, “Why don’t we have more Facebook likes? We have X customers why don’t we have X likes?” The Rx of focusing on activating and engaging current is spot on.

    Well done. And yes, when Tom Webster talks, listening is a good idea.

  4. marketingveep says

    I love Nick’s comment, because it prompts my own burning question for every marketer who asks “Why don’t we have more FB likes?”

    Here are the questions I’d pose: What would you do differently if you had MORE FB likes? Will it materially change the marketing programs you have today?

  5. RatulShah says

    Jay, I have found myself not “Liking” a brand for the reason that I don’t really want to share that information with my friends. Even though we will in an online, social world – some things still need to remain private. Hence the email route.

    • says

      @RatulShah Excellent point. I’ve done some work for some major brands in the feminine hygiene category and some other products that we typically don’t talk about widely. Different dynamic when all your friends see that “like”. One of the reasons that Facebook is changing it so you don’t have to “like” to post on the Wall.

  6. davismg says

    It is very hard to separate the really personal things with close friends in facebook. This makes it necessary to consider carefully everything you post. Most of us don’t especially in these times where we spend most of our time on social networks.

  7. says

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I occasionally find it difficult to reconcile the metrics with the outreach. Meaning that there’s a significant focus on numbers – hits and page views and click throughs and yes, even “likes” – within the emerging new media marketplace, but frequently we’re told to keep the focus on the personal, not the numerical. When Jay says to focus on the fans your company page already has, I believe him, but shouldn’t we then also pay some heed to the Facebook Insights that drive our social presence? Where do you find the balance, and how do you combine the two?

    • says

      @EmmaofCEM Definitely. I do a lot of work with Insights, and use to soup them up. But Insights only tells you how you’re doing on Facebook, and the goal is not to be good at Facebook, the goal is to be good at business because of Facebook. So, Insights et al is the first chapter of a longer metrics and success story that we each need to write for our own companies.

  8. nsweeney says

    The “digital bumper sticker” is an apt description. Yes, I’m in the social media space (I work at @CoupSmart), but even I think there’s there’s too much emphasis on vanity and not enough emphasis on driving customers to your actual store (online or virtual). Enough with the ego. To paraphrase The Social Network. “Having a lot of ‘Likes’ is cool, but you know what’s even cooler? Having a lot of revenue.”

    Thanks again, Jay telling it “Like” it is.

  9. InspiredAnnette says

    There’s a very good reason I read your blog so regularly. EXCELLENT, relevant content. Thank you for this one Jay! Sure keeps things interesting for those of us working in an aspect of social media.

  10. Susan60 says

    @jonworth jon did you see the article on the new words Facebook is introducing and how it’ll change language?

    • jonworth says

      @Susan60 Yes! I blogged about some of the changes. Principle is OK, but it’s going to be hell in practice I think

      • Susan60 says

        @jonworth already seeing some backlash from comms people who think it’s a step too far. Interesting to see how younger audience will react.

  11. JanWillis says

    Spot on! Likes are pretty meaningless. At the end of the day it’s all about the quality of engagement not numbers, but so many people just don’t seem to get that with social media less really is more.

  12. OconomowocPlumb says

    After giving this some thought I realized I have only liked one companies posts, and many of them. I usually hit the “like” button first even before reading the article. Why? HEADLINES! Likes can be emotional and headlines, if written correctly, tell me what the article is about it one single sentence. If the author is a good headline writer you will always see many likes. Think about it.

  13. letstalkandchat says

    most people in fb just hit the like button even if they do not read the entire article yet, just the headline. you see, their walls were already flooded with so many statuses from their friends. reading longer posts takes time so they just click like. most of the time, i do this.

    I just found a great company that builds websites for info products. To keep your costs low, they’ll mentor you on how to create your site, design a marketing funnel (one of the guys works in Hollywood and makes really slick videos), and the other guy programmed Myspace. If you’re looking to have professional web design for your small business and not waste any time or money then check their site out. Check them out:

  14. jeffricks says

    Do we really need more Zuckerverbs? LIKE, who cares; Pay attention to your customers, whether they LIKE you or not. Jay, great post, as always!

  15. Scotty says

    This article is dead on. It makes me wonder sometimes what the priorities are of these multibillion companies wining about their “tweets” and “Likes”. It really comes down to quality and satisfaction. Are the customers happy. Is it a quality product. Personally I’d much rather see 20 happy customers rather than 20 likes on Facebook. Great article. Thumbs up, aka “Like”

  16. JenPriceDavis1 says

    Beautiful post!  It’s a fun bit of irony that the numbers support focusing on relationships with our current “likers.  And this “And don’t abuse that vote of confidence. The report shows that 39% of Facebook users do not interpret their own “likes” of a company to equate to permission for that company to deliver marketing messages to the news feed”…it’s a hard message to get to sink in with some companies looking for the space to push their messaging. 

  17. says

    The bigger picture, Jay, is not that a person may not like a company — but there is no evidence the company likes the person. If the entire existence of the corporate timeline on Facebook is announce this, announce that, announce this, announce that without any essence of the company beyond the announcement, well, what fun is that? Is that why a company wants a like? So it can distribute another announcement?
    Give the person something memorable beyond a CNN-style announcement and the person will share and tell all of her friends and networks about you. Until then, blah.

    • says

       @Ari Herzog Outstanding point, Ari. You’re exactly correct. Companies need to be useful and/or entertaining first, and earn the right to promote by doing the other two well. 

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