Facebook Gives 'Like' More Love, 'Fans' the Boot

Social Website's Shift in Language, User Actions Could Work to Marketers' Advantage

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David Berkowitz
David Berkowitz

Facebook has announced to its partners that in the next two to three weeks, the "Become a Fan" concept for branded pages will be replaced with the more prevalent "Like" button and brands will no longer accumulate "Fans," but "Connections" instead.

This change narrows the list of actions available to Facebook fans, and consolidates the bulk of interactions fans will have with brand content to "Like," "Comment" and "Share." Brands will still be able to communicate with opt-in users on a regular basis, but only users who have "liked" their page itself -- not just one of their updates.

The change also affects engagement ads -- the "Become a Fan" verbiage will disappear, being replaced by the simple "Like" button and thumbs up icon.

How Does This Affect Facebook Users? Facebook has said they do not plan to explicitly communicate this change to users, so there will be some inevitable user confusion about what it means to "Like" a page versus what it means to "Like" a page's status update, and some users may find themselves subscribing to pages they didn't intend to -- especially in the case of engagement ads, where users do not have to navigate to the page itself to "Like" it. According to Facebook, this move is designed to lower the barrier to entry for users to interact with pages. That said, since only the names of activities are changing, and not the activities themselves, it's likely that many users will not change their behavior once they fully understand the new terms.

How Does This Affect Marketers? The most significant effect of the change will be the effect on marketers running engagement ads. "Liking" content comes far more naturally to the average Facebook user than becoming a fan of content, meaning that users will be more inclined to click on an ad that invites them to "Like" a brand than one that asks them to "Become a Fan" of a brand.

The language shift strengthens the value proposition of Facebook engagement ads as a method for driving fan growth, and will likely increase the number of users who arrive on a page who will subscribe to that page's updates (by "Liking" the page).

Marketers should not rely on Facebook to effectively message the change to fans, and where appropriate should update their editorial calendar accordingly, letting users know that even if they can no longer be "Fans" of a brand, they'll still be treated like fans regardless. Marketers who have integrated Facebook with their other online environments should be sure that their creative has the correct verbiage: "Find us on Facebook!" still works, but "Become a Fan On Facebook" will begin to seem dated and irrelevant .

There is one more subtle drawback for marketers and users alike: for both parties, it meant something to be a fan of a brand. Half the world likes McDonalds, but only a subset (albeit a large subset) would raise their hands and declare themselves fans. Consumers needed to think twice about whether they'd become a fan of a brand because it meant something, even in a small way, to include that as part of their persona. It meant at least as much for brands to know who their real fans were; they already have a sense of who likes them. This may not show up clearly in page growth or engagement ad response rates, but it's a loss for all Facebook participants nonetheless.

What's Coming Next? Facebook is likely implementing this change as part of its preparations for developing a "Like" button that can be deployed on the non-Facebook Web, as detailed on TechCrunch and elsewhere in the last week. By consolidating its users interactions with brands under the "Like" concept, Facebook is looking to own the idea of "Liking" content on the Web as a whole, not just on Facebook.

David Berkowitz is director of emerging media for 360i. He blogs regularly at Inside the Marketer's Studio and 360i's Digital Connections. He also contributed to the just-released Social Marketing Playbook.
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