What to Know Before Adding a Facebook 'Like' Button

Social Plug-ins Are Great for News Sites, but They Can Make a Brand Site Less Social

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Kevin Barenblat
Kevin Barenblat
Everyone from the North Face to Gilt Groupe is plugging into the Facebook community with social plug-ins. If they're using them (and, as the Wall Street Journal reports, seeing significant shifts in sales), you can use 'em too, right? While there are certainly merits for jumping on new social trends quick, it's important to point out that Social plug-ins must be thoughtfully and strategically deployed and managed.

So how do those like buttons work?
In just four months, like buttons are being used on 350,000 websites (this, according to The Wall Street Journal).

As with any new socia-media trend, understanding the implications of slapping a like button, comment box or activity feed on your company's website is the first step to harnessing its power. Here's a primer on how social plugins work:

A Facebook user needs to be logged into Facebook to be able to like an object. Once a Facebook user likes an object, they've raised their hand and given a brand the opportunity to directly target them with messages or offers. They also get to see which of their friends also like that object. Recently, Facebook added commenting functionality to the like button, giving brands even more in-depth insight into what their customers are most interested in. Finally, brands can deliver targeted messages right to the news feed of those consumers based on those expressed preferences.

Once a Facebook user likes an object, they've raised their hand and given a brand the opportunity to directly target them with messages or offers.
Once a Facebook user likes an object, they've raised their hand and given a brand the opportunity to directly target them with messages or offers.
This act of hand-raising is a highly prized privilege for a brand to get to better know its loyal customer base.

Why some things are easier to like than others
Social plug-ins are most actively implemented by media/content sites. In this world of split-second news cycles and information overload, like buttons have the potential to increase reach and life span. These sites' natural affinity for bringing community together is further amplified by adding social elements to conversations already happening on their sites. It's a short-lived commitment.

For brands, the use of the like button and other social plug-ins isn't quite as intuitive as it is for media properties. Consumers who click that like button effectively raise their hands and publicly show their affiliations with brands and products -- for a brand marketer, this sort of engagement is gold. Objects are more persistent and savvy brands can capitalize on this opportunity for efficient one-to-one marketing.

The risk is that brands can quickly lose that engagement; fans can easily silence and block a brand's ongoing outreach and messaging by simply "hiding" those communications in their news feed.

As a brand, how do you capitalize on the power of social plug-ins so that fans stay tuned in?

For brands with a heavily trafficked destination site (media, entertainment or e-commerce sites being prime examples) adding social plug-ins makes a lot of sense. Brands are able to further engage with people who are already coming to their site and use Facebook to enable these consumers to have a more social experience. Social plug-ins can actually influence customer behavior, particularly if a purchase decision is readily influenced by the recommendations/interests of friends.

But what if your brand isn't a slick media company? Or a flash sales site? What is the value that a social plug-in will add to your customer?

For this group, like buttons can be effective ways to build targeted, relevant engagement back on Facebook.

Don't squander the like
Facebook has already created an invaluable opportunity for building brand loyalty and engagement through the news feed and directly on a brand's official Facebook Page. However, a brand must invest in the relationship and focus on community management. A brand must carefully assess the frequency and content of that engagement, publishing highly relevant posts, targeting consumers with truly compelling updates and offers.

The mistake many brands make is to start bombarding fans with marketing messages and offers, either leading offsite or back to a templated Facebook page that resembles a billboard more than a place for conversation. The result is most fans quickly disengage.

At the end of the day, Facebook provides brands with an opportunity to build a truly engaged and loyal community -- whether that happens on or off Facebook.

With the introduction of social plug-ins, a lot of brands have mistakenly thought that simply adding a like button to their site means that people will come. These brands need to remember that consumers are attracted to places where there is a reason for engagement -- and if there's no reason for engagement on or off Facebook, like button or not, your customers won't show up. If they do "like" you, invest and nurture that relationship, because if not, they will shut you out.

Kevin Barenblat is the co-founder and CEO of Context Optional, a leading social marketing company that provides Fortune 500 brands with comprehensive solutions to build, manage, monitor and measure their presence across the social web.
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