What 'Like' Really Means for Facebook Advertisers

So Long, PageRank. Hello, LikeRank

By Published on .

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
If the first internet ad boom set the stage for arrogance in internet advertising, the new millennium will see a new level of hubris in the field. If Google set the standard for egotism in the internet marketing world, Facebook is now seeking to redefine the trait.

According to a post by Facebook intern Moira Burke, Facebook's aim is to reduce the isolation caused by technology, citing Robert Putnam's book "Bowling Alone." Since "Bowling Alone" landed shortly before Facebook, may I suggest a more updated version from Lee Siegel, cultural critic and visiting professor at Rutgers University, entitled "Against the Machine."

In the marketing world, Google AdWords' Quality Score and its ubiquitous "editorial" sibling PageRank (named for Google's founder) define today's directive marketing universe. Recent announcements about Facebook's Open Graph and Google becoming more like Facebook have a few folks in the business stewing.

Google might just be on its heels with Microsoft chipping away at search share and Facebook's LikeRank (ZuckerRank sounds too frisky) system. That is, unless something -- or a series of somethings -- really bad happens.

Anonymous thugs
The online ad world is hopelessly addicted to performance-based advertising. I can't think of a more regressive and easily manipulated system than simply measuring the number of "likes" on a page as a means of not only evaluating advertising effectiveness but whether advertising dollars will be accepted.

If you don't have enough likes or your product isn't the right fit, your ad dollars will be turned away. Remind you of any other self-qualifying advertising systems? Add a bunch of really smug sales reps trained to assume the moral high ground at every turn and you might just have an internet giant.

Facebook may just have its own spin on Google's highly profitable search advertising ranking algorithm. Of course, the whole point of a search engine is to click on things you seek. People generally don't fire up their Facebook accounts so they can "like" stuff. Maybe you shouldn't bet your Facebook farm on the LikeRank system.

Refined enthusiasm
Clearly, not enough people in advertising have read Lee Seigel's 2008 book. "Against the Machine" brought us the term "blogofascism," and with it Siegel revealed the need for a virtual parent figure to police community and interaction. The digital community exists to benefit tech manipulators first, followed much later by the masses.

I'm already getting bombarded with "get more likes" solicitations by those seeking to take advantage of Facebook marketing naivety. If you like "get more likes" does that mean it's not somebody's garage-based Ponzi?

The LikeRank idea is tough to choke down even for a data junkie at his weakest. If you show me a cheeseburger and ask me if I "like" it, at any given time of day, you are likely to get a different answer each time.

Even when I like something, I may not feel compelled to click "like" unless, of course, there was some benefit to me. Then again, if you give me candy every time I like something, isn't that bucking the system? Surely there has to be some research to help us understand what's happening.

Out of focus group
Are people so pathetic they need a digital interface as an intermediary? I suppose it was inevitable, but it doesn't make it any easier to swallow.

Getting back to the research engineered to support predetermined conclusions, we the advertisers are being told that Facebook is not a company selling advertising. Facebook is here to fill the void created by technology to help with our social well-being.

Here's what Burke's team of researchers recently reported: "We discovered that the more people use Facebook, the better they feel, and that those who share and communicate the most with their friends feel even better."

Wait, so Facebook's Phd candidate pawns are saying that it's a great idea to use Facebook more?

Facebook's data scientists are interpreting and disseminating information much in the same way my accountant interprets and disseminates tax information to me. Except for the tiny distinction that my accountant isn't trying to sell me ads or get me to spend more time watering her lawn.

But Facebook isn't trying to sell ads; it's trying to repair our broken society one "Like" at a time.

Google's own LikeRank
It never ceases to amaze me the sugar-coated crap our consuming public will gladly lap up as long as it's packaged correctly. I guess that's why they call it marketing.

Last week, Google's face got a lift when more images and a more Bing-appropriate navigation setup began to appear. Since ComScore is reporting that Bing is nearing 12% of all search activity, perhaps a change was in order. Perhaps ironically my Google search for "new search" returned Bing as the No. 1 result.

Right before Google's new look, a few Google engineers in the highly technically literate sector abandoned Facebook due to, shall we say, creative differences about the Open Graph system. The floodgates were open and the politicians got involved. In effect, Facebook shined a light on everything bad about the online advertising world.

Always a last resort, quitting Facebook is only fashionable if you can emotionally and financially afford to do it. And you shouldn't make others feel bad for not joining you.

If the Open Graph system can survive a political homogenization process, there might just be something to rearranging all interactions on the web. Right now we search and get links. Bing's idea of making that interaction better is apparently catching on, since Google appears to be inching in that direction.

The best plans
Here's the deal. My plan to make $20 million with Google stock in the first round of internet ad love was a miserable failure. I wanted to go completely green, quit doing everything bad for me, devote tons of time to charities I like, and then make other people feel bad for not doing so. The plan was a winner in many ways except theory and execution.

Indeed, thinking about quitting Facebook is like thinking you're going to quit Google. It makes perfect sense in theory but you'd find yourself going back before too long. If I quit Facebook, I'd have to reconnect somehow with quite a few folks that my demanding mortgage having schedule precludes me from seeing on a regular basis. Boy, would that suck.

I have the same love/hate relationship with Facebook that I have with Google. Having seen one or two internet advertising dynasties rise and fall, I have the following unsolicited advice for Facebook:

  • Stop the nose-up ending every declarative sentence with that smug upward inflection like you are asking a question.
  • Be nice to your advertisers and figure out ways to proactively work with them. Even though some aren't getting the "like's" you feel are appropriate, you may eventually want to make money.

Assuming the moral high ground and using it as a "do evil machine" will have predictable consequences. The remaining working stiffs in the world will hate you for it and the next time you want something from them, your virtual garden will come up dry.

Kevin M. Ryan is CEO of the strategic consulting and project management firm Motivity Marketing. He tweets at @KevinMRyan.
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