Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Do Facebook Likes still mean anything?

Everyone is human and everyone loves to be liked. Even in social media, whether we admit it or not, we enjoy it when people like our posts. At the highest level, we equate it with being liked or popular in real life. At the most basic level it seems to show that people appreciate what we write or share. Some of us keep a count, some of us seem to be naturally more likeable and we classify some people as being all out to get likes. 

Since the early days of social media, the number of likes has also been the Holy Grail for brands and companies looking to build a fan following on Facebook. A power brand has to have millions of fans, and if it sees fit, it even spends to woo or buy them.

But is it really a big deal whether you have a ton of likes? Has the meaning of a Facebook like gotten devalued over time? I have been pondering these questions from my personal experience as a Facebook user and a Page Manager for five very diverse pages. And I think that perhaps likes mean less than we like to imagine! Here's why:

1) Likes are becoming lazy expressions of communication 
Blame it on Facebook, really. The ubiquitous thumbs-up button has become a perfect way of non-verbal communication. Putting a 'like' (akin to a pug mark) shows that you have noted what's going on even if you have no time to think about it or don't quite know what to say. I have observed people liking obituaries, announcements of laptops crashing or houses being burgled. I am intrigued to see this. I would think that it takes two minutes to type "Sorry to hear that". And I think it's impolite to 'like' such happenings! But people still do it. Is it becoming a thoughtless way to mark attendance?

2) Likes are contributing less to page reach
As page managers, we will not be doing justice to our jobs if we sit back and say we got a lot of likes. As Facebook keeps tweaking their algorithms, I can see that even likes do not contribute substantially to reach any more. What we are after now is users sharing the updates on their timelines. Shares, even in smaller number than likes, can substantially improve reach. Unfortunately they are not easy to achieve either!

3) Likes are passive, in an increasingly engaged internet
Engagement is a much abused term in the digital world. At a simple level, for me engagement is real people having real conversations. A fan tweeting to his favorite star that he loves his latest movie is not engagement to me - but SRK and Salman fans having a twitter fight a few days ago certainly was. Seriously, there were real abuses being hurled, and my curiosity was aroused even though I am a fan of neither superstar. You can say that as an outsider, I got engaged. Anyway, what is worrisome for Facebook is that a lot of real people seem to be having real conversations elsewhere these days. On Twitter, on WhatsApp, even on Instagram. This is not to devalue the role of Facebook with its gigantic user base. It's just that its role is changing, as conversations move to other mediums. Facebook is trying to re-define itself and it may well succeed. 

Of course, as a metric of measurement, we will not discard Facebook likes tomorrow. The important question, as my business partner Oindrila raised in a recent blog post, is this : Are we measuring what matters? Does it mean the same thing that it did earlier? And if not, what are the other measures we should start looking at?