What is the value of a ‘Like?’

Brands welcome social Likes, but what is their true worth? Columnist Brad O’Brien dives into the impact of a Like on a company’s bottom line and how to incorporate it into your marketing strategy.

I remember the days when you could only run Page Like campaigns within Facebook advertising. Brands and advertisers poured tens, often hundreds, of thousands of dollars collecting Likes, and Facebook had us convinced there was value in doing so. Today, there are various advertising opportunities and objectives, but Likes are still widely considered an indicator of brand loyalty and growth opportunity.

The question remains, however: What is the value of these Likes? This is the million-dollar question, and it’s one that few marketers dare to dive into. We’ve been accustomed to avoiding it, only going so far as to concede that “there’s gotta be some value there.”

In my opinion, there is value in a Like, but maybe not in the way you might think. Without further ado, let’s dive in.

Correlation vs. causation

It can certainly be stated that there is relationship between a follower Liking a brand on a social platform and that follower spending more on the brand than non-followers. But is that relationship one of correlation or causation? Here is where we as marketers need to take an earnest look at the data.

In what I consider to be the most data-driven, comprehensive evaluation of the value of a Like, Harvard Business Review carried out a set of controlled experiments (23 to be exact) to look at the possible impact of Likes on transactions or behaviors by a user, or people within the user’s social circle. Their findings? The mere act of Liking a brand does not affect a consumer’s behavior or lead to increased purchase volume. Furthermore, among the 18,000 people included in the study, the endorsement of a brand did not produce significant influence on a friend or family member’s likelihood to purchase.

These findings are disheartening and a harsh realization for marketers. However, there is light at the end of this tunnel for us, and I’ll dive into this next.

Push vs. pull marketing

Meaningful consumer behavior changes can be made via social media in the form of branded endorsements and paid amplification. While the aforementioned study details that pull marketing efforts (trying to draw customers in via social media) are ineffective at causation, push marketing is another story. To put it simply, advertising plays a significant role in igniting meaningful action via social.

It’s vitally important that a brand invest in amplifying its message and the positive endorsements around its brand via social platforms. In one of the HBR-controlled studies, users in one group who Liked a page and were then shown paid posts and advertisements were more likely to take meaningful action, measured in real business results, than those in a control group. This one-two punch of combining push efforts with pull is where dollars are made for a brand.

I urge all who are reading this to invest in amplification of customer testimonials, paid influencers, brand partnerships and positively themed third-party endorsements of your brand. These types of content are referred to as “earned media.” The best social marketers drive measurable results when they embrace a holistic earned, owned and paid approach.

Social proofing & competitor benchmarking

There is also very real value in what I refer to as “social proofing.” This essentially means that Likes, comments and shares provide a sense of legitimacy around your brand. Your credibility goes out the window when you only have a few Likes for your branded Pages and page posts.

I have sat in on multiple customer journey studies, which follow the paths that consumers take when evaluating a purchase. Quite often, one of the first things a consumer will do is look at your social pages.

The various things consumers look for include whether you have a high number of followers; whether your page posts are getting lots of (positive) engagement; whether you have brand evangelists, reviews and so on. When you’re hitting a favorable level of perceived credibility, the psychological “warm and fuzzies” are built up in the form of social proofing.

On several occasions, I have worked for and with brands that just want to get to 1+ more followers than their closest competitors. I’ve had many CMOs tell me that this is their No. 1 priority for social media. This tactic in and of itself is not a terribly poor one, in my opinion. There is valuable brand positioning that occurs when you’re the most popular brand in your competitor set.

An exercise that I personally follow for brands that I engage with is to perform a good old-fashioned SWOT analysis. This evaluates your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats within social for your brand and your industry. A SWOT analysis builds the foundation on which you can build a well-focused social strategy.

Measuring the impact of social engagements

An exciting announcement made at the recent F8 conference, held annually by Facebook, was that there are now improved ways to track whether Page and post engagements lead to intent-driven behaviors. For example, you can evaluate whether those who commented on a post or Liked your Page take measurable action on your site or app. I encourage you to get cozy with the many omnichannel analytics enhancements that are rolling out for brands on Facebook.

What I request my clients do is go through an exercise of assigning real dollar values on social-driven actions. Get the buy-in from senior leadership at your organization on actual dollar amounts, and as a brand, you will march together toward social profitability.

A good place to start is traffic to your site or app. I have yet to meet a marketer who would dispute that traffic from any source can be assigned a dollar-per-visit amount. Given that “organic” social traffic typically converts at a fraction of more intent-to-purchase traffic sources, factor this into your value assignment. For example, if your dollar-per-visit on non-brand search is $1.00, and organic social traffic converts at 1/10th the rate, the social traffic would be valued at $0.10 per visit.

Taking the above recommendation steps further, you can assign dollar values based on depth of visit, time on site and email addresses. Another recommendation would be to segment organic social traffic into a retargeting pool, push direct response ads to these users, and then tally the cost of the initial visit, plus costs to remarket to the point of conversion in your CPA (cost per acquisition) assessment.

Social media is closely related to public relations and other investments a brand makes to maintain favorable positioning. When determining social value, consider the real costs you encounter when pushing press releases and other materials that solidify a positive reputation. There is likely a dollar amount your brand has already set aside for these efforts, or should.

My last piece of advice on measurement is to invest in ways that allow you to truly measure omnichannel impact at all stages of the funnel. Understand how your channels interact and which roles they are best suited to play (e.g., an introduction, influencing or closing channel). These types of investments are always money well spent, in my opinion, and they raise your status as a marketer who looks at the entire customer journey.

Turning Likes into loot

While Likes as a standalone endorsement do not provide a high return, meaningful dollars can be made when you take a pragmatic and holistic approach. Remember to always test and measure, and then test again.

I like to say that your social media presence is a direct extension of every single channel and department of your organization. Make it the central hub of your marketing focus, where all earned, owned and paid efforts are combined. Spend your social dollars wisely on tactics and strategies that produce real, measurable results for your brand.

An important thing to note is that not all customers take the same journey on their path to purchase. This journey is increasingly complex and unique for all brands, and social offers an opportunity to nurture consumers in a customized way. This is a conversation I’ve had with many marketers; you cannot look at pull and push social efforts in isolation.

Branding and paid efforts need to do a delicate dance within your organization. Promote positive brand interactions, endorsements and experiences — and consumers will respond more favorably when presented with a direct response message.

In conclusion

When asked “What is the value of a Like?,” I often will respond (in a manner that appears to be short and cynical) with “Whatever you’re willing to pay for it.” You need to gain an understanding of the monetization you can derive from a social engager for your brand.

Hopefully, this article has given you much to think about regarding your social media efforts. My intention is to allow the preceding paragraphs to open conversation for marketers around a topic that is long overdue for discussion. Join me in keeping the conversation alive by using #LikesIntoLoot on Twitter and Facebook. I look forward to hearing from you!

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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