A few years ago the social industry got obsessed by Facebook Pages.
Lots of fans (later known as likes) would mean that you could avoid media costs. A bit like email.
Lots of (confusingly named) likes on your page’s content would mean that your fans’ friends would also see it.
The bad news is that this free reach is, almost, dead.
Two years ago, Ogilvy predicted that the organic reach of Facebook pages would, largely, reach close to zero – this is not news. Even if you publish consistently fantastic branded content, you might reach 10 per cent of your audience each time, but closer to 1 per cent is more common.
Some small tests I’ve done with some friends, combined with a closer look at Facebook’s excellent Newsfeed FYI blog, indicate that liking a piece of content now has very little influence on what your friends see.
It’s simple enough. Facebook has to choose from over 1,500 pieces of content that it could show you every time you open up your newsfeed. And simply liking a piece of content is too weak a signal to influence what you see, when compared to how often a Facebook post has been shared or the length of time people spend reading it.
There is the odd exception. People who have very few, or very inactive, friends on Facebook will probably see content that their friends have liked. And if scores of your friends like a Facebook post simultaneously, then you might see it.
But overall the reach of Facebook likes is gone.
Inevitably this has led people to say that Facebook likes have no value.
This is wrong because it neglects two psychological impacts of liking a page or post.
Firstly liking a page means that your friends may see advertising from a brand that contains social endorsement.
Research on social endorsement by Nielsen and Comscore for Facebook have shown that simply seeing that a friend likes a brand’s Facebook page, when you see advertising, can increase brand recall by up to 55 per cent and purchasing by 20 per cent.
These are large effects.
My friend Alan likes Anker - which makes it more likely I’ll notice them.
So how do you maximise these effects?
Steve Martin, a leading behaviour change scientist and author of ‘The Small Big’, says that the key factors are proximity and being comparable. In other words if you perceive somebody to be like you or close to you, then the impact is bigger.
Steve Martin says “When we worked with HMRC to encourage people to pay their taxes on time, there was a 72 per cent response rate if we told recipients that most people pay on time. This increased to 78 per cent if we stressed that it was people in the same postcode. Similarly some researchers found that your tendency to buy duty free when flying with Delta Airlines was much higher if somebody in the same row as you bought duty free, especially if they were like you in other ways.”
Why is this?
Well Martin points out that, in an information overloaded world, social proof is a shortcut to an accurate and efficient decision. Not only that, but by copying your peer’s behaviour you can gain their approval, something we’re all wired to look for.
And the closer a peer is to you, physically or in a way you identify with, the more powerful this effect is.
While the scale of impact is clearly going to differ by category, these sorts of impact can’t be ignored.
Secondly, and most neglected of all, somebody who likes a brand’s content commits themselves to it. Research on the psychological impacts of commitment, again, indicates that this approach can be powerful.
Somebody who clicks on your content will likely already have a more positive than average view of your brand. But by clicking, they become even more positively inclined.
Facebook’s privacy protection makes this very hard to test, but if you have tests, I’d love to hear.
So is it worth investing a lot of money in building up more fans on your Facebook page?
But it would be sensible to make sure that your page appears in your advertising, and is embedded in your website, where you can gain the benefits of social proof.
If you are launching in a new market, your old Facebook page may be surprisingly helpful in persuading people to notice you.
And now, I’m off to post this article on my Facebook page, LinkedIn and Twitter, where I hope you’ll share it with your colleagues.
Rob Blackie is director of social at OgilvyOne. He tweets @robblackie_oo