They Like Me, They Like Me Not: What Does a Social ‘Like’ Really Mean?

October 4, 2013 Sherry Orel

Relationships, whether they are personal or commercial, all start the same way: by courting. People attract mates by presenting appealing versions of themselves and vetting candidates by assessing their “potential.” Brands deploy countless tactics to attract customers and rate them based on their loyalty and lifetime value.

Whether you are looking for a life partner or a life-long customer, you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince.

Promotion is the speed-dating approach to enticing large numbers of new users to try something unfamiliar. The upside of promotion is temporary spikes in sales while the downside is training consumers to deal-shop, creating fair-weather fans willing to brand-switch based on who is offering the best coupon or offer this week.

So I ask, in the social marketing world, what is the value of a like or follow that’s powered by a promotion?

Last April, a marketing firm, Syncapse, released a study that said that the average value of a fan is $174.17. Six factors went into calculating that average, but the study pointed out that brand fans spend 43% more in that brand’s category on average than non-fans. But like doesn’t always lead to love, so before you whip out your calculator to tally up the ROI of your last social media campaign based on the number of incremental “likes” it drove, there are few more factors to consider.

If your true fans are worth $175, the percentage of your following that are actual fans versus fair weather fans can be influenced by how they came to “like” your brand in the first place. An authentic “like,” meaning one that came from a consumer who, unprompted, visited and liked your brand, is far more likely to come from a true fan than a “like” prompted from a consumer promotion. In a chicken/egg quandary, many brands have used promotion to drive “likes” just because it works. So not surprisingly, an IBM study found that 83% of consumers have “liked” a brand for the promise of a promotion or deal. And then there seems to be a whole lot of unliking and ignoring going on.

According to a study by ExactTarget, 26% of consumers say they have “liked” a company because they were interested in a one-time offer, and then “unliked” the brand after getting what they wanted. The same study noted, “More than half of consumers (55%) have ‘liked’ a brand, only to decide later that they no longer want to see posts from that brand. Of that group, only 57% bother to formally ‘unlike’ the company. The rest either ignore unwanted posts or delete the posts from their newsfeed.”

Two Tips for Turning a ‘Like’ Into Love

The key to success is to use promotional tactics that will engage the consumers and give them a reason to go from like to love. For example, take product sampling. You’ve already spent the money to produce and distribute the product, why not make it easy for customers to share their opinion and pay it forward with their friends? Why not incorporate a mobile campaign that lets customers give a free sample or coupon to their Facebook or Twitter network? When their friends start getting excited about your brand, they’ll be less likely to “unlike” you.

Or take the surprise and delight approach. Providing a relevant, yet unexpected treat could turn a casual fling into a long-term romance. Red Bull did this recently when it included free, full-size cans inside boxes ordered from, a retailer that sells text books to college kids. The clever collateral piece accompanying the sample featured the father from The Family Guy lounging seductively in a bath robe with copy that read, “Wanna pull an all-nighter?” Without prompting, new fans flocked to both brand’s FB pages to give thanks and kudos for a welcomed branded experience. With Chegg’s sleep-deprived, young user base, Red Bull nailed the optimal entry point for their category and recruited their next generation of fans.

So why chase a “like”? Because “likes” represent potential—potential to grow your circle of true fans who will share your message with others.  It is the potential to better understand what your brand means to your fans, what they love about it, what they are lukewarm about, what charities they support, what activities they love, and what inspires them to take action.

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