Are you likeable? Changes for Facebook pages

Do you like Facebook?  I mean, do you really like them?

Think carefully about your answer.  Personally, I like Facebook a lot – even though I’m not always a fan of their decisions.

But if you’re not really a fan, it may not matter.

Facebook is changing how your supporters connect with your page.  Until now, Facebook users have been asked to “become a fan” of pages – showing that they are a fan of your organization, company, or brand.  Soon, they will instead get to “like” your page, and “liking” a page will grant the same connections and privileges as being a fan.  They’ll be able to “like” your ads as well.

This is a very clever move on Facebook’s part.  It might be too clever for their own good.  Think about everyday language: there’s a bit difference between “liking” something and being a “fan” of it.  For example:

I like the AFI Silver, my local independent movie theater.  I go there all the time.  I like them so much that I bought a membership.  I’m interested in their events, and invested in their success. Really, I’d call myself a fan.  Not coincidentally, I’m a fan of their Facebook page.

There are a lot of other things I like.  I like most of the movies I’ve seen recently (but I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of Up In The Air).  I like chocolate, and Godiva makes good chocolate (but I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of Godiva).  I even confess that I like Twinkies, that they taste good even though their ingredient list disgusts me (but I certainly wouldn’t call myself a fan of Twinkies).  I am not a fan of any of these things on Facebook.

Let’s add another layer of semantic complexity: “like” already has a meaning on Facebook.  I like the interesting link from my friend.  I like that my cousin posted how they’re having a good day.  I like the photos of another friend’s new puppy.  Liking is an easy, low-bar action with few long-term consequences.  I can like as many things as I want.  I will never be overwhelmed by liking too many things.  In Facebook, it’s always been safe to like things.

Combine these factors, and it seems likely that Facebook users will connect with many, many more pages when these changes roll out.  After all, they already know how to “like” items in their news feed, and “liking” a brand appears to be a lower bar than becoming a fan.  These two words have very different meanings in our minds, but in Facebook, they’re about to become synonymous.

This is good and bad.  It’s good for page owners, who will suddenly have a lot more connections (fans? likers?) on Facebook.  It will be easier to gain new supporters.  That’s a good thing.

(It’s good for Facebook, too – I don’t doubt they have a plan to make money by making pages more marketable.)

But it’s bad for all the users (unlike me) who don’t spend lots of time thinking about the implications of each action on Facebook. Some may not even notice the change, and they may be confused about why so many brands are suddenly showing up in their news feed, over and over – when all they did was “like” them.  Depending on how you message your Facebook supporters, that could be bad for you, too.  If your updates are too frequent, or not relevant to what these casual “likers” want to know, users may be confused and annoyed.

Facebook says they’ve dealt with this confusion by making “like” look different on a page or ad than it does on the news feed.  In fact, you can “like” an update from a page, and it means something completely different than “liking” the page itself.  I’m not sure I see the distinction – I’m still confused, despite having read explanations of how it will work, so how will the average user make sense of it?

It remains to be seen whether this is a good thing overall, but in the short term, I would recommend caution.  Watch for when Facebook makes the switch.  Watch your subscribe and unsubscribe rates.  Watch for negative (or confused) comments, too.  If you see increases in either, think hard about the messaging you’re using, and whether you can provide a gentle on-ramp for new supporters.  Unlike email, you can’t control which users see your content on Facebook.  If you see trouble signs, you may want to slow down your communications for a while to keep your newer, less fervent supporters engaged.

So, do you like Facebook’s decision?  Are you a fan of it?  Or would you rather “dislike” it (if only you could)?

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