Will Facebook Users Be Fans of 'Like'ing Brands?


Recently Facebook has undertaken yet another retooling of the site with a number of changes to make it more attractive to advertisers. Some of the troubling privacy implications of the multifaceted revamp were expertly laid out, as always, by MediaPost's Wendy Davis last week. Since then a memo to advertisers has been leaked detailing planned changes to the way brand profiles appear on Facebook. While seemingly more innocuous than the ones revealed last week, these changes also threaten to alter user experience for the worse.

The Facebook memo to advertisers, first posted on All Things Digital, reveals that Facebook is planning on doing away with the current system for brands appearing on the site, in which brand profiles were more clearly differentiated from the site's human users. In the current system, Facebook's human users have to choose to "Become a Fan" of a brand profile, as opposed to clicking "Like" for human profile status updates, photos, and so on. After the planned change, Facebook explained to advertisers, "People will soon connect with your Brand Pages by clicking 'Like' rather than 'Become a Fan.'" In other words, they will relate to brands in the same way they relate to human beings on the site.

The advantage of this is obvious, according to Facebook, which noted that "people click 'Like' almost two times more than they click 'Become a Fan' everyday. 'Like' offers a simple, consistent way for people to connect with the things they are interested in. These lighter-weight actions mean people will make more connections across the site, including with your branded Facebook Pages."

But the drawbacks are just as obvious -- and in fact they are implicit in the rationale offered above.

In short, Facebook originally created these two, different options for interacting with other profiles on the site for a number of reasons -- but at least in part because the system offered greater transparency about which profiles belonged to real people, and which belonged to entities. Thus users could easily distinguish between their "real" human contacts (and real human profiles in general) and commercial brand presences.

Will users notice when Facebook phases out the "Become a Fan" option? Well, the ability to distinguish was clearly important to people at some level: Facebook itself notes that "people click 'Like' almost two times more than they click 'Become a Fan' everyday." Whatever the reason for this difference in click rates, it indicates that people grasp the distinction between "Like" and "Become a Fan," to the degree that it affects their decision to click one or the other.

Now this extra level of transparency, which clearly served some purpose in the minds of Facebook users, is being taken away. Will Facebook pay any penalty for this move?

6 comments about "Will Facebook Users Be Fans of 'Like'ing Brands?".
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  1. Karen Klavans from Disney Destinations, March 31, 2010 at 10:26 a.m.

    I, as an avid Facebook user, am totally against this change. I click "Like" to show my approval for something or to give a nod to something, NOT to connect me to it! I might "Like" a comment someone made, but it doesn't mean I want to be their friend.

    I think thing move is a big mistake.

  2. Rani Quirk from Quirk Communications, March 31, 2010 at 10:48 a.m.

    Agree with Karen. "Like" is an opinion, not a connection. "Become a Fan" means I've "opted in" so-to-speak. You have my permission to talk with me! I think Like will confuse many users, and eventually make them mad; hopefully not at the brands, but at FaceBook. We'll see how the conversation plays out online, no doubt.

  3. Betsy Kent from Be Visible Associates, March 31, 2010 at 12:03 p.m.

    In my experience, when someone becomes a FAN, they are giving their stamp of approval to a brand, and are proud to show their friends that they are connected with a brand.
    A LIKE is just like saying "Yeah, I agree!" and is not a full 24/7 commitment the way being a FAN is.

    Will LIKES count as FANS in a brand's fan count? When someone clicks LIKE will the brand be visible on the personal profile and will the brand's status updates be visible in their news feed? Does FB answer these questions anywhere?

    Perhaps FB is using this as a way to increase ROI for advertisers who may be getting poor results from their ads in terms of driving Fan numbers.

    In any case, these changes may be another snag that confounds advertisers and makes it confusing for users. may be the difference between lackluster advertising results and user engagement.

    Time will tell...til the next major change!

  4. Todd Tilley from Wrecking Ball Media, March 31, 2010 at 4:21 p.m.

    I agree with Betsy. When I become a Fan I am committed to the brand - thus I am a real "FAN". There is a huge difference between "liking" and being a fan. Of course I can see the benefit of gaining audience size if you are a brand but this gets to a fundamental question regarding social audiences: Do you want a smaller group of highly engaged users (quality) or do you want a large number of ho-hum users who could really careless about your brand (quantity)? I will take quality over quantity any day.

  5. Rick Graf from Digital Communications (Graf Inc.), April 1, 2010 at 11:39 a.m.

    I concur with the comments made by Karen and Betsy.

  6. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, April 2, 2010 at 4:25 a.m.

    I just won't be clicking Like anymore. But that is sad because one often clicks Like to let Facebook know that a certain kind of advertising is preferable to the really offensive stuff like "Mafia Wars" or "Farmville" ads.

    I clicked Like on a military recruitment ad the other day and it was a big mistake. I served honorably a long time ago and do not need to see army recruitment ads show up on my wall as if they are part of my family.

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