I posted the following status update on Facebook about a month ago:
My son came across a picture of a starving child online, and he asked me "what's wrong with that boy?" I told him he didn't have enough to eat. He left the computer, and then came back with a small sandwich bag of money he had collected. "Give that to him, daddy." The next day, he started looking around the house for more money, "to give to the boy." You can learn a lot from a three-year-old.
Instantly, I received 34 likes and 8 comments: more than I had ever received on a single status update.
So, what’s to Like?
Facebook has become a fascinating barometer of social preference over the years. This is true on both a micro-scale (say, amongst my own friends), and on a larger scale (examining the collective behavior of Facebook users in general).
The evolution of normative social behavior on the social network is dizzying. In the early days, groups were an instant way to gain a form of democratized consent about social issues: from the mundane to the substantial. Okay, mostly the mundane. People joined groups en- masse to publicly display their disdain or support for politicians, sports teams, and -- of course -- to protest Facebook changing its user-interface. In these early years, Facebook users were app-crazy, ready to have their voices heard (or “seen,” as the case may be) by manically getting involved. A snapshot of these early years would fool you into thinking that the average person was more concerned about slow-walking people than the environment or social injustice.
Eventually, everyone learned how to create a group, and the splintering soon followed. Groups that would have attracted a few thousand members a month earlier started to attract only a few dozen. A potentially huge problem emerged. People’s opinions to this point were democratically aligned with joining groups. But, with so many groups and the novelty clearly wearing off, Facebook started to feel like a vacuum: noisy and closed.
But then something extraordinary happened. In February 2009, Facebook introduced the “like.” In the blog post that introduces the concept of the like, Facebook itself didn’t seem to anticipate that “liking” could become one of the most important social phenomena of the modern Internet. Eventually, Facebook Connect functionality enabled people to like things that were posted other than on Facebook, and the Internet would never be the same.
Likes themselves went through their own social filter evolution. At first, people liked only things they really enjoyed. Users dipped their toe into the water by liking the usual suspects: the arrival of a new baby, graduation, or an amazing video. But, eventually, users began to realize that “liking” meant “I support” or “I empathize.” Personal losses and even tragedies were “liked,” as users began to realize that “liking” didn’t necessarily mean “yippee, I’m happy,” as Facebook had originally planned.
Users eventually realized that “liking” had social and political connotations, which would follow you onto other news feeds. Like something and be prepared for your inbox to be filled with notifications of every other person that liked, and every comment that ensued. If you’re a Facebook user, you know what I’m talking about. You casually like a comment about an organic apple pie recipe, and the next thing you know, you’re witness to a heated debate about GMOs, organics, green washing, Obama, pesticides and cholesterol.
What does this mean to green marketers and cause marketers who want to be liked? The answer is a double-edged sword. Users are hungry for content that has personal meaning with no filters, and they are increasingly bored by the mundane or uninteresting. We are beyond that phase where people will like something to show they on your side about a relatively unimportant issue. Now, people need to see a level of genuineness, meaning, and real relevance. This is where marketers need to wake up and realize that to be part of the conversation, they have to offer something of substance.
On the other hand, issues that are too contentious or clearly divisive amongst friends should be avoided. These hot-button subjects vary regionally, so brush up on your state, provincial, and local politics if you want to be part of a productive and positive conversation.
Oh, and by the way: my son’s little sandwich bag is at about $20.