Hooked on Likes: An intervention


Marketing magazine recently published an article from me on how to think outside the Like box. They’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it in full below:

In the movie Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise has an epiphany. He writes it down. The gist is this: less is more.

He stays up all night working on his mission statement, and when he’s finished, he sends everyone a copy.

They fire him.

When the world is convinced that more is more, trying to convince people to do less is a difficult task. But that’s exactly what I’m about to do. Here goes.

Facebook has us hooked on Likes. We’re addicts. We collect them fanatically, often at great cost. We compulsively check to make sure competitors don’t have more than us.

And it doesn’t end there. We want our Likers to Like everything we post. So we tell them to ‘Like this’, because if we don’t they might not, and if we’re not being Liked then we can’t justify our budgets and – golly gosh – the whole social economy we built might come tumbling down.

But the problem isn’t that we don’t have enough Likes. The problem is that we’re measuring the wrong things.

Take the prompted engagement for example. The prompted engagement is a Facebook-wide pandemic; it’s a virus infecting the content of thousands of brands. You’ve seen these posts. Some of you have posted one: ‘Like this if you X’, or ‘Comment if you Y’.

This isn’t a new tactic in social – just ask the Twitter and Tumblr users who were getting asked to ‘RT if you love Bieber’ and ‘Reblog if you have a head’ years ago.

The prompted engagement isn’t new to Facebook, either. But what was once a quirky engagement tactic used by a handful of brands has now reached such a level of saturation that it’s both difficult to ignore and impossible to escape.

These days when a brand asks me to ‘Like this post’ I unlike them.

How’s that for cut through?

Maybe if we all did the same brands would stop doing it.

A post where you have to ask for engagement is like a cold call. Yes the person picked up the phone, but they didn’t want to talk to you.

You got your engagement, ticked off the KPI, scored well against your competitors, but is that going to help your business? I doubt it. Probably the opposite.

It’s disingenuous. Cheap.

You’re better than that.

Social is not a cold call. It isn’t about meaningless KPIs and empty metrics. It’s about conversations. It’s about brand management and customer value.

A Like doesn’t represent your power as a brand. A prompted engagement doesn’t represent success. Real, meaningful conversations do. And you can’t buy a conversation with anyone worth conversing with (ask a telemarketer).

With a good strategy, 10,000 highly-engaged fans will provide more value than 100,000 indifferent ones.

The trick is, as I said in my previous blog post, to offer valuable content. Hire great people to make your content. Then if you absolutely have to spend money, use it to promote that outstanding content.

Case in point: General Motors. In May, GM pulled $10 million out of Facebook. ‘The ads don’t work,’ they said.

Facebook told GM to try putting that money into community management. ‘Create good content,’ they replied, ‘give people a reason to talk to you.’

The addiction to Likes has made marketers so focused on growing their communities that growth is taking presidence over nourishment. If things stay like this, we’ll be left with a starving mass of under-fed communities producing anaemic engagement.

Don’t be afraid of fewer Likes. A smaller, content-focused community is more likely to attract actual customers, or those who would like to be. Prize pigs need not apply.

Also, don’t be afraid to measure yourself differently. Measure referrals, for example, not engagements. Measure sentiment. Pay attention to comments. Talk to your fans.

Less can be more in social. Fewer ads, more valuable content. Fewer fans, more valuable engagement. Don’t worry about what your competitors are doing. Focus on what your community wants and deliver that.

Back to Jerry Maguire. In a famous scene at the end of act two, Tom Cruise begs his only remaining client, Cuba Gooding Jr. to “help me help you”.

You can help social help you by changing your thinking.

Spend your time and money creating great content, not on telling your fans what to like.

Ultimately, if you’re listening, they’ll tell you.