Facebook recently announced an update to their Open Graph API, that included this notable shift in policy:
You must not incentivize people to use social plugins or to like a Page. This includes offering rewards, or gating apps or app content based on whether or not a person has liked a Page. It remains acceptable to incentivize people to login to your app, checkin at a place or enter a promotion on your app’s Page. To ensure quality connections and help businesses reach the people who matter to them, we want people to like Pages because they want to connect and hear from the business, not because of artificial incentives. We believe this update will benefit people and advertisers alike.
I haven’t heard a huge fuss made out of this, but it seems like a pretty significant change. How many different facebook games, local stores and other places have encouraged you to “like” their page in order to get some sort of discount or virtual currency? It works largely because it’s still “free” to the end user. I know I’ve liked my local exterminator to save $10 on a flea spraying, even though I couldn’t care less what they have to say on Facebook. Now, a relatively subtle tweak in Facebook’s Open Graph policy has effectively thrown that entire practice out the window.
Presumably this change is to prevent non-organic growth of a company’s facebook page. Facebook wants a like to be an indication that you find value in what someone is saying. To use my earlier example, I traded my Facebook “like” for a coupon, not because of the content that was shared by my exterminator. I’m also likely to quickly unsubscribe or mute the company’s posts after I get my coupon, since I didn’t care that much about them anyways.
That behavior has significant consequences. You end up gaining a large number of followers that don’t actually care about your message, and just end up padding your number of “likes.” Depending on how Facebook’s filtering algorithm works, it may even mess with the people who actually do care about what your saying. So really, these “like us to get a thing” campaigns are potentially trading actual engagement for a higher number of likes.
Think People, not Numbers
This is a trap I expect many organizations fall into, and I’ve seen how it happens firsthand. Quite often, the first (or sometimes only) bullet point on a report about your social media is your number of likes/follows. Data like number of shares, comments, or impressions is secondary at best. Most people don’t have a good concept of what those numbers “should” be, but they can easily look at their competitor’s Facebook page and see how many likes they have.
But that’s not the right way to think about social media. Good social media pages will recognize that a relatively small pool of passionate fan swill get you much more value than large numbers of uninterested followers. You’ll create a group of people who not only purchase your products, but advocate for you. One passionate follower who shares your post can expand your reach by hundreds – all with a personal endorsement attached. That’s the real promise and benefit of social media, not the number of “likes” on your page.
You also avoid the trap that websites like Groupon fall into – attracting people who only care about a bargain vs your brand. No disrespect to the coupon-clippers of the world, but they’re by and large not returning customers, nor are they going to bother to advocate on your behalf.
So maybe, by taking away a tool like this, Facebook can incentivize page owners to get their followers the old fashioned way. Facebook is trying to do to social media what Google has been trying to do with SEO – get rid of the ability to “game” the system and instead identify exactly what their users would want to see. You don’t follow somebody on Facebook, you like them. The term implies a much stronger relationship than what’s built off of a coupon.
I’m partially disappointed, because I’ve considered using campaigns like this in the past. For example, we could give 10% discounts to an event in exchange for liking us on facebook, as a way to kickstart the Facebook page of a new annual event. I’d like to think that, once having those followers, I would then create content that they find valuable. But maybe I, like many other marketers, need to be better about not taking shortcuts on social media. We need to stop trying to manipulate the platform to force our message onto people. That’s an old media way of thinking.