Will Facebook Places Check-Ins Devalue Facebook "Likes"?

The value of Facebook "Likes" is supposed to be clear: My friend likes something, and that is valuable and persuasive information for me. This is the idea behind Bing launching social search — if my friends have liked something for which I'm searching, that will be more relevant and helpful information than just another one-size-fits-all search engine results page. It's also the idea behind Facebook's Open Graph — if you visit a site and see that a friend has "Liked" it, you are more likely to pay attention, spend time, and complete a transaction.

But as we all know, a "Like" (with quotations) does not necessarily signify a like (without quotations). An interesting ExactTarget study demonstrated that people may "Like" a brand for a wide range of reasons: to learn about discounts, to earn freebies, for entertainment, to gain access to exclusive content, and — of course — to show support for the company to others. Just look at the list of companies you follow on Facebook — do you like them all equally? Are there any you've followed even though you really aren't a true fan of the organization or its products? The disconnection between “Like” and like will only grow greater in the coming year, as brands looking to expand their pool of Facebook friends reward new fans and followers (an activity I compared with the “black hat” tactic of buying links in the early days of search engine optimization.) 

So if "Likes" are not a true signal of an individual's actual affinity, what is? Facebook's (and other location-based services’) check-ins seem poised to become the new standard for indicating true affinity. Brands may reward me for liking them on Facebook; they might even get me to drive to a store and check in once by offering free product. But what they cannot afford to buy from me is repeated real-world visits. Consumer check-ins are not (yet) available for every brand — I can’t check in to a can of peas in the grocery store aisles or an online-only retailer — but for real-world businesses, consumer check-ins will become the new gold standard for broadcasting social affinity.

I’m not suggesting “Likes” and real-world visits are unrelated. For example, Einstein Bros. Bagels’ strategy of rewarding new Facebook followers can pay off if it converts those new followers into frequent customers who repeatedly check in. But in a year or two from now, which will mean more to a consumer — that friends “Liked” Einstein Bros. Bagels or that they visited Einstein Bros. Bagels’ stores 20 times? 

Button clicks aren’t good representations of affinity and advocacy; actual actions are. This is a lesson learned by Delaware’s Christine O'Donnell who couldn’t turn her massive advantage in Facebook friends into a massive advantage at the ballot box. What do you think this might mean for “Likes” and check-ins in the future? Will “Likes” be as important two years from now as they are today? 

Comments

Good thinking, as usual,

Good thinking, as usual, Augie.

Perhaps it's possible to see a pattern in the way check-ins and likes are evolving: they're converging to sharing experiences. Those experience can of course be in-store visits (check-ins), but also a will to show admiration or to discover offers ("Likes"). People are increasingly showing passion for checking in to experiences: services like "Miso" or "GetGlue", which are totally non-mainstream compared to Facebook today, have features that might be on the edge of this trend.

From a technical point of view, the step from current Facebook Likes and Check-ins and the check-in into experience, is very short. From a conceptual point of view it looks like a little longer path, but probably an evolution we'll see in the next months.

What do you think about the idea of checking in to experiences?

Checking in to experiences

Thanks Stefano,

I think checking in to experiences is a very exciting opportunity for brands. After all, brands are created through experiences (including those in their Facebook Fan page). You mentioned a couple services, but what you described reminds me SCVNGR or Shopkick.

Of course, as with all the other data flooding social networks, there's a need to make sure these sorts of check-ins are relevant to people's friends and not just relevant to the brands.

Great insight Augie. Many

Great insight Augie. Many brands still approach social media, and Facebook specifically, as a numbers game and not as a platform to drive a deeper level of credibility and brand loyalty through content and other forms of ongoing, recurring engagement that reinforces brand affinity.

Brands need to focus not just on driving scale via the number of "Likes" of their , but on developing long-term strategy that consistently provides consumers with a reason to keep a brand top of mind, and provides incentive to want to share that affinity - whether that be via a check-in or a "like" of a post, piece of content, event, etc.

Button clicks can be good representations of affinity and advocacy if it's in fact tied back to an action on a brand page.The real power will come from a balance in the use of both check-ins and "likes" of content, not just a "Like" of a page with no further engagement.

Thanks, Christian

Good points! Thanks for the dialog. I "Liked" it (but there was no "Like" button to click.) :)

Bingo

You hit in on the head, Augie. The issue isn't whether "like" is worth anything, because inherently it doesn't have any true $$ value - which is why all the "Facebook likes are worth $12.45" type research drives me crazy.

"Like" gives you permission to message to consumers. It's essentially a one click email opt-in. Nothing more. So the question becomes how well can the company convert that audience to behaviors that actually ring the cash register.

Alas, most companies (and agencies and consultants) don't see it that way - yet. They are still in the "more must be better" phase, which to me looks an awful lot like the "my email list is bigger than your email list" phase of that channel's evolution.

"Like" as opt-in

Thanks, Jay. I agree--a "like" is essentially an opt-in. Brands also have to remember that everyone who is a fan hasn't necessarily opted in; after all, Facebook users are prone to hiding people and brands from their newsfeeds if there is no perceived value. "More is better" isn't necessarily a bad thing provided it's paired with a strategy to create true, value-added engagement.

Thanks for weighing in!

Questioning "Likes" sensible, but Places is not the place...

Hard not to agree that not all "Likes" are created equal, but it's a bit of jump to assume that Places will have much more meaning in a world where real business and consumption does not require a physical presence. The only thing that matters is a Brand's ability to do something tangible with all those likes, just like they need to do something with (for example) a rash of paper catalog requests.

There is nothing wrong with the "more is better" crowd if those Brands are able to make something out of those connections. A "Like" might not be the next step before a purchase or a physical visit, but it might be the first of 3-4 steps to get there. Given the low cost of entry in this space and the casualness that is tolerated in customer engagement, I won't complain to anyone about the "more is better" approach. Would you rather convert 5% of 100,000 "Likes" or 100% of 3,000?

I'm also not sure the concept of "checking-in" everywhere you go will have any real mass appeal for the majority of social media-driven consumers, let alone the larger populace. In a world that is increasingly an e-commerce and mail-order world, it becomes almost irrelevant except only to those who like to share everything they do. Sharing something like this more privately and directly with the Brand however, might have more appeal - but then those of us writing about these things will never know about it from looking at an FB page.

Likes vs. Check-ins

Thanks for the dialog, David.

I believe checking-in will become a mainstream behavior thanks to the expansion of deals offered through the Facebook Deal platform. It won't happen overnight, but I think the benefits of sharing combined with deals will change consumer behavior

As for conversion, it's always going to be easier to convert someone who visits a brand's real-world location compared to one that just clicked a "like" button in a Web browser. That said, I certainly agree that it is WHAT brands do with their fans that really matters.

Social Media Signage

Social media signage will become more and more important to businesses to inform and engage customers and employees as checkins and other social media updates grow in popularity.