Do Page Likes Still Matter on Facebook?
July 27, 2016 Andrew Hutchinson
Now this may seem like an odd question, of course we all want Likes on our Facebook Pages and posts. But given changes over time to the way the platform works and how the News Feed algorithm functions, does the number of Page Likes you have matter as much as it used to? Does having more Page likes necessarily mean you're a better business, or the best option relative to a users' search?
Likes are the fuel that runs the Facebook machine, the tool that defines organic reach, that Facebook uses to target us with ads – without doubt, Likes are important. But just how important are they in the modern Facebook eco-system?
Here's an examination of the evolution of the Like and how it's influence has been diluted over time.
Facebook introduced the Like button in February 2009, providing users with, according to Facebook:
“…an easy way to tell friends that you like what they're sharing on Facebook with one easy click. Wherever you can add a comment on your friends' content, you'll also have the option to click "Like" to tell your friends exactly that: "I like this."
The Like quickly became the crucial currency of The Social Network – people became addicted to Likes as a form of social proof, a sign of your popularity and importance. And when brands started to flood the network in response to its growing user base, Likes also became a key element for business. Rally, you’re no one if no one likes you, and that’s even more relevant from a branding context.
And while the addition was relatively simple and straight-forward, the Like had also changed the game, without even Facebook understanding how important and valuable it would become as a data source. Through Likes, Facebook was now building a history of everything every user was interested in, your every Like was being added to your profile and measured, and eventually, compared against other users to find patterns and correlations, links between your interests that could reveal detailed insights into who you are and what you’re interested in.
Through Likes, Facebook had found a way to build the most valuable data resource ever created. And it was functional, it wasn’t information sourced from surveys or feedback reports. Users were happily providing it to them, and that data was flowing in at a rate of trillions of new data points every day.
So what do Likes reveal about you? Well, nothing much in isolation – so what if you like Harley Davidson motorbikes, right? So you’ll get hit with motorbike ads.
But with Facebook, we’re not looking at individual actions. One Like in isolation is not particularly relevant, but again, we’re not talking about one Like at a time, we’re talking about a massive web of interests being submitted to The Social Network every day through its 1.65 billion (and growing) users. On that scale, every one of your Likes becomes hugely relevant.
Researchers from The University of Cambridge and Stanford University released a report in 2015 which looked at how people’s Facebook Likes could be used as an indicative measure of their psychological profile, and what they found was pretty amazing. Using the results of a 100 question psychological study, which had been completed by more than 86,000 participants through an app, then mapped alongside their respective Facebook Likes, the researchers developed a system which could then, based on Facebook activity alone, determine a person’s psychological make-up more accurately than their friends, their family – even their partner.
Because the common traits of each person were mapped back to their Facebook Likes – a person who smokes, for example, might like Britney Spears. Now, one person with that correlation is just an observation, but at scale, the researchers could map how many people shared the same interests, then map that against other elements to find consistencies. At the end of that, they could determine that people who like Britney Spears, plus X, plus Y, plus any number of other factors are 95% more likely to be smokers.
So even if the user hadn’t revealed that they smoked, their Like profile would do it for them.
From a marketing perspective, that’s hugely valuable – if you knew, for example, that 65% of the people who buy from you share a set of duplicate interests, you could refine your marketing to reach people matching that exact profile. In doing that, you might find that rate increases to 80% – you’ve just found the key audience you need to appeal to sell more products.
As an information source, Likes are hugely valuable – but that’s not the whole story with Likes. Along with this data explosion, there’s also come a problem.
As Facebook has grown, so too has the amount of things each person has Liked. Originally, Facebook Pages were encouraged to get more Likes, as Likes were an indicator that that user wanted to see more of your updates. It actually used to be an ad objective, but they’ve since removed it.
Facebook’s been forced to de-emphasize the Like because a Like alone no longer influences Facebook reach in the same way – getting more people to Like your Page might inflate your vanity stats, sure, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that more people are going to see more of your content.
According to Facebook, the average user could, theoretically, be shown to 1,500 updates every day based on their registered Likes and connections, way more information than a normal person is able to consume in a 24 hour period. As noted recently by Facebook's VP of Product for News Feed Adam Mosseri, while the amount of content being created continues to rise, human capacity to consume it remains fixed.
To counter this, and ensure users continue to have an optimal on-platform experience, Facebook introduced its News Feed algorithm in 2013, which shows content to users based on an increasingly complex array of factors, of which Likes are only one part.
And as soon as this happened, Facebook’s Like lost value – it was no longer as clear-cut what that Like meant or what Liking a Page meant in the context of your Facebook experience.
The value of Page Likes was further weakened as a signal in December 2013 when Facebook introduced the ‘Unfollow’ option, which is easily accessible on every post in your feed.
With this, users are now able to unfollow a Page but still Like them – theoretically, this means that a Page could have 10,000 Likes, yet only 10 actual followers who could ever receive Page updates, rendering those Likes largely irrelevant. And as more people have become more educated about how Facebook chooses what to show you in the News Feed, more of them have utilized the unfollow function more liberally – how many Pages have you unfollowed but not un-Liked?
And given Facebook’s most recent News Feed algorithm update which will put more emphasis on content from your friends and family, Page reach, again, has taken a hit, which once again dilutes the relevance of the Page Like.
So given all this, what do Page Likes actually signify on the modern Facebook? Are they still a relevant measure of popularity, performance or… well, anything?
So to clarify, there are two separate considerations as to the value of Likes.
For personal use, Likes definitely remain relevant, even though they’re not as valuable as they once were. Every time you Like something, it adds a signal to your profile that will then put it in consideration for what you’ll see more of in future, so each Like is valuable, and repeated Likes of content from the same person or Page will definitely help define your Facebook feed.
For business use, post Likes hold value in much the same way – they define reach and help indicate audience response as a measure Facebook can take into account when assessing Page performance. But Page Likes, as opposed to posts, are a lot less valuable than they once were.
As noted, having a lot of Page Likes doesn’t necessarily mean your messaging is getting through, it’s the engagement at post level that really defines your reach and response. In this respect, you’re really better off checking the average Likes a Page is getting on each of their updates rather than relying on their Page likes as an indicator of their quality, if that's the measure you're trying to ascertain.
Yet at the same time, Page likes do function as an important means of social proof.
This is particularly relevant when you consider that more and more people are using Facebook as a reference point when researching businesses – a recent study showed that Facebook reviews are growing at 4x the rate of other review platforms, indicating that more and more people are looking for such info on the site. Even in your own, day-to-day use, no doubt you've seen this also – if you were trying to decide between two restaurants for lunch and one had 100 Page Likes and one had 50, which would you go with?
And there's also the relativity factor – maybe you're only reaching 1% of your Page fans with each post, but 1% of 1,000 is a significantly more than 1% of 10.
Page likes clearly do hold value in this respect, but they’re not the be all, end all. Savvy consumers are learning to adjust and review a business’ Facebook presence on more than just total Page Likes alone because:
- They can be gamed (you can buy Likes)
- It’s not necessarily indicative, due to the above noted reasons
Really, in order to maximize your success on Facebook, Page Likes should only be one consideration – generating engagement with your posts is the best way to build interest and engagement, and that, in turn, will likely lead to more Page Likes anyway. But there may come a time where Page Likes are no longer considered a relevant factor.
In this context, "Followers" is probably a much more relevant and valuable metric.
A follower count that drops every time someone unfollows your Page is far more indicative of your Page’s actual relevance and value to your audience. Really, that’s what I’d rather see than the ‘People Talking About This’ metric accessible on any Page.
Overall, Page Likes still carry value as an indicative measure, but the real value, for the everyday user, is in understanding why they should follow your Page. And that then comes down to a question of use for Facebook – are Page Likes being used as an on-platform indicator of who to follow, or are they being used as a more general measure of how well liked and trusted a business is. If the focus is on improving on platform performance, then the former is more relevant, but if Facebook is looking to be more of a hub of local business info, a resource for users in this regard, then the latter is more critical – so long as people can trust that those Page Like numbers are actually indicative of a businesses' performance, not just their popularity (or on how much money they could spend on buying Likes).
And if they can't, maybe we'd be better off with a "Follow" button on each Page instead of a Like – save that for posts only, maybe.
Because of platforms shifts and developments, the equation of Page Likes has inevitably changed. And because of this, the actual meaning of that number is no longer as clear.
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