eMarketer recently issued a very interesting piece conducted on Facebook "likes" and the brand loyalty associated with them. We often discuss and dissect with our clients what "liking" a company really means and if forcing people to "like" you is a reasonable way of getting eyeballs to your business. In our opinion and experience, this has been a flawed way of brand engagement since Facebook implemented the Brand pages.

According to Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, only 1% of Facebook fans actually interact with branded pages. The study looked at Facebook metrics for the top 200 brands, and through an examination of activities such as "likes," comments, posts and shares, the research group found nothing substantial to link a brand's Facebook presence with loyalty. This really is no surprise when you think about it. As a consumer, being forced to "like" a company's page simply to view the contents and engage is not only limiting, but also audacious. Many companies fail to understand where they stand on social media sites. As strategy consultants we often hear a client say that they "have to be on Facebook" regardless of the industry they are in, to which our reply is "why do you say that"? As many of you who read this article can relate, the answer is usually the same: "because that's where the eyeballs are". In theory that makes sense, but in practicality it does not. And, it depends on the nature of the business.

For many businesses, namely those who sell a product or service, Facebook is a must. In fact 54% of those surveyed by eVoc Insight stated that they were somewhat or more likely to purchase from a brand. Of those, the most "liked" pages are for food brands, TV shows, music, movies and clothing. Organizations outside of that realm need to understand that there is a major difference in consumer behavior on social media sites, and just because people inhabit the site does not mean that they need to be inundated with your information. And forcing people to "like" you just to see what you're about will deter more people than you think.

What is interesting to us, and something that we have been saying from the very beginning is that the limited consumer engagement with brands on Facebook suggests there may be a disconnect between the reasons why consumers actually "like" a brand and the reasons brands think consumers are "liking" their page. In fact the CMO Council asked Facebook users about their "expectations" when "liking" a brand on Facebook, and not surprisingly the top expectation was to be eligible for an "exclusive offer". However, showing the huge disconnect between the marketing community and social media users, when the CMO Council asked marketers what they thought the "likes" meant, a quarter responded that it is "because they are loyal customers".

Liking something indicates esteem. However, liking something does not necessarily result in behavioral change, namely buying or recommending the product. Why do you think so many consumers were upset when Facebook suggested that it would use people's "likes" as indication of their recommendations to friends? People buy because an item is relevant to their needs, not because they like something.

We cannot stress enough that marketers need to be conscience of the fact that Facebook remains primarily a place to interact with peers and share experiences. Many consumers who open up to brands on Facebook do so because they truly believe that may help dictate decisions on the business. Others will "like" a page simply to give the organization some constructive criticism before unliking them. Whatever the case may be brand marketers should not expect they've earned consumer loyalty simply because a consumer has clicked the "like" button. 

How do you feel about the issue? We'd love to hear your thoughts!