Ah, the Facebook like. An obsession of social media marketers, the envy of competitors and a key metric in many of today's marketing campaigns. But is the like over-hyped—and is it time we moved away from this much-loved social metric?
Well, it seems Facebook certainly thinks so. Those with their finger on the social media pulse may have already noticed one or two changes afoot behind the scenes. The big one is that it looks like they're testing the removal of displayed likes from fan pages. This means that, while likes are still visible in Facebook's search bar, they're missing from the fan page itself. To be completely clear: pages are not losing their likes, they're just going to be less visible on your page.
So why is Facebook doing this and what does it mean for brands? For some time now, marketers have been grumbling and there's one criticism that's getting hard to ignore: effectiveness. Facebook knows likes are not that useful to brands and they're taking the interests of marketers seriously. After all, many marketers invest heavily in their social media activity and Facebook is keen to be seen as the brand partner of choice. They want to help drive business for their partners, rather than just help them to get lots of likes. And true to form, they're shaking up their platform once again.
Changes are coming
We don't know exactly when the new changes will be rolled out but, as ever, it pays to be prepared. Some marketers will be annoyed, and understandably so. Many will have invested in monitoring and growing likes and, of course, there's a massive benefit from having lots of likes displayed on your page. Even so, there could be a massive opportunity here.
Growing your fans and building your following is still going to be an essential part of how Facebook works – it's just now visitors to your page will have no idea how many fans you have. Only page administrators will have access to the specific numbers, which changes the game somewhat. Now pages will live or die based on the quality of their content rather than the halo effect of having lots of likes. And that could be a good thing.
I think we're going to see a shift towards building smaller, tighter communities on Facebook. That means better, more engaging content. Without displayed likes, there'll be one less reason to invest in growing fan numbers. Instead, brands will start to focus on targeting and building the right audience – crucially, the audience that has the potential to be customers. And the savviest marketers are already doing this.
The future of likes
So where do we go from here? I'd say, if you've invested time and resources in building your Facebook page, it's time to review your strategy. Start to push resources towards quality content, targeting and engagement. Move resources away from like-building and monitoring.
Sure, likes will still be around for a while yet but it looks like their importance will fade—and that means having an active, engaged community will be more important than ever. For today's leading digital marketers, this may not be such a bad thing after all. The challenge for the rest is how to keep up.
Luke Janich is CEO of Red²