Bill Nichols

4 February 2013

Bill Nichols

The Likes:  What IS the Brand Value of All Those Faces in Facebook?

003 – January 2013

So do the social media ‘likes’ – all those faces in Facebook – have any real brand or campaign value?  True, with SM in the mainstream, plentiful ‘likes’ are simply-reported.  They’re also superficially reassuring for page-owners.

But, troublingly according to many, actual impact on consumer preference is often negligible. And their monetary value minimal or non-existent.

Is this some limitation in the platform?  Perhaps a subset of the ‘monetisation’ debate?  Or is it a lack of practitioner expertise in manipulating a frontier medium?  Major new research (*) fingers expertise as the problem. Professional management of ‘similarity’ and ‘ambiguity’, it suggests, may transform outcomes for both brand and PR campaign management alike.

How might that work?

Well, traditional social influence theory (SIT) suggests that physical exposure is required to exert, or interpret, a meaningful social impact.  This is a well-trodden, well-researched path.  It aligns multi-sense neuroscience findings with social psychology.  The emphasis on physicality underpins contemporary retail and service experience design. We all apply it intuitively.  For example, when we pop our head cautiously around an unknown pub’s door to check out the clientele.  Or when we retreat from a retail space where the average age or appearance of the ‘actors’ (staff and customers) creates immediate discomfort for us.

But what about all those Facebook or web page images?  Can the physical rendered as ‘mere virtual presence’ (MVP) – the correct academic handle – help or hinder the process?

Yes MVP helps, say the findings.  If we have a clear target segment in mind, showing brand supporter similarity will signal affinity to visitors, facilitate liking and heightens visitor purchase intentions.  (Akin to the nice warm feeling from the friendly pub!).  Intriguingly a mixed (or heterogeneous) page can also function acceptably as the visitor typically anchors on some relevant images.   Even studied ambiguity (via e.g. silhouettes) may help although it is weaker where the visitor is exploring competitive brands.

But dissimilarity repels.  Just as we retreat from the perceived to be unwelcoming pub!

So, to summarise, owners may bask in all those ‘likes’.  But it’s not just insufficient.  The wrong ‘likes’ – casually presented – may sometimes explain the absence of positive outcomes.

To illustrate active planning, a brand entering a new segment will only release target images.  A second, uncertain of available opportunities, may choose studied ambiguity in the early phases.   A third running a major issues campaign will consciously display as heterogeneous a mix as possible to optimise potential support.

Of course this poses hard ethical questions.  Brands must notify selection via e.g. ‘fans of the day’ type features.  Otherwise they may fatally undermine the medium’s presumed transparency.

But, in short, the ‘face’ in Facebook may really count.  And that innocent charm of social media interactivity and inclusiveness – e.g. allowing any non-offensive user-posted image to stay up – may rapidly pall.

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