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So, what’s in a “Like”, anyway?

If you listen in on any casual conversation between business owners about social media, before long a conversation about the number of Likes on a Page will come up. For some reason (well, not mysteriously, but a blog post in itself so let’s just go with ‘some reason’ :-)), people seem to love comparing the number of Likes they have. As someone who studies the psychosocial implications of social media, it is a funny and intriguing thing to watch, and usually plays out as follows:

  • Person A smiles, and mentions their 300 Likes.
  • Person B says they have 400.
  • Person C says “I have 50,000”, which promptly makes Person A & B shuffle their feet, ashamed at having raised it.
  • Person D has 5,000, but actually doesn’t share it, but as Person C walks away, they quietly whisper to the others “she paid for fake ones, she told me”.
  • Person E, with his 100 Likes, asks more about buying Likes (do not ever, ever do that, by the way!).
  • Person F, works as a Brand Manager for a multinational corporation and just stands, quietly next to me, saying “bitch, please!” with her eyes and without saying a word, knowing that she is sitting on half a million Likes they don’t know what to do with.

Aside from finding these discussions both amusing and fascinating, I have learned that, for SMEs in particular, so much of their self worth as business owners is attached to these numbers. And it is okay to admit that you just want to be Liked. That is a valid feeling, and one that Facebook deliberately perpetuates and exploits. You want to be more popular. That’s OK. But you need to be honest with yourself about what you do on Facebook and what the payoff is.

Emotions and feelings of inclusion aside, who, of those 6 people mentioned above, actually has a “valuable” number of Likes? Whose is worth more? The Page with 300 Likes and 100 loyal, high paying clients? The person with 500 followers that are 250 paying customers & 150 future customers, who aren’t ready to buy, but engage regularly? Or the Brand who has 500,000 people purely by virtue of existing before the Internet and having a generous advertising budget, that doesn’t actually do anything?

Or the 50,000 fake followers who don’t exist?

Every business person that I interact with wants to ask me what a “good” number of Likes is. And, like everything in this space, the answer is complicated and highly nuanced.

But if I had to give you an answer? There isn’t one as long as you are achieving your goal.

Likes on Facebook are not inherently worthless, and they are not inherently valuable. What does matter?

  • How many convert;
  • How many engage with your content (and therefore share your message with their networks);
  • Your goals.
  • And yes, my friends, the intangible stuff, like how much fun you have, how you FEEL about your community and how happy you are with the content you are creating for them.

Facebook make an awful lot of money from telling business (especially small business) that Likes matter, or at least are the only thing that matter. They are not.

Small businesses need to have an entirely different marketing strategy to a big Brand or Enterprise. For SMEs, a Like is only as good as the engagement and conversion into customers. Likes should be organic, fueled by good content (highly visual, humourous, moving, clever). Do what it takes to get people sharing and talking about what you SAY, because higher engagement means a lower advertising cost. “Brand Awareness” is for those with a luxurious marketing budget. The rest of us need to connect with our communities.

If you create excellent content that is engaging, fun, interesting, different, challenging — stuff that gets people talking, the Likes will follow. It doesn’t have to be polished, with high production values. It just has to be real, and trigger an emotional response.

When one of our clients started coaching with me 5 months ago, he had 500 Facebook fans. I taught him how to create memes. I helped him come up with a framework for posting humourous and engaging content that is easy to produce. I gave him permission to have fun.

He ran with it. Now, he has 2 pages, with 5100 & 4000 each and growing every day, which for a Perth-based small business is spectacular. All of them are local, all customers or future customers. He has had franchise enquiries and over 90% of his bookings come via Facebook alone.

This was before his website was even properly launched, and before he even had everything set up. Because he focused on content, engagement, and the fun, the Likes followed at a rate that shocked even me. Many of his services are booked until 2014 & he has increased his prices due to high demand for his services.

He has never paid for Likes. He has simply been interesting. And in this case, his audience of 5,000–8,000 people is highly valuable, because it converts. He also occasionally offends people, and that is okay, because he has my permission to not care if he is Liked by everybody. But, he is anyway.

It is great to see the numbers increasing every day. It makes him feel validated, and of course, it also validates me, as his advisor, to see it going so well. But the first thing we discuss, whenever I call him, is not about the number of Likes he has, but how his business is doing, and how he feels about it. I then kick his butt for a bit and nudge him to create more shareable content, and every time he does, he does even better.

So, don’t worry about the Brand Manager who has 500,000 neglected people, telling you that you need to invest in smick, high quality production to engage. And especially don’t worry about the dude that is so lazy (and irresponsible!) that he buys 50,000 fake Facebook likes. And don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. Just think about how you can nurture the community you have, for the best result.

The rest will pay off. And then, you’ll find yourself in a conversation with other business owners about this, and feel no need to mention the number of Likes you have, because you will have nothing to prove. Because you know that you are doing a good job.

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