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HAPI’s beef with Facebook’s Like button.

Did you hear the recent story about Israeli couple Lior and Vardit Adler who named their newborn girl Like after Facebook’s Like button? Wow, talk about marginalizing a life from the get go. Maybe little Like didn’t score so well on her Apgar. Maybe her parents weren’t in a particularly loving mood that day. Or maybe her soft, newly birthed head resembled a pixilated thumb? Whatever the reason, her parent’s naming decision does not get an up thumb from me. Of course, I’m biased. If I may borrow a discontinued phrase from Facebook, I have not “Become a Fan” of the Like button.

For clarification, I’m referring to Facebook’s Like API, the social widget that Facebook created for developers and enables anyone to put the Like button on their own Website. Facebook introduced the Like plug-in around April 20, 2010 and it quickly spread like a digital cold sore throughout the Internet. More than 50,000 Like buttons were installed on Websites within the first week and the button has averaged 10,000 new Website installations a day ever since. Fear of being left behind has caused a lemur-like movement among companies to incorporate the plug-in on their site with the allure of increased traffic, greater customer loyalty and something, anything to show for their social media marketing efforts.

Like is a friendly pat on the back, nothing more.

For companies searching for ways to measure their marketing efforts, the Like button presents an enticing way to drive traffic to their sites. The Like button shows instant feedback and every click populates the clickers’ Facebook pages for a compounded effect. Theoretically, Like provides a handy tool to get your message out. But as with the word it was named after, there are no guarantees.

Like is a non-committal and wishy-washy endearment at best. Saying you like something is a safe way to express your feelings without the promise of anything deeper or long term. The only time like ever had any real significance was in high school when you were told someone liked you. Like felt great back then. It felt awesome! But even in high school, like came with no guarantees. If no effort was put into developing the relationship, like had second thoughts and moved on to date the captain of the basketball team. For brands, likes are warm leads that need constant nurturing and cultivation and convincing. Putting a Like button on your Website or blog doesn’t represent a deep level of engagement with your customers. It’s not proof you’ve converted a person into a life long customer, or even a one-time customer. In fact, only 17% of consumers say they’re more likely to buy after becoming a FAN on Facebook. (Facebook X-Factors Report #5, ExactTarget coTweet, 2010)

Don’t set lofty goals for Like. Like is mediocre.

Say I’m an ad agency (which is not hypothetical because I really am an ad agency) and I decide to put Facebook’s Like button on my Website landing page (which is hypothetical because I haven’t). I want an easy, instantaneous metric to gauge people’s interest in my Website and content, drive more people to my Website and, if I’m lucky, even convert some of them to actual customers. I install the Like button on my site and within a week receive 100 Likes.

Here’s the thing. 100 Likes doesn’t mean I’ve got 100 new customers or that I will get a 100 calls asking for my business. Like isn’t a promise that prospective clients will drop their existing agencies and hire HAPI. Internet users are fish moving through the vast ocean. They may come across my Like button and may bite because it got their attention. But unless I’ve got something better to hook them with, they’ll spit it out and move on. Just 51% of FANS say they rarely or never visit a company’s page after “liking” them. (The Social Break-Up Report #8, ExactTarget CoTweet, 2011) If I want to be successful in converting Likes to loyal customers, I need a more comprehensive, ongoing strategy. I need to engage them in more personal ways and on many more levels. I need to set many hooks. A Like button won’t suffice.

Like has privacy issues. But it’s Like’s ethical issues that are my real beef.

When questioned about the issue of privacy, Facebook reassured the public that it does not use the Like button to collect personal information such as browsing habits, Internet usage and names of individuals who click Like on company Websites. Okay, fine. However, and this is where it gets very ‘grey’ for third-party Websites, Facebook can use the information for advertising purposes. For advertising purposes? Really? Think about the implications.

Refer to my earlier example. 100 people clicked on my agency’s Website’s Like button. Hooray! No, I mean boo, boo! HAPI’s 100 Likes provided Facebook with valuable information about the individuals who clicked on my Like button, data they can use for advertising purposes. They now have a collection of individuals who are profiled to like ad agencies. Facebook can then use this information against me.

Facebook can hand your business leads, your Likes, over to competitors.

So now an agency comes along (one of my competitors) and wants to run a targeted online campaign to find prospective clients. Voila! Facebook has 100 prospects, my 100 Website clicks, who through its Like button have expressed an interest in my company and may be receptive to ads from competing agencies. Facebook effectively turned my business leads against me. The same is true for any business that uses Facebook Like buttons to engage consumers.

Like wasn’t designed to expand your business. Like was designed to expand Facebook’s business.

And consider this. Facebook is a major player in the Internet search game. Besides generating naturally high search rankings itself, Facebook has also aligned itself with Bing to compete directly against Google. Facebook wants to own search and some feel Facebook search may overtake Google search in the next couple of years. When you take that into account, you really begin to understand the slipperiness of the Like button. Sure, brands can use Like to superficially connect with customers, possibly achieve higher search engine rankings and feel good about implementing a metric that helps evaluate their marketing. But do they really want to do it at the risk of Facebook using that information against them? I certainly don’t. Not until I know more. For that reason, I just can’t bring myself around to like Like. Even for you Like Adler.

What do you think?

Please keep your comments polite and on-topic.

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