Why I Don't Like You

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Here’s a true story about Facebook and the "like" button…

I was recently having dinner with a very senior marketing executive when the conversation turned to brands and how they handle themselves in online public forums. In this instance, the senior marketer had a customer service issue that was not being resolved. Not unlike many other people, they turned to Social Media to air their grievances in hopes of getting resolution. They were quite pleased with the outcome after posting to the brand’s Facebook page, but made it clear that even though they got the resolution they were looking for, it had left a bad brand taste in their mouth and that they would no longer be buying from them. Not long after that incident, they kept seeing this brand in their news feed and became extremely irritated by this. The senior marketer thought that they were spammed by this brand. The senior marketer didn’t realize two important things:

  1. In this instance she had to "like" the brand to be able to post on their page.
  2. Once you like a brand (or anyone) you can moderate how much content you see of theirs on your wall.

Pimping for likes.

It’s kind of weird, isn’t it? You have to "like" a brand to complain about them? Sure, it’s just nomenclature, but it’s important to know and understand that the majority of people probably have no idea what it actually means when they "like" a brand on Facebook and what happens after that. This is not some uncommon rarity either. In fact it’s becoming more and more commonplace, as brands seem to be that much more interested in getting people to like them on Facebook than getting them into their own loyalty program or trying to build a direct relationship with them.

Another true Facebook story…

Not long ago, a major retailer contacted our agency, Twist Image, because they wanted a strategy around how to get 50,000 people to "like" them on Facebook. My obvious question was, "why?" and their answer was, "because that’s how many likes our competitors have and it’s frustrating our CEO." The brand was even willing to give a unique discount to each person who clicked the like button for them. Yup, they were willing to "buy" Facebook likes. No joke.

Who do you like?

My new role as a Media Hacker (still loving that title) is one where I force myself to think not of the brand and its strategy, but to think of the consumer. To be a consumer (in fact, I’m a huge consumer – on all fronts). Who do I really like? It’s a small, few and trusted brands. However, there are brands that I have been using forever that I would never like on Facebook, and I would certainly never like a brand just to get a discount, enter a contest or because they asked me to (no matter how nice). The truth is that many people are not like me. The majority of people will complain about privacy and the use of their personal information, but will then divulge everything to save a dollar. It’s not an indictment on our society… it’s simply a fact.

I don’t like the big Facebook like button gold rush.

There. I said it. Every brand I come across on Facebook smacks you in the face with the product and then a huge arrow pointing upward with copy akin to "like us and win!" or "like us to get more information!" It feels cheap and it is cheap. Social Media is interesting because it forces brands to connect in a more human way (I call this, "real interactions between real human beings"). It’s not about bumping up numbers because suddenly the amount of people following you looks like some sort of National Debt Clock for the world to see.

Brands need to quit the cheap games to gain likes and need to focus on developing tangible relationships and publishing valuable content that makes them worthy of following and liking.

(in a strange twist of zeitgeist, my Podcasting brother, Joseph Jaffe, just Blogged about this as well: Hawking For Likes).


  1. I am pretty embarrassed Mitch I recently had some build us a custom Facebook page and it is has a huge arrow pointing to the like button. It does not offer a bribe but……..!

  2. Ok, so since that is all anyone asks for when they approach us to help them with social media, how can we not be in the position of educating them (which they usually resent no matter how well you teach them) so that brands will understand that expecting to get long lasting results is not achieved by going after it like a guy wanting more notches on his belt?

  3. Interesting post Mitch. If we could somehow change the nomenclature of Facebook I think you’d see the most engaged and actually likable brands float to the top. But for now it does appear to be how the game is played.
    Do you feel this game gets played on twitter as well? I don’t think I see it that way. you really have to work a little harder over there to “earn” the like.

  4. Very timely post Mitch! Although not about marketing, I have an anecdote that is related to your post. Just today morning my friend posted a Fb page created by a distraught father about his missing son. The father wanted to spread awareness about it.
    There were more than 4000 “Likes” on that post. I felt something moving in my stomach. I understand that those people did not actually like it; they were just showing their support. But that sounded so wrong!

  5. Thanks for telling it “like” it is Mitch. These days, I often feel as though social media’s creative potential has been pimped. Marketing and measurement instruments like the Facebook ‘like button’, Klout and Peer Index really don’t tell us much yet offer a stranglehold on value [sic].
    Please keep media hacking and challenging readers to be real with the tremendous communicative opportunities that make our world interesting and maybe even a better place.

  6. “Brands need to quit the cheap games to gain likes and need to focus on developing tangible relationships and publishing valuable content that makes them worthy of following and liking.”
    Very interesting. And as I read this, I realized, if I replace BRAND with MANAGERS, or FRIENDS, or CoWORKERS, the same approach has a more immediate and tangible human impact.
    Great post. Thanks.

  7. I’m always amazed by the perception brands and people for that matter have about “Likes” and “Follows”. Just last night I was curious what type of people my Twitter followers followed and why. The reason I was curious is I always end up with some fairly random followers. Which is fine, and I appreciate their interest, but is there some contest that I am unaware of where the person that follows the most wins? Another that always puzzled me is the brand or individual that insist they will follow you if you will follow them back. What? Why? What value does that bring me? Facebook Likes are just as annoying. There are just so many brands doing a bad job of social media. I hate to be so negative, but it’s true. They either spam you, overpost thus filling your news feed with drivel, or under post leading you to believe that they are out of business. And don’t get me started on friends involved in multi level marketing and their 30 oust per hour.
    Wow Mitch, you hit a hot button here with me. Sorry to take up so much space in your comments.

  8. I agree selling the farm for some “likes” is ridiculous, though most likely driven by a misguided notion of positive metrics. However, I also think businesses greatly overestimate the degree to which I or anyone wants a “relationship” with them.

  9. IMO the reason why people are hoarding up Likes is because of ROI. If only they looked at feedback per post as a better metric of determining whether their efforts are succeeding or not we won’t have all this foolishness.

  10. I agree with the drive of your article but want to make one small point on:
    “The majority of people will complain about privacy and the use of their personal information, but will then divulge everything to save a dollar.”
    On a Facebook business page, when a customer ‘Likes’ the page, the business does not have access to that customer’s profile, only the comments that customer then makes on the business’s wall. That is half the point of a business page vs profile page, and why businesses would be violating Facebook conditions if they create profile pages.

  11. Totally. Feedback per post is the only way to gauge customer interaction on social media. A Facebook ‘Like’ is not a direct relationship with a customer, that customer could never come to the page again and filter out the business page feed from their News feed, whilst still having the ‘Like’ showing somewhere on their profile to flag to their friends the sort of things they, well, like. Which could I guess lead to some indirect influence ROI…or just some indirect influence ‘Likes’! I like and I am actively interested are not the same!! Nor for that matter, is I will buy. A social media business-customer relationship is a long term thang not a quick fling.

  12. Although I agree with Mitch when he says ‘brands need to focus on developing tangible relationships and publishing valuable content that makes them worthy of following and liking” how do you get them to follow you or even see that content if your fan base is non-existant?

  13. Although I agree with you with regards to building tangible relationships, you haven’t offered any concrete tactics for building such relationships. Maybe a follow-up post would be a good idea.
    Secondly, I don’t agree that gathering ‘Likes’ is such an evil thing. Our goal is to increase sales and grow the business. If we have an opportunity to offer a coupon or other incentive that will stimulate purchases, hey, we’ll implement the strategy. A good customer experience will lead to further organic ‘Likes’ post-purchase. Satisfied customers will tell their friends…

  14. I couldn’t disagree more on your post: “an arrow pointing to the “Like” button making the brand look cheap”. Because of it, we’ve catapulted some of the biggest brands in Canada, including Kraft and other automanufacturers in a tasteful manner. These folks are strong brand advocates that continue to engage with the brand, where we could have lost this opportunity if that “Like arrow”/pre-Like page wasn’t there.
    I agree on the “why-do-you-want” question. Hands down that should be asked, but you would think that we all would be past the “why” stage. Interesting that they didn’t have a true answer: “engage with audience, get feedback, improve customer service, provide recall info, etc…”.
    Thanks for the post Mitch.

  15. Currently nothing more irritating than hearing marketeers prattle on about how success is gained through generation of lots of Facebook ‘likes’ / support / members – with no real follow up to how that translates to ROI for the product/company. Facebook is one strand of how to promote your offering – and that’s it…..!!!

  16. Today’s pursuit of ‘Likes’ reminds me a lot of of the mid-90s days of the web when CEOs were obsessed with ‘Hits’. The underlying driver of these notions is the desire at some level, to understand how well the brand is performing against competitors. The problem, just like in the early days of the web, is that simple methods to measure success are really in their infancy. And so executives latch onto the simplest, most tangible representations of what passes for success metrics. Today’s flavour of the month just happens to be ‘Likes’.

  17. Mitch, I’m in complete agreement with building “tangible relationships and publishing valuable content.” But I don’t think that, and the FB like button are mutually exclusive.
    When I go to a Page, I never automatically click the Like button, regardless of the offer.
    I go and check out the Wall, go to the website, check the person out on twitter and linkedin. Then and only then do I decide to “like”, because then I really do.
    If I don’t like what I see, I certainly don’t “like”.
    I’d like to think (pun intended), that others would do the same when visiting my Page. The FB like should be real: not an automatic click because there’s a big arrow, bonus or automatic pavlov’s dog response to do so. But because you genuinely do “like”.
    Create valuable content and build relationships: clicking the like button is just another measure of engagement, not a cheap trick when viewed this way. Just my two cents:)

  18. Lessons learned on the playground:
    1) it’s better to have a small group close friends than a large group of fleeting acquaintances. The first group sticks around and helps you out; the second will bail on you in a heartbeat.
    2) Be a good friend yourself to make and keep those close friends.
    3) Don’t throw sand.
    Social media is a playground, only digital — the same rules apply. The importance of the “like” button is grossly overrated.

  19. Undoubtedly, the social media marketer’s first priority is ensuring the brand produces quality content that resonates well with the audience. That’s social media 101. For well known brands, the next priority is scale. If a household brand name has a low social base, what does that say about their social efforts? It says nobody likes them… literally, it’s not going well.
    I’m seeing a lot of marketers push this type of content out on their personal blogs and I feel obligated to read it. If you are a social media marketer who needs to show direct results for your work, which ALL of us do, Facebook likes are continuing to be a priority.
    Other priorities of scale include engagement, although brands should now be focusing on monetizing engagement. There’s a time and place for warm and fuzzy likes and comments on a Facebook post, but companies need to make money to keep the lights on and employ their workers. If social media is the way of the future, those efforts need to directly influence the bottom line if social media strategists are to be taken seriously and for the profession to have any chance to expand and grow.

  20. The reason I never ‘like’ anything is because it says, “Send me your ads.” I don’t like ads. If I want something, I know how to do research. And I especially don’t like ads that tell me I can let them send me ads only if I also let them have access to my account any time they want it to gather whatever data and info they want about me and my friends. Just why on earth would I do that? Even “American Idol” Required, via ATT, access to all my data any time in order to vote online. Count me out.

  21. The Like button is and will continue to be an easy tool for monitoring social media success. How can you have a conversation if the communication is one way? I thought that was the problem with traditional advertising. It was directed at consumers and telling them how to behave. Now brands are asking to be “Liked” so the conversation can be reciprocal. It makes sense to start where the consumer spends much of the time. On Facebook. Liking is the first step in so they can earn more trust. In what other platform does a brand have a chance to engage with it’s users on this level? None! “Likes” are a great way to start a conversation. The smart brands acknowledge and respect this trust. The dumber ones squander the opportunity. I “Like” one of my favorite authors a few months ago on FB, now I have some nice conversations every few weeks. How cool is that. He recommends some great books I might like and I help him with some marketing ideas. It’s a new world and as a creative person I am glad to be a part of it. As for the hard selling social media tactics? Too bad. it’s all part of the game. Bottom feeders move to the bottom, hence the name. Great piece!

  22. Great post Mitch, it definitely points out how brands are chasing the numbers and not the relationship. If Facebook really wants its “Like” to have value, it needs to recognize how it’s current limitations are being leveraged by smart marketers. The best thing to do would have a “Dislike” button – then a real picture would come out where a user could see the ratio between likes and dislikes. Though this again could be abused by markets clicking dislikes on their competition… which drives back to your point where developing real relationships and good content should be the real goal of any brand

  23. Hi Mitch,
    I had one occasion where I’ve needed to “like” a brand to leave a complaint. It was a last resort. The bigger problem in my case was that there was no other way to engage this particular company to address a customer service issue–and, not surprisingly, they still didn’t get it (sigh). But even though I can hide companies in my feed, I tend to only “like” a few brands who are using Facebook in interesting ways. In other words, providing value to me.
    Why is this concept so hard for so many companies to grasp?

  24. As somebody that has experience building business facebook pages, I’m not apologizing for using the “forced like” to maximize the amount of “Likes” accruing when people visit a brand page. Nobody would argue Mitch’s big point that social media offers incredible opportunity to build real tangible relationships with people. But who says that needs to be mutually exclusive of an online push that also looks to “bump up the community numbers”? We can pretend and pontificate that building brand communities online isn’t about “the numbers” or buying facebook likes. But major brands with fb pages with millions of Likes are buying them daily. Comon Mitch, their suddenly “cheap” marketing and doing it wrong? We’ll continue to to covet the “Like” for one reason beyond having “tangible relationships” – our minds still make assumptions about brands / people (and their influence) on the number of Likes or Twitter followers we see they have. Starbucks with 147 Likes just wouldn’t make sense? Besides, forced Likes, organic, paid, whatever… Doesn’t it still come down to the content you post on the wall – how it resonates and engages that really matters?

  25. I never said they’re doing it wrong. I said that forcing the like doesn’t engender the starting qualities that usually leads to a better relationship and the usual result of those actions is more one-way blasting than engagement from my brand experiences.

  26. Not sure if you need a “dislike” button, but it would be nice to have both a “like” button for those who really want it and more of a “connect here” for those who have a more direct question, gripe or whatever else they would like to do beyond simply saying that, “I like and support this brand and want the people who are connected to me to know this.”

  27. I’ve thought about using a “forced Like” long and hard on some brand pages. Since I’ve seen it significantly bump numbers up organically – I’ve often opted for it. I don’t mind the “one-way blast” to start the dance off and then challenge the brands content to be so good – it builds that long term engagement.

  28. As a data hoarder, I’ve always been curious about what a ‘don’t like’ or ‘meh’ button would produce. Don’t companies with heavy R&D budgets want to know when people feel ambivalent or even negative about them? Buttons are cheaper than surveys after all.

  29. Mitch: The reason that senior marketing kept seeing updates from the brand he didn’t like (but had “Liked”), was a function of EdgeRank, or the algorithm that determines which updates appear in your News Feed from all the friends and Pages you’re connected to.
    If you Like a particular Page and leave some comments there, it drives up your affinity to that Page and is essentially telling Facebook that you WANT more of its updates.
    Just the way the algorithm works!

  30. Boom goes the dynamite! If Facebook (and Twitter for that matter) didn’t show the fan/follower number on every page, we would think about them MUCH differently. Imagine how much emphasis there would be on email or landing page conversions if those numbers were shown at all times?

  31. I couldn’t agree with you more. For some reason engagement/interaction rates are more difficult for individuals to understand.
    It seems that with the ‘likes’ you can turn around and convert that into an equivalent to impression rates which most executives understand, thus the push to ‘like.’
    I’ve encountered a good deal of push back when trying to shift the focus to the engagement rates and using that information to guide future content. It seems it’s more ephemeral. ‘So, 0.6% of those who ‘like’ us commented, clicked through or ‘liked’ the link, what does that get me?’
    This seems to be an area where we as digital marketers need to improve our communication. Myself included.

  32. I agree that of course it would be better to foster engagement through other means than contests. But I work with a lot of small companies who have single person marketing departments where creating unique content every day is a huge challenge. And yes the “like” is overrated because as people have posted here the quality of your community is important. I work in the musical instrument industry which by the way is the most viral industry I have ever seen! Musicians love to talk about their music and their gear to everyone. In numerous polls these people WANT the contests and they WILL participate. And if done correctly with targeting these people WILL become part of an engaged community and become consumers of your brand. So I think you also have to look at what market segments you are talking about when discussing these things.

  33. my instant reaction is that a “senior marketer” should understand something as basic as the like button and how it populates a feed.
    for a ceo not to get it, well, that’s par for the course.

  34. Interesting article. Social media are fast becoming the front pedlar of businesses nowadays, and people embrace this opportunity. Market strategy, or however one would like to term it, in Facebook most especially often result to focus mainly on upping the people who “like” them (as you said) and certainly without weighing the value.
    I agree with the lot here. I would want my business to cater to a few clients, having a relationship with them and gaining their loyalty and trust, than have hundreds of impersonal “likers”.

  35. I feel sorry for that CEO and their company.. They don’t know how market their brand in the social media, they can simply hire a social media manager/expert.. And why don’t they try to get their Fanpage posted in FB Ads.
    Well, as for me.. Yes you can complain on a certain Fanpage BUT you have to actually “Like” them first. HOWEVER, it’s not like you can’t undo that because there is still an “Unlike” button for Fanpage.

  36. Nothing wrong with asking people to like you, Bill. The problem Mitch writes about is when you want people to like you for some external reason that is not tactical but imitative.

  37. Thanks Ari, really still just learning about Facebook and how it might be used for business and was taken aback by the attack on “BIG ARROWS”
    Sober second thought would have me believe that getting someone to choose to listen to your message could only be construed as a positive?

  38. The problem is in the “force” to like. No brands have to do this. You can let people see/review the content, provide the value and then ask for the like. Instead brands keep their content behind a “like wall”.

  39. To receive your posts I do need to subscribe via RSS and I do so for convenience. I could visit your website many times a day to check if there was anything new but that would be waste of my time more often than not. Maybe I just don’t understand well enough how FB works? Don’t you have to like or friend to get someone’s feed? Am I just being thick here? A link or two to an example might be helpful.

  40. Why would bookmarking a website to visit be a waste of time, Bill? My mother does that with my blog. She doesn’t visit other people’s blogs. She doesn’t subscribe by RSS but has my site bookmarked in her browser and visits every morning when she checks her email.
    If you think about other websites you visit that don’t have RSS feeds, such as, oh, Google or Wikipedia, do you type them in manually or are they bookmarked for easy clicking?

  41. Those websites are visited with an intent that can’t be anticipated Ari, at least not yet.
    It is a relative waste of time for your mother to do so, but what parent wouldn’t do anything to stay in touch with their kids? She may chose to click a bookmark because to do so makes it more intimate?

  42. If clicking a bookmark is to be intimate, then you conversely imply following a blog by RSS is not intimate because you are not choosing to read its content on your schedule but by the schedule it is distributed to you. Liking a Facebook page is no different — under the presumption that you do not know what the page will write your way in advance.

  43. Agreed if we are talking about your mom, even if I am contradicting myself? ( do not have the time this morning to check back and think it through).
    I will sign up for your RSS to find out whether the content is stuff only a mom could love ๐Ÿ™‚ ( disclaimer: mine does not likely qualify even on that level).
    Enjoy your Sunday Ari.
    P.S. Just read your comment through for the sixth time and I am now unsure whether I am responding on point at all? Some conversations are too difficult when not face to face.

  44. I’m a musician!
    And YES, I definitely feel the same way too – it’s very important to see the character of the community you are creating your business in. Especially independent musicians, we are very eager to learn how to succeed in marketing our art in this climate, so I often find myself liking musical instrument/hardware/software brands I can find to get all the info I can.

  45. Even though I concur with Mitch when he states ‘brands need to focus on developing tangible relationships and publishing valuable content that makes them worthy of following and liking” how would you encourage them to follow you or perhaps notice that content if your group of followers is non-existant?

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