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Do Facebook Likes equal engagement?

Posted by reyjunco on April 21, 2011 in Commentary |

On my way to work this morning, I was listening to Mara Liasson on the NPR news headlines reporting about President Obama’s Facebook Live Town Hall held yesterday. Liasson reported that while Obama was a pioneer in the use of social media in his 2008 campaign, he’ll have a lot of competition in these spaces from his Republican challengers in 2012. But what I found most interesting was the following quote:

The President has a Facebook page with 20 Million fans – but relatively few (just about 16,500) liked his invitation to the Facebook town hall meeting

So it seems that she was suggesting that Liking is they key engagement metric. While Facebook Likes may be part of the construct of engagement in the Facebook user experience, Likes don’t tell the whole story. There are other metrics of engagement that are more important in overall Facebook use and more specifically in viewing Facebook videos. For example, the number of users viewing the video should be included within a context of other metrics (Likes, comments, etc.).

Like

I posit that for an activity such as the Like Button, the 1% rule applies – that 1% of users create content, 9% engage with that content, and 90% view that content without participating.  While I won’t extrapolate actual numbers from this, I think it’s fair to say that 16,500 Likes equates to exponentially more viewers. This is clear in my research on Facebook use by college students– while 62% of students (N=2,368) reported viewing videos on Facebook, only 37% reported posting videos. In a related finding, I found that posting photos on Facebook is negatively related to involvement in real-world extracurricular activities while viewing photos on Facebook is positively related. In the latter case, the “lurkers” are actually more engaged than the content creators.

I’ll take that a step further and say that the Like Button doesn’t convey much meaning in the case at hand. If I Like a friend’s content, I do so to communicate an appreciation for what they’ve posted, knowing that they’ll see the Like and register my approval (a digital “thumbs up”). On the other hand, many users know that Liking content posted by Obama or another celebrity’s page means very little to that person. The person who is represented by the page will (more than likely) never see that Like. If they do, it will be buried among the 16,499 others. So while I know that there’s a high probability that my friend Rebecca will realize that I appreciate something she’s just posted, I know there’s a low (almost zero) probability that Barack will know that I Liked his Facebook Live video.

In addition to the psychosocial issues I just discussed, at least one technical issue is at play. Facebook recently redesigned the Like Button so that it works just like the (now defunct) share button. Now, when you click on the Like Button, a story about that item is automatically added to your news feed. While I didn’t use the Like Button much before, I use it even less now knowing that it will post an additional item to my news feed. I’m guessing that other Facebook users feel the same way.

What are  your thoughts? What do you think are important metrics for measuring engagement on Facebook?

Image credit: FindYourSearch (Creative Commons Attribution): http://www.flickr.com/photos/findyoursearch/5202301465/

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  • http://www.alumnifutures.com Andy Shaindlin

    Interesting assessment, with several relevant points. Thanks!

    You said, “…posting photos on Facebook is negatively related to involvement in real-world extracurricular activities while viewing photos on Facebook is positively related. In the latter case, the “lurkers” are actually more engaged than the content creators.”

    It seems like this equates “online engagement” with “real-world engagement.” It’s important to ask whether there are two non-congruent forms of engagement (online vs real-world) that ought not to be compared or substituted for one another. I don’t know the answer, but it would be interesting to figure out how or whether online and offline engagement are somehow “equivalent” for purposes of this kind of analysis. Someone likely has already explored that question.

    Thanks again!

  • http://lisagualtieri.com L Gualtieri

    I’m especially interested in the use of “like” in patient communities, blogs, etc. where “like” may offer an immediacy that has little emotional connection, compared to writing a comment, but that it signifies having read it in a more profound way than a mere page view.

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