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Like buttons provide valuable new source of web traffic

Doesn’t it seem that the Facebook Like buttons populating the web have been there forever? In fact they were only introduced in June 2010, and are already being used on over 350 000 websites, according to the Wall Street Journal. Essentially, the Like button is a tool that allows users to show appreciation for what they are viewing without having to say a word.

All that is required is a simple click that lets your network know that you have given your stamp of approval. And this implementation of Facebook’s Social Graph is subtly changing the model of how web sites attract traffic.

Like buttons are activated once a Facebook user is logged into Facebook. At this point they are able to like something on another page. Through the act of liking, users are able to see which of their friends also like the same things and encourage their other friends to like whatever it is too. For example, if a user likes a movie on IMDB (Independent Movie Database), that movie automatically gets pushed to your favourite movies on Facebook. The same applies for sites and products. Facebook explains interestingly that “the kind of people who click ‘Like’ tend to have more influence, with an average 185 friends, compared to the average 130”.

According to Kevin Barenblat, co-founder and CEO of leading social marketing company Context Optional, “the act of liking a product is equal to raising ones hand to the brand and saying ‘Yes, target me with messages and special offers’ or something equivalent”.

With the added comment functionality, the Like button is able to provide companies with in-depth data into what consumers want and what they are interested in. This helps companies generate insight into what products are popular, and can help them refine their offerings. The website that hosts the button can see how many people have clicked “Like” but receives only anonymous, aggregate demographic data from Facebook about the sort of people who clicked it.

Businesses the world over have realised the effectiveness of including social media aspects to their marketing and advertising campaigns, and drawing in new markets. According to the Wall Street Journal, “E-commerce and media sites say the Like button increases their visits from Facebook fans, making it an alternative to Google search engine as a source of free traffic.” The article goes on to explain that it is hard to quantify the results, but there is between a “one to five fold increase” in referral traffic from Facebook.

Shopping sites like eBay and Best Buy have joined the Facebook community with social plug-ins that gives them direct access to consumers. But what makes the Like button so different from third party plug-ins like ShareThis is the fact that it was created by Facebook for the express purpose of directly bridging the gap between consumers and businesses.

Social plug-ins that allow users to share content are more enthusiastically employed by media/content sites, such as CNN, ESPN, TechCrunch, and E Online. In a society dominated by social media and 140 character attention span, the Like button has the potential to expand reach and, in Barenblat’s words “increase the life span in this world of split-second news cycles and information overload”.

For most brands, adding a Like button seems to be a sure way to get more people interested in their products, and it seems to fill the function of “online word of mouth” which is still the best form of advertising.

However, just because there is a Like button doesn’t mean people will click it, and the more people get bombarded with advertising, the less interested they will remain in the real content of a site.

By employing its social graph, Facebook has provided brands with an amazing opportunity to build loyalty and consumer engagement through Facebook Pages. But the relationship is a double-edged sword, and using the Like button solely for marketing purposes can cheapen the experience and cause consumers to become fatigued.

Author | Mich Atagana

Mich Atagana
Mich started out life wanting to be a theoretical physicist but soon realized that mathematics was required. So, she promptly let go of that dream. She then decided that law might be the best place for her talents, but with too many litigation classes missed in favour of feminist... More

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