Stop counting 'Likes' - it's a waste of time

Stop counting ‘Likes’ – it’s a waste of time

What’s the value of a Like on social media? According to research by Harvard Business Review, the value is very little. Maybe it’s time to rethink your social media strategy and reporting.

I’ve long argued that Social Media is a marketing channel, not the marketing channel. Multi-channel marketing is always going to be the most effective, but I believe there is a degree of hype surrounding social platforms. At last, there is evidence to support my view.

The experts at Harvard Business Review conducted 23 experiments over four years with 18,000 participants; it resulted in two statements:

  1. “[Liking] a brand does not affect a customer’s behaviour or lead to increased purchasing, nor does it spur purchasing by friends.”
  2. “No evidence that following a brand on social media changes people’s purchasing behaviour.”

The true value of a Like

Here’s how the team at Harvard tested the value of a Like. Half the participants were invited to like a new cosmetics brand on Facebook. The other half didn’t receive the invitation.

All participants were then given coupons for a free sample – redemption served as a proxy for purchasing. Coupon usage for both groups was the same; it didn’t matter whether they Liked the Facebook page or not.

Also, when it comes to influencing friends the value of endorsements seems to be lower on social media.

The team asked 728 people who had recently Liked a brand for the email addresses of friends. They sent each friend a coupon for one of the brand’s products.

One group was told their friend Liked the brand in the conventional, offline sense and had sent the coupon. The other group was told their friend Liked the brand on Facebook and had sent the coupon.

When they compared coupon redemption rates they found 6% of those told about an offline endorsement redeemed the coupon, whereas just 4% of those told about a Facebook Like did so. So Liking a brand on Facebook had no enhancing effect on the purchasing habits of friends.

Interestingly, my research shows up to 76% of marketing executives in the UK don’t track if Likes on social media result in a purchase (see Twitter Poll results below). Given the amount of resources (time/money) devoted to social, I would suggest this is a critical metric and KPI.

The true value of a Follower

In recent years, I have started analysing who follows my B2B brands on social media. It’s a thankless, time-consuming (and boring) task to manually sift through the list of Followers and categorise them as either Competitor, Supplier or Customer.

However, it’s immensely valuable, yet not all marketers do it (only 50% according to my survey).

The average I have seen is 33% are competitors, 33% are suppliers and the rest are potential buyers. But the phrase ‘buyers’ comes with a caveat. Some will be existing customers; few will be a new name/new logo. Many will be serial Likers and Followers (social platforms are very good at identifying people that will Like/Follow anything, so their value is debatable) and a few will be job seekers.

So why are marketing execs investing so much in social Likes & Follows?

Pressure from C-level

C-level executives will often judge the performance of their marketing department on social media metrics, and Likes or Followers are easy for them to see and understand. It’s also easy for them to compare their company’s figures against competitors – all the data is visible.

As a result, C-level demand “more Likes” and “more Followers”. They believe their rivals are riding a wave of new business from social media activity; although they have no hard evidence the activity is improving their competitors’ sales figures.

Pressure from Recruiters

I’ve yet to attend a job interview where I wasn’t asked about my social media expertise. In some interviews, it’s the only question. Without social media on your CV you will not get an interview – and if you do get an interview Likes & Follows are the subject.

This puts undue pressure on marketing executives to use the channel and gives an exaggerated emphasis on the value of social platforms.


My view… Likes are vanity; Sales are sanity.

Remember, the Harvard research showed that Liking a brand does not affect a customer’s behaviour or lead to increased purchasing, and there was no evidence that Following a brand on social media changes people’s purchasing behaviour.

Social does have a role to play. It provides another platform for paid advertising, and Harvard research shows paid advertising to Followers is marginally more beneficial than adverts aimed at non-Followers.

It can also be a source of endorsements to include in other marketing. Plus, many companies use it successfully as a customer relationship tool; answering queries, promoting ‘how to’ videos, product upgrade messages, etc.

There will also be sector/platform variations. Fashion on Instagram will always perform well, especially if it has celebrity endorsement and a paid hyperlink.

Agree or disagree? Drop me an email. You may also want to read my post titled ‘You’re not getting enough traffic from Social Media, here’s why…‘.

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