The Art & Science of Balancing “Likers” and “People Talking About This”

In February, an Ehrenberg-Bass Institute study found that not only do 1% or fewer Facebook users engage with a particular brand they Like, but that even “big passion” brands are having a difficult time getting their Likers to engage with their content.

Two factors play into this phenomenon. The first is the EdgeRank algorithm. EdgeRank limitations are well known: affinity, weight and time decay mean most of your fans miss out on your page updates. The second and far more subjective factor is marketers’ short-sightedness when focusing only on “Liker” acquisition, assuming that a Like is always a sign of engagement.

In reaction to this new insight, the industry has made a shift in which KPIs to prioritize, privileging engagement – using metrics such as Facebook’s “People Talking About This” numbers – over Facebook Likes because the value of Like is, instead, in growing earned media.

But focusing your social media strategy on engagement paradoxically requires a strong base to move the needle on earned media. It’s not reach versus engagement – both matter and build on each other. We need them to balance.

So how do we develop an engagement strategy that also builds acquisition?

  1. Define the right value proposition. The right value proposition puts what users want first and the brand’s objectives second. This is the essence of the social media contract. What do users want? Deals, exclusive content and celebrity access continue to top the list of what social media users look for from a brand. Double down on giving the right goods and the Likes turn to Loves.
  2. Borrow equity. When you’re building your program, think about which communities and personalities can lend you an audience to ensure that the initial launch and, in some cases, the content have built-in audience interest to jump-start scale. Why start from scratch when consumers are already waiting to hear from you?
  3. Strategically use paid media. Social media is often a slow burn and frequently needs an initial spark (or resparks). This is no truer than when thinking about the need to support most value propositions involving paid media with the right mix of acquisition and engagement ads. Choose the mix that best sets off the discussion.
  4. Maintain continuity. Together, continuity of value propositions and content creates the long-term value proposition. So if your brand is pushing its content production, you need to think about whether that content is about entertainment or utility. The more continuously you drive home your specific positioning, the more likely you’re going to attract the target you want with content that consistently and cohesively delivers the brand’s message. Of course, the trick is doing it in a way that is appetizing to your audience and, in some cases, imperceptible as a branded initiative.

Engaging to scale is ultimately about building a community over time – not just pursuing aggressive Like acquisition. While there is a need to focus on scale, the brands that prioritize engagement over acquisition are the ones that will not only buck the 1% trend, but will be able to use valuable social media chatter to push their consumers further down the purchase funnel. That’s a result worth talking about.