What's In a Like? (Measuring the Value of a Like)

Zachary Chastain
Zachary Chastain Community Manager, Thought Labs

Posted on November 30th 2012

What's In a Like? (Measuring the Value of a Like)

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Recently a post on Harvard Business Review was brought to my attention. Dan Zarrella claims to have spent months creating a formula which accurately measures the value of a like on Facebook. So, has Mr. Zarrella discovered the Holy Grail of Facebook ROI, or is this measurement a dud? Let's take a closer look. You can find the formula over at HBR, and there's also a calculator you can just plug your numbers in at valueofalike.com

It's natural to want to put an inherent value on a like, because it's the most common interaction we encounter on Facebook. However, does a like really have any inherent value in and of itself? I know that social media can be measured, and that it should be measured. I spend quite a bit of time measuring it, actually. However, I believe in measuring smarter, not harder. There are so many metrics available to us on Facebook, we can't measure them all, and we certainly don't want to spend our valuable time measuring junk that isn't important to us, doesn't align with our goals, or that we're not interested in influencing. So, should we bother with measuring the value of a like, and if so, is this formula the key?

  1. I'll say it again, a like is the most common interaction. It has a low barrier to engage. Compare this with other types of engagement. To leave a (meaningful) comment, you must first click-through to a link, read the text of the post, or read other comments before you contribute. To share, you must feel something is valuable or interesting enough to want to share it with others. To like something, you don't really have to do anything but click a button. I like friends statuses when something good happens to them, I might like certain things that I see from brands, but after I like those things, I usually don't give it another thought. Unless that was a promoted post I just liked, my friends aren't going to hear about it on Facebook. Just because I like a status from a brand today doesn't mean that I'll buy from that brand today, or for the rest of the year, or ever for that matter.
  2. What is the use in measuring the value of the like, when you don't understand the value of the more useful comment or share? Or if you don't have a measurement for the relationship between explosive viral spread from shares naturally increasing the number of likes. And then what are you measuring, the value of a like, the value of exponential viral spread, the value of a share? One (deeply flawed) measurement of only one of the ways people engage with your brand is pretty meaningless if there is no comparison with the other types of engagement.
  3.  This formula is positioned as "The value of a like." It certainly provides a value, but it's not the value of a like.This is a problem. The formula takes a very specific goal (increasing conversions by driving traffic from Facebook to an e-commerce store), and presents it as "the value of a like." That's such a broad value for such a specific little formula which only applies to one way you could use your social properties. The formula provides you with something, but what you're given is not what you were promised.
    • On a side note, if you'd like to use Facebook to make hard sells and drive traffic to an e-commerce site as your primary goal, you can make that a business goal and use the available metrics to track your success. In this case you may find some use for this formula. However, a word of caution, people do not come to Facebook to be advertised to, so if you're planning on always leading with the hard sell, well then at least this formula will have you looking at your churn each week. ;)

There is a right way and a wrong way to measure the ROI of Social Media. Setting goals that are valuable to your business and using the available metrics to understand how well you are achieving those goals and using that data to work out how you can do better is the right way. Creating complicated formulas that don't account for many important factors, and are only valuable if your fan page is used primarily to drive traffic to an e-commerce site (not exactly a best practice), to measure the value of the lowest common denominator of interaction on Facebook and assign it an arbitrary "value" is the wrong way.

So, if this isn't how you should measure the value of a like, then what is?

The value of a like is in understanding what type of content resonates well with your Facebook community. It's a useful measurement for that, because people usually "like" the things they truly enjoy. However, it's important to keep in mind that just because a fan liked your post doesn't necessarily mean that person cares about your attached link, or is going to participate in your promotional sale. The number of likes can be influenced by something as simple as the quality and type of photo attached to the very same post. You can post the same copy with two different photos, and one will perform better if that photo resonates better.

In my mind, likes are the most "valuable" when they're in their extremes. If a post receives far below the average number of likes your brand typically receives, then something is obviously wrong. Did you time your post poorly? Is there a problem with your reach? Is there something about your content that just didn't resonate or even just pissed off your fans? These are valuable questions that having below average likes would posit , which will lead to valuable answers for your community, so in that way, a like does have a value. In this scenario, it's valuable because it makes you think critically about why your content is performing a certain way. Is this particular value measurable? Sure, you can measure anything if you give it enough time and thought. The real question should be "Is that measurement useful to me? Will it enable to me to influence my fans in a positive way or understand how and why I'm reaching my business goals?"

As for a "like" in the sense of a new fan liking your page, the "value" in any fan can vary widely from another. One fan may be a very active brand advocate who contributes to discussions, refers new fans, and makes your page a vibrant community. Another may be an influencer with a large audience (such as a popular blogger), who enjoys your products or services and occasionally shares your messaging with his audience, multiplying your reach for free. Still another fan may be a lurker who never engages with your brand and may not even see your posts in his or her newsfeed. As with any other measurement, there's no one size fits all solution, no Holy Grail of social media ROI. You need to first understand what you want to accomplish for your business with the help of your fans, then, and only then, can you start figuring out what they're worth to you.

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Essentially, measuring the ROI of Facebook or other social channels will never be a one size fits all solution with easy numbers you plug into a formula (or an online calculator that does the math for you) and then "BAM!" you're done. It's a puzzle that you must solve. The value of every campaign is another puzzle within the puzzle. Others can give you hints, but it's ultimately up to you to figure it out for yourself. It's the perfect blend of science, art, and critical thinking. And that's why I love it.

Zachary Chastain

Zachary Chastain

Community Manager, Thought Labs

Hi, I'm Zachary, and I'm Community Manager at Thought Labs, a boutique social media consulting agency. Thank you for reading my article! If you enjoyed reading my thoughts, please follow me here on Social Media Today for more insightful articles, and give us a shout on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or our blogs. You can find the links just above my name and to the right.

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Comments

Elena Meadowcroft
Posted on November 30th 2012 at 4:00PM

Thank you, Zachary! Finally, a sensible article not offering a magic formula or pushing some bogus solutions for measuring social media ROI. I absolutely agree that it will never be a one-size-fits-all solution. While social media efforts should certainly be monitored, measured and evaluated, I don't think extracting  a monetary value is always the best approach. Of course, if you can track that a specific social media action (such as a "like") directly caused a purchase - that's great! But more often than not, the effects of social media are indirect. It's like putting a price tag on a handshake - you can't (and probably shouldn't) do it. 

Zachary Chastain
Posted on November 30th 2012 at 6:12PM

Very well said, Elena! I'm glad you enjoyed my post. I certainly agree, social media should be measured, but we need to make sure we're measuring the right things. I think that when you look for shortcuts to avoid answering difficult questions that are key to your success, that you're selling yourself short and throwing away an opportunity to truly be able to prove value based on how your efforts align with your business goals, rather than how your metrics plug in to a formula of metrics soup.

To me, an explanation of how we are achieving key business objectives through our efforts backed up with supporting metrics is worth far more than whatever you end up with from this formula. 

Jillian Cadet
Posted on November 30th 2012 at 4:07PM

Hey Zachary, Thank you for your post. Why is it not best practice to create a FB page to drive traffic to an e-commerce site? I'm pretty sure FB doesn't track clicks, do you think that has some value? We track clicks in e-mail marketing campaigns for a reason.

Zachary Chastain
Posted on November 30th 2012 at 7:49PM

Thanks, Jillian. I would say it's not a best practice to make pushing sales a primary goal on social media because people aren't coming to social media to be advertised to. From brands, fans are looking for valuable information, more so than to hear about the brand's products or their 15% off sale.

That's not to say you should never push out advertising, but just that it should be done in moderation and should be as relevant as possible. I've seen first hand with our clients that while we achieve a very low churn with our regular content and conversation plan, where we share useful information, tips, and other valuable content with fans, rather than advertising material. On these same pages, when we run ad campaigns, even relevant ones, we may see churn increase by 15%-30%, depending upon the campaign. 

You are certainly achieving a business goal by driving more sales from Facebook, but you have to balance that benefit with maintaining the interest of your audience. If too many people are unliking your brand or hiding all posts from you, then your audience is shrinking. If you're only interested in reaching fans who want to see product information and ads, then this isn't a problem, but if you have other business goals you want to achieve and you want to reach other fans as well in order to realize those goals, losing 15%-30% of your audience constantly is a problem.

I use a custom bit.ly link to track clicks. That can be valuable depending on the situation. If your goal is to have a conversation (such as with the afternoon posts we run for one of our clients), then clicks on links are less valuable than a measure of how many relevant comments are being made in the conversation and how often your fans feel your content is worth sharing. If you're trying to drive traffic to a tab on your Timeline or an external site, then obviously tracking links is a key metric you should be measuring.

What you should measure depends on what your goals are for each particular activity. Which comes back to my point that there are no cookie-cutter solutions. You must design a set of methods and measurements for each activity as is appropriate for tracking progress towards your intended results.