Tuesday, 19 October 2010

How Consistency gives Insight into Efficient Use of Facebook's 'Like'?

Facebook's 'like' feature has already become a ubiquitous part of almost any social network user's consciousness. The button, which replaced 'become a fan' functionality on Facebook pages and extends externally to websites outside of Facebook, has become one of the de facto ways to express approval for content, as well as sharing it with friends. As the prominence of the 'like' feature extends further into the internet, as seen this week with Mountain Dew's new display advertising, its power as a signaling and sharing function will only continue to grow.

External embeds of the 'like' button have allowed content which exists outside of Facebook to be easily integrated into the network, driving external content into user streams and friends within a user's network outside from Facebook. Facebook has shown that users 'liking' articles are 5.3x more likely to visit URLs in Facebook than average and have 310 friends (2.4x more friends than the normal user). Given the social, highly engaged user that Facebook illustrates liking content, it's interesting to consider how far this affinity extends. Does the 'liking' a brand or page extend past the single action into advocacy or purchase, or does this represent merely a highly streamlined sharing feature?

Does consistency grant our license to engage?

Given a lack of broad reaching hard data, a theoretical answer may come from how powerfully 'cognitive consistency' interacts with the 'liking' experience. Simply put, 'cognitive consistency' describes the harmony between what we think and what we do, the drive for which can affect our behaviour.The drive itself hopes to avoid 'cognitive dissonance' or the imbalance between our beliefs about ourselves and attitudes and our actions. An experiment by Freedman & Fraser (1960) efficiently illustrates the power of the concept:
"A researcher, posing as a volunteer worker, had gone door to door in a residential California neighborhood making a preposterous request of homeowners. The homeowners were asked to allow a public-service billboard to be installed on their front lawns. To get an idea of how the sign would look, they were shown a photograph depicting an attractive house, the view of which was almost completely obscured by a very large, poorly lettered sign reading DRIVE CAREFULLY. Although the request was normally and understandably refused by the great majority (83 percent) of the other residents in the area, this particular group of people reacted quite favorably. A full 76 percent of them offered the use of their front yards.

The prime reason for their startling compliance has to do with something that had happened to them about two weeks earlier: They had made a small commitment to driver safety. A different volunteer worker had come to their doors and asked them to accept and display a little three-inch-square sign that read BE A SAFE DRIVER. It was such a trifling request that nearly all of them had agreed to it. But the effects of that request were enormous. Because they had innocently complied with a trivial safe-driving request a couple of weeks before, these homeowners became remarkably willing to comply with another request that was massive in size."
(Quote from R. Cialdini's 'Influence the Power of Persuation')
 As shown in Freedman & Fraser's experiment, as well as Cialdini's summary, the power of a small thing, the initial request, allowed license for an acceptance of a larger request. The respondents had already agreed to one offer and therefore were motivated to stay consistent through another. Freedman & Fraser also found that the two offers didn't have to be highly related or from the same person to be effective, leading to the conclusion that the action of agreeing may fundamentally change an individual's attitude.

Relating this back to the Facebook 'like' button, we can see where assumptions can be made. Just as a small sign led to acceptance of a larger request, can 'liking' (the smaller action) lead to a larger action (such as engagement, consideration or even purchase)? The study seems to possibly indicate so, but limitations are present. The power of the 'like' button to fundamentally change attitudes hinges on the prominence of the action. The amount of prominence an individual gives the action of 'liking' may impact how effective it was to change an attitude.

The attention paid to a 'like' button varies based on how the it is presented (i.e. externally vs. on a FB page, clearly vs. obscured, supported by media vs. alone). Facebook's data shows that optimizing the position of the like button on a media owner's site increased CTR by 3.5x. Interestingly, data also showed that enabling the like button to display faces of friends who have also liked the content increased CTR by 2-3x over buttons without.

The impact of our friends...

Heider's Balance Theory Model
The impact of visible friends to motivate 'likes' relates back to another interesting theory within 'cognitive consistency', Heider's 'balance theory' (summarized well in this paper by Awa & Nwuche, 2010). Simply put, Heider created a model involving a focal point (the individual - 'P'), another individual or issue ('O') and a final individual, object or issue ('X'). As shown above, relative to the two other points, the focal point may change his views about one object ('X'), based on his view of the other object ('O') and the relationship between the two ('O-X'). By doing so, he achieves a balance in his beliefs (i.e. 'P' feels positively about 'O' and since 'O' likes 'X', 'P' may be influenced to as well).

Modifying this model to external content with a 'like button', we can see how the website ('X'), the user ('P') and the user's collective network ('O') may influence behaviour.While Heider's model is limited to three individual points, if we consider the mass of your Facebook network to be a homogenous individual (which, with apologies to Heider isn't normally the case), then we can see how the social influence of our collective Facebook friends (which we at least casually associate with and therefore probably like on average) helps to encourage an increased motivation towards an attitude shift and therefore a 'like' of content.


So, given this mass of theory and data, how can the power of consistency be leveraged to increase both 'likes' and possible after like behaviour?

Primarily, we should consider the journey of a 'liking' user very closely in planning content. By making the action of 'liking' as obvious as possible, either through supporting advertising, pre & post 'like' content or even integrating the 'like' into other advertising, we can hopefully increase the prominence in the user's mind that he/she has liked branded content.

 A prominent like should hopefully modify a bit of the user's attitude towards the brand, meaning that further communications and a clear pathway to end objectives could increase brand engagement. For example, 'liking' content on a brand's website should transition the user into a situation where, later on, they can like other external content, branded FB content or a branded FB presence. Leveraging these increased interactions, greater requests for engagement or action can be introduced.

The power of consistency seems to work best against those already warm to the content, but by utilizing the power of friends, as shown in the slightly damaged Heider model, we can utilize the need for consumer's to balance their friend network's affinity towards branded content with their own.

Given these considerations, its worth noting that none of this is a substitute for good messaging, engaging content and a clear communications strategy. But by leveraging consumer consistency, we may be able to enhance the effectiveness of a clearly planned strategy and gain further effectiveness from a ubiquitous Facebook feature.

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