by Michael O'Neill
September 10th, 2012

Last week, Facebook started its crackdown on false likes, and the social networking site should be applauded for trying to introduce some clarity into its page measurements. But why stop there? Even better would be if this triggered an end to the wider tendency online for prizing followers over influence; likes over engagement.

For too long, analytics in the region has been a simple numbers game. Ever since the days of the mega digital brand campaigns that ran in China prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, brands and agencies have been fighting a online ratings war around impressions, likes and followers. Admittedly, parts of the marketing industry have matured since then, but too many online campaigns in the PR space especially still use Facebook likes (or their equivalents on other platforms) as a key indicator of success.

This is not altogether surprising. Very early in the evolution of social networking, influence and reach became intertwined. Case zero was most likely the famous tweet-off between Ashton Kutcher and CNN to see which of them could first generate one million followers. For the record, Kutcher won, and he now has over 12 million followers, although that figure has since been well and truly eclipsed by the likes of Lady GaGa and Justin Bieber.

Fair enough, you may say – fame is what these people do and for a Hollywood star awareness is what pays the bills. Influence is an after thought. And it is infectious. Outside the celebrity bubble, the chase to be visibly more popular than your peers and competitors has turned likes and followers into an online currency that gets mistakenly traded for influence. But which would you rather have: 500 engaged and influential followers who you are able to manage, interact with daily, and utilise fully their extended networks, or 500,000 random followers, whose only regular interaction with you is watching your updates fall off their Twitter feed? For most brands, it is a no-brainer.

Social media is undoubtedly growing as a key communications channel. Online conversations are much more than empty chatter. But despite what we are often told, size really doesn’t matter that much. Quality wins quantity almost every time. For brands, Facebook may take your your likes away, but if you take this as a wake up call, you will be left with a much more engaged and productive audience.

 Michael O’Neill is digital managing editor, Asia Pacific, at Weber Shandwick

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