by Michael O'Neill
May 13th, 2013

Nothing causes as much consternation as a Facebook Like. Marketers want to give it a value. Sales guys want to monetise it. Communicators want to measure it. But the simple fact is that few people understand it. So what is a Like?  What does it mean when a Facebook user “likes” something?

First, you need to realize that “liking” is the primary language of Facebook. It’s the feature that most defines the social network and the easiest and fastest way to communicate en mass on Facebook. In other words, it is what makes Facebook, well, Facebook.

Now let’s define the two different types of Likes – pages/brands and individual pieces of content.

Liking a Page

When a Facebook users likes a page or a brand they are doing several things at once:

- First, they are defining themselves. By liking a page or a brand, the user is rounding out their profile about who they are to their friends and family. Revealing that they like Starbucks rather than Dunkin Donuts is a way people on Facebook put themselves into a specific  camp. It is part of their personality – part of their profile about who they are or want to be.

- Second, they are voluntarily opting in for content from the page or brand. They are saying they are open to receiving information (posts, videos, photographs, contests, deals, news, etc.) about the page or brand. It is much the same as signing up for a newsletter.

For a brand to get a Like is a great thing. Not necessarily because the brand gets to brag about how many people like its page, but because the Like strengthens its bond with the user. They have become a part of that users’ profile – a small bit of their Facebook personality. They have also been granted the opportunity to engage with the user. The brand now has permission to communicate and interact with that user.

Liking Content

There’s a big difference between liking a page and liking a piece of content. There’s also a difference between liking content and sharing it – but not as different as many people think.

But first things first. Liking content means just that – the user likes it. A like is an endorsement for a single piece of content – post, article, link, photo, app or video. The user is saying they found this content interesting, fascinating, horrifying, funny, disturbing, entertaining, etc. The Like becomes a recommendation for others to check out the content.

No doubt there has been a lot of debate about whether a Like is an endorsement and no matter how you slice it – it is. There is simply no other explanation for why people would Like a piece of content unless they were endorsing it. That doesn’t necessarily mean they approve of it, but they are bringing people’s attention to it – so that they in turn will consume it, read it or watch it.

Liking vs. Sharing

Liking something on Facebook – or a website connected to Facebook – is easy. Click. Done.

When a user Likes a piece of content, it publishes a short (usually a sentence) acknowledgement of the Like on the person’s News Feed (with the thumb’s up icon) and allows friends access to the content. Liking content is a form of sharing – not unlike the retweet feature on Twitter.

But Facebook fans can also share content. Sharing is like the Like feature on steroids. It allows people to customise the content and proactively push it out to friends. Sharing takes more time, but most people would argue it is better than a Like. But not by much.

And regardless both features allow others to see the content.

And that’s the real point.

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