New Research Shows That Most Marketers Don’t Know How Facebook ‘Likes’ Work

Facebook Likes

According to a new study done at Tulane University and featured in Harvard Business Review, social media managers who think that simply building up followers on Facebook is enough to boost a brand’s sales, may be wrong.

It turns out that Facebook likes don’t work the way most brand managers think they do. Likes on their own don’t drive sales. Daniel Mochon, an assistant professor of marketing at A. B. Freeman School of Business at Tulane University and lead author of the paper, explained that if companies want to convert social media fans into active customers, they have to engage with them through advertising.

When most companies think of Facebook, they view it as a purely social platform and believe that those social interactions will lead to more customer loyalty and more customers that are profitable. Mochon cautions that this is not necessarily true. The reality is that customers would normally only see a fraction of a brand’s Facebook content and rarely post on a brand’s page on their own.  This changes when they are targeted with paid advertising.

Mochon worked with Dan Ariely of Duke University and Janet Schwartz, a Tulane assistant professor of marketing. They teamed up with Karen Johnson, the deputy general manager of Discovery Health, an insurance company in South Africa. Together they designed a study using the Facebook page of the company’s wellness program Discovery Vitality. Consumers on the program earn points for engaging in healthful behaviors such as exercising and redeem those points for rewards.

The team investigated whether getting customers to like Vitality’s page would act as an incentive to earn more health points. New customers were invited to take a survey and a random group of these was invited to like Vitality’s Facebook page. Those who weren’t invited served as a control group. Both groups were monitored for four months, but the team found no difference in reward points earned. This suggests that liking the page and being involved in its social community weren’t enough to change behavior. Vitality then paid Facebook for two months to display two posts per week to the liking group. That group earned 8 percent more reward points than those in the control group.

The authors speculate that the ads were effective because they actually reached customers. Facebook filters its content by the activities and preferences of users. When content is posted, there is no guarantee that it will reach followers’ timelines unless it is boosted content.

Schwartz believes that this is the first causal demonstration of the effect of Facebook page liking on customer behavior, especially behavior that takes place offline. The results indicate that Facebook pages are most effective when they are not used as a platform for social interactions, but rather as a form of traditional advertising.

The full peer reviewed study was published in the Journal of Marketing Research.