Hiding content behind a “Like-wall” is killing the value of a Facebook Like. In pursuit of accumulating as many Likes as possible, many brands (including big names like Oreo, Red Bull, and Angry Birds) are making it compulsory to click the blue thumbs-up in order to access content. In doing so, these brands are eroding the value of the Like and damaging their own social presence. Likes are valuable as a measurable demonstration of consumer interest – no matter how superficial, imperfect, or imprecise that measure might be. Proposed as campaign goals and reported by social media monitors, many see Likes as a form of brand equity, created by the connections between brands and their fans. Likes are public proclamations of affinity that, in volume, boost the public reputation of brands, so it makes sense that a higher number might correlate to greater brand value.
Not all Likes are created equal, however, and not all return the same value to brands. Let’s consider three key types:
- Earned Likes come from people actively seeking out and Liking the pages of brands they enjoy, those they or want others to think they do.
- Paid Likes come from those arriving at a page via paid media (think Facebook ads). Paid Likers enjoy a brand but need a prompt to actually Like the page.
- Gated Likes are drawn out from people forced to click through a “Like-wall” to access content or experiences, often those promoted by some digital marketing effort.
Like-walls transform Liking into a mechanical act – click Like, receive cookie. Locking compelling experiences behind the gate may draw Likes from visitors (many will probably just leave) but that doesn’t mean they’re actually fans. Existing fans may have Liked anyway, so forcing them through a Like-wall returns the same value as a Paid Like (making them Like is unlikely to damage their impression of a brand much). Potential fans annoyed by the Like-wall may Unlike once they’ve enjoyed the content, departing with a negative impression of the brand and some resentment. Those too apathetic to Unlike are just as likely to never bother returning, leaving with a negative or neutral impression of a brand they never felt strongly for either way.
With potential outcomes sounding neutral at best, perhaps Gated Likes do no real damage – only one of the three users profiled above will Unlike once they’ve accessed the content. Brands score new Likes two-times-out-of-three!
Unfortunately, Gated Likes pollute the relationship brands are trying to build with their fans. Fans who Like provide de-facto permission for brands to communicate with them. Ideally, this is because fans want to hear what the brand has to say, as well as advocate on the brand’s behalf, allowing brand postings on their wall. Likes serve as an unpaid channel for brands to reach those who Like them, and to reach out through the networks of those fans. Bribing those already likely to Like a page subverts their intrinsic enjoyment, making the action less enjoyable and less genuine. Forcing the indifferent to Like does not count as “winning them over.” Their fandom won’t grow when a brand they’re indifferent to spams their inbox and wall with updates.
Gated Likes ultimately devalue Likes for all, polluting the relationship brands are trying to build with their fans.
Gated Likes ultimately devalue Likes for all. Even if you avoid erecting a Like-Wall, each time someone else bribes users to Like their page the act of Liking and receiving updates from a brand becomes less meaningful. Sadly, there is not much to be done to avoid others polluting the pool. We might hope for action from Facebook, as they have their own investment in keeping the value of a Like high, but the real response is to lead by example, “voting” down this behavior by creating engaging experiences that aren’t gated behind Likes.