If one of your social media marketing goals is to get more Facebook “likes,” you need to read this!

“Merely liking a brand on Facebook doesn’t change behavior or increase purchasing.” (Harvard Business Review, March-April 2017 Issue)

Say what?

I know. All this time, you thought Facebook marketing would lead to increased sales, donations, engagement, changed behaviors, and more. Surprise!

And, with all the money, time, and energy focused on social media marketing today, you’re going to find this quite enlightening.

Academics and researchers Leslie K. John (Harvard Business School), Daniel Mochon (Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business), Oliver Emrich (Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz), and Janet Schwartz (Freeman School of Business) say their studies prove otherwise.

“It’s possible that getting people to follow a brand on social media makes them buy more. But it’s also possible that those who already have positive feelings toward a brand are more likely to follow it in the first place, and that’s why they spend more than nonfollowers.”

So, they did 23 experiments over the past four years involving more than 18,000 people. Using an A/B testing method, they explored a crucial counterfactual: what followers would have done had they not followed a brand.

These are the four experiments they conducted:

  • Testing whether liking a brand—that is, passively following it—makes people more likely to purchase it.
  • Examining whether people’s likes affect their friends’ purchasing.
  • Examining whether liking affects things other than purchasing—for example, whether it can persuade people to engage in healthful behaviors.
  • Testing whether boosting likes by paying Facebook to display branded content in followers’ news feeds increases the chances of meaningful behavior change.

The big result?

Social media doesn’t work the way many marketers think it does.

Endorsing a brand doesn’t affect customers’ behaviors or lead to increased purchasing. Plus, it doesn’t trigger purchasing by their friends either.

In fact, “liking” is a very weak endorsement. The research shows that it doesn’t carry the same weight as real-world recommendations.

So, what will work?

Advertising. Yes, the “older” marketing method.

One reason Facebook advertising can be effective is that a brand’s social media page reaches a highly desirable audience; likes illuminate a path for targeting ads.”

But, what if you don’t have the budget for social media advertising?

The researchers suggest you use your social media channels to gain intelligence from your most loyal customers. And, that doesn’t mean luring followers with content and giveaways which can backfire by attracting people who are not strongly attached to your brand.

“Companies pursuing this option should favor organic growth, letting customers seek out the brand. Almost by definition, the people who go to the trouble of finding a brand on social media will be its most devoted, and thus most valuable, customers.”

If you’ve been frustrated by the poor results you’ve had with social media marketing campaigns, you are not alone. According to a CMO survey conducted last summer, “few firms are able to prove the impact of social media quantitatively.”

And, marketers plan to throw more money at the channel! As a percentage of their marketing budgets, marketers plan to expand their social media spend by 90% in the next 5 years!

So now we know the scoop. We’ve been using social media marketing the wrong way. No wonder!

Will these results change your social media marketing strategy?

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