Do I Like "Like"?

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"Social Exchange" is a column focused on the evolving roles of social media in online advertising.

Social ExchangeToday's column is written by Andrew Pancer, Chief Operating Officer of Media6Degrees.

It was inevitable.  Facebook announces a new platform and the emails start flooding in.

“Do I like ‘Like?’” they asked.

As Facebook continues to position social as the default setting for the web, examining ‘Like’ and its potential for digital advertising under the marketing microscope seemed like a worthy endeavor.  And after thinking about its possibilities, just as with Facebook Connect, Facebook’s new Open Graph platform, of which the ‘Like’ feature is a component, has allowed the company to take another important step to help publishers, advertiser, and consumers.  Clicking the ‘Like’ button is only a small part of the story.

Facebook’s new platform reminds me of Google’s early days when the company’s name became synonymous with search, even before they launched AdWords, their true revenue stream.  Like Google’s search engine, Facebook has a huge audience. Even if the “Like” platform is embraced by a small percent of their audience, it will still be used by a large number of people, and more importantly, it will be instrumented on many sites throughout the entire web . This doesn’t solve their monetization issues but goes an incredibly long way towards getting them the data they need to start monetizing the engine.

Judging the success of ‘Like’ and the Open Graph platform may prove to be difficult.  Even if it is a small success outside the walls of Facebook, the data collected by Facebook will be incredibly valuable.  They will know who went to specific marketer sites, what products they looked at, and whether or not the consumer bought anything. Did they “Like” and therefore advocate for the brand? And of course, which of their closest connections clicked on the link. This data is gold for Facebook. It’s a prospecting tool as well as a pitch for their sales team. Even if ‘Like’ isn’t deemed a huge success in terms of adoption rate, the data created from the platform will sell itself. Facebook will have all of that data, safely partitioned away in its walled garden and out of the reach of Google’s search algorithms.

If it is a huge success and adopted by the masses the implications for the industry will be enormous.  It’s a topic that has been covered well in the press, and while I’m waiting to see how this plays out before anointing Facebook as the new Internet king, it’s easy to imagine that the reshuffling of the link economy could create a legitimate challenger to the Google search empire. The SEO industry is certainly watching developments unfold closely, as the idea of consumers searching by Facebook social links based on ‘Likes’ instead of Google algorithms is one that could impact the search giant’s revenue.

The Open Graph will enhance the user experience by utilizing the social graph.  The movement towards a personalized web wherever you go is underway.  We’re seeing this strategy resonate more with publishers, as they become more cognizant of having to push content and messaging to their readers and their readers’ social graph, both on their sites and throughout social media. Add friends’ influence as an additional layer to consumers’ personalized web experience and it the possibilities for marketers really open up. With the new platform, effective publishers will optimize the user experience to get the widest distribution of their content. As a result, these sites will see a lift in time spent and frequency to visit.

Similar to SEO, there will be bad players trying to game the system in the platform’s early stages. There will also be the foolish ideas and half-baked stunts in the beginning. Businesses who claim to be ‘Like’ experts. Public relations scams. Scattershot ads by marketers asking consumers to “Like us on Facebook,” or “Pay per Like” schemes. But over time, those taking advantage of the system will be weeded out. Privacy issues will be resolved. Tweaks will be made. Companies that are utilizing the platform correctly to engage consumers will emerge and the ecosystem will flourish.

Getting back to the original question: do I like ‘Like?’  Unfortunately, a one word answer is not going to suffice here.  As a component of the much more significant Open Graph platform, I think that ‘Like’ has great potential and is an important step in creating a more personalized web. It’s still in its infancy, so grandiose statements are being tossed out everywhere,  but realistically, Open Graph’s data collection abilities coupled with even a small number of Facebook’s enormous audience will make this an attractive option to marketers.

Follow Andrew Pancer (@apancer), Media6Degrees (@media6degrees) and AdExchanger.com (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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