It was the "like" that made Facebook more valuable than the average website or social network, but today we get some disconcerting data about that little tag's real power, or lack thereof. Analytics from the BuzzFeed network, which includes TMZ and The Daily Mail, show that "Facebook fans do not equal Facebook traffic," according to Buzzfeed's Matt Buchanan. Looking at the July traffic numbers, BuzzFeed's data scientists found "little to no correlation between the number of fans a publisher has and increased rates of referral traffic," Buchanan writes. This is something that non-media companies started figuring out months ago: Facebook page "likes" don't get people to consume things. In the news world, that means "likes" don't translate to clicks (which in turn translate to ad dollars). And the same goes for the regular business world, in which "likes" don't result in sales. That's why General Motors pulled its dollars from Facebook, not because it couldn't attract a big audience, but because that big attractive audience didn't do anything. It's these "like"-related concerns that have brands (and therefore the analyst crowd) concerned, and now the media contingent is hopping aboard.
The "like" was supposed to be the button that changed it all. It "made Facebook billions" and had "advertisers ... drooling," in the words of The Wall Street Journal's Andy Kessler. This was because the "like" was supposed to give companies more specific information about their consumers than before. For media, the "like" held a certain promise, too: It would increase access to information, which would also result in more pageviews. The "like" does some of the things that advertisers and media want. Advertisers get to see who "likes" but those people don't generally buy. For media, the "like" still works on articles, offering a little snapshot of whether or not an idea worked, but not on branded pages since fans don't equal readers. It hasn't reached that full potential because, as Buchanan notes, the "half-life of a like is very short: It doesn't mean so much for brands or sites general pages that last and last and last," he writes.
It's not that the "like" doesn't work at all, but it's just more of a sharing tool than an allegiance once, which is a big problem for Facebook and brands, and not as much for the media world. News article sharing still gets people to see and read things, but the like is more superficial than a company would want. That's why people didn't feel comfortable when Facebook turned their "likes" into ads with their faces next to them -- even when it didn't involve lubricants. The Facebook "like" really means "like this enough right this moment to click a noncommittal button," not "like this so much I am going to click this button and commit to later buying lots of things."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.