The Up & Down Sides of “Liking” on Facebook

I'll take bucketful of Facebook with those jeans.

First the down:

When you “Like” something on Facebook – it is public.

Completely, utterly public.

As in everyone – including search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo – gets to see it.

Once upon a time, if you liked a comment or a link or a photograph, that information was displayed only to the “friends” you were connected to directly on Facebook.

However, the latest upgrade to Facebook last month introduced the end of “fans” and the wide spread adoption of “liking.”

This “like” feature goes by the technical and innocuous name of Open Graph. The Open Graph technology opens up the Facebook platform to the public – even if you’re not on Facebook – and provides your interests to third-party developers.  Here are a few examples of how this works so you can make educated decisions about when to “like” something on Facebook or anywhere else.

“Liking” might sound innocent, but it can be risky to your privacy:

  • CNN is an early adopter of Open Graph.  When I visit the CNN web site there is now a sidebar that tracks and displays the articles and videos that my friends on Facebook have “liked” or that they have shared.  For example, just yesterday I learned that one friend shared the obituary of Lena Horne and another liked a story about actress Betty White on Saturday Night Live.  This is information is being provided to CNN by Facebook.
  • If you are noticing (like PC World‘s Dan Tynan) that your Pandora music stream has recently seemed to be playing your songs – it isn’t a coincidence.  Pandora has a partnership with Facebook and is pulling your musical “likes” off your profile page.  As Tynan noted when three of his favorite songs played in a row: “It was both cool and the tiniest bit creepy.”  Not only that, but if you start a new music stream on Pandora, the service will alert you if any of your Facebook friends are also a fan of that music.  So good luck with being a closet fan of KC & the Sunshine Band.
  • Facebook “like” buttons are beginning to pop up on third-party sites (blogs, news outlets and retailers).  You can hit the “like” button if you enjoy a news article or a product.  You can watch as the number of “likes” increases by one, but that isn’t all that’s happening with your simple click of approval.  Facebook is whisking that information to your Facebook page and updating your status with the “like.”  As your junior high school principal used to warn you: “It becomes part of your permanent record.”  Facebook tracks your likes – not only to serve you targeted advertising, but to sell to third-party developers.
  • Your “likes” are being used to craft targeted messages and advertising to you.  I spoke recently to a Republican operative in Massachusetts.  He helps run the online strategy for candidates and has connections inside of Facebook.  The operative told me that Facebook tabulates and tracks a user’s status updates.  So for example, if a political candidate is looking for voters in their district who are anti-handguns, they can scour the person’s Facebook page for any references to handguns to discover if they are pro or con on the issue.  Then they can serve up an ad that reflects that like (or dislike).  “It’s a powerful tool,” the operative said.  “But also the reason I closed down my own Facebook page.”

The privacy considerations here are important (especially if you don’t want specific people in your social circle – say co-workers, for example – to know what you like and dislike).

But there are advantages to the platform as well. That’s where the up side comes in:

Take the example of Levi’s, a company that quickly integrated Facebook’s Open Graph technology into its online shopping site. MediaPost has a post that does an excellent job of describing the experience:

“If you see a “Like” button next to, say, a cool pair of jeans on the Levi’s site, and you click on that button, your endorsement will appear in your news feed on Facebook for all your friends to see, comment on and share. And Levi’s will be able to see the degree to which its site content went viral across your particular social graph.”

As web strategist Jeremiah Owyang notes about the Levi’s experiment:

“Levi’s has launched a promising marketing opportunity at low cost. By simply installing existing social features into their content management systems, they can increase the mouth of the marketing funnel, and benefit from word of mouth marketing.”

Basically, Levi’s has created a shopping experience that moves from a static experience – browse, shop and purchase – into an interactive experience.  Friends, colleagues and family can now experience the online shopping with you – they can weigh in on buying decisions, learn what interests you and make suggestions on colors, sizes, etc.  And right now more than 304,000 people have “liked” the Levi’s on Facebook.

This is clearly a boon for companies – from news outlets to retailers.  The intelligence and ability to see in real-time not only what people are buying, but how they are buying it and how their friends and family are reacting to it.  Well, does it get much better than that?

So if you’re a brand?  This should be at the top of your to-do list.

But there are a plethora of collisions happening here.  Ownership of personal information colliding with the desire of marketers for better intelligence.  Convenience banging up against privacy.  Does Facebook own your “likes”?  Does it have the right to sell your personal profile to marketers and developers?  In the end does this help or hinder individuals?

What about you?  Do you “like” Facebook’s new direction?  More down or up side for you?  How big a game changer do you think this is?

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4 Responses to “The Up & Down Sides of “Liking” on Facebook”

  1. …i didn’t know that, but I don’t think its so bad that they let other people know what we like or what we don’t like, although t mght affect some things, and I do think that they shouldn’t be selling out ‘likes’, they don’t ask that things, ot not that i remember since I’ve3 started usng facebook, I’ve liked aaround 3, 000 things, and I dn’t know they dd that stuff…

  2. I think it’s insidious that when you like something to let certain specific people know you support them, that every single Facebook friend of yours has to know. Think about it. I have religious friends and atheist friends. Liberal friends and conservative friends. Why should the one group be aware of my support for the other? That’s how to lose friends, not keep friendships alive.

  3. I suppose if I am seeing marketing and ads targeted directly at me, the odds of me clicking and following a link are much higher. So if there are going to be ads anyway, at least they will be for things I’m interested in, instead of more cialis and viagra. And if I’m a closet KC and the sunshine band fan, I’m not going to like it on Facebook. What would be cool is if they gave discounts or benefits to people that cause a chain-link of likes or purchases from an initial like. At least then there is something in it for those who put up with the additional newsfeed traffic of what their favorite canned soup is doing today. Time to unlike Campbell soup unless they start in with some kick backs.

  4. I agree that my ‘likes’ preferences should be capitalized on my someone. Someone other that me? That is not so cool unless there is as another commented…a kickback. Send me mailing labels or stamps and discounts. It’s up to me however to flash the card and payout the cash.

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