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Are Facebook Like Buttons Wrong or Right For Your Site?

crowd.jpgWhat will the crowd think of the new Facebook Like buttons on your site? Michael Johnston from The Well Run Site explores whether they’re right for yours.

The stampeding sound you may have recently heard was not caused by a bank panic or rumors of an impending astroid strike.

It was just the new Like button from Facebook.

The promise of this new offering is that visitors will click the buttons on your site, pump up your Facebook mojo with their friends and return fresh new traffic your way, all for free. What could be better than that? 

Free link-love from the world’s largest social network was too good an offer for most to pass up, and no sooner had Facebook’s big presentation ended than site owners worldwide scrambled onto the bandwagon. The herd-on-the-move sound was their collective response to Facebook’s call, and small, blue Like buttons are now multiplying across the web faster than you can say “pandemic.” 

But are they really appropriate for all sites? I decided to find out.

I began by testing my own integration as well as several different WordPress Like button plugins on my personal blog.  When I had become confident that the buttons wouldn’t cause any problems, I felt it was safe enough for a limited rollout to a few of the blogs I manage. 

I tested Like Button performance on two sites for a one-week period. Site #1 is a stock forecasting blog that gets about 20k-30k visitors each week. Site #2 is blog for fans of a popular singer and receives about 2,300 visitors a week or one-tenth the traffic of the other blog. Both are updated with fresh content daily.

So, two sites, with very different traffic levels and audiences, both running the new Like buttons. Which do you think saw the greatest number of button clicks and return traffic?

If you’re thinking as I did – site #1, by a landslide – you’re wrong. And it wasn’t even close. By week’s end, site #2 – the fan blog with light traffic – won the contest handily. This certainly raised my eyebrows. The number of Like votes it received easily exceeded the number received by the far busier site, which received none – none. 

Piling humiliation atop insult, The Little Fan Blog That Could also received a fair amount of new visits back from Facebook. This was great news, because adding a Like button did, in this case, boost traffic measurably, tending to confirm that the Like buttons can be beneficial to more than just Facebook.

But why did the blog with the higher traffic mysteriously receive absolutely no love from Facebook users? 

I believe there are two reasons: first, that visitor demographics play a strong role in how things will be shared, that some social bookmarking tools are more effective than others in certain settings; second, that the type of content dictates whether it will be shared at all. 

To see if these explanations make sense, I needed a much larger set of data than was available the sites I tested.  Since the important data is available to anyone who cares to look, we’ll examine stats for articles on a few heavily trafficked sites.

First, let’s focus on the visitor demographics question and whether it affects social media sharing preferences. I’ll use Facebook Like and Share button counts versus the number of retweets each page received to see if a trend emerges.
The graphic below shows the preference of visitors to a Techcrunch post on May 1st.  As Techcrunch appeals to a tech-savvy audience, Twitter is favored by a wide margin. (Techcrunch posts are also widely auto-tweeted by those trying to establish a Twitter presence and build a follower list.)

techcrunch.gif

Now look at site with a very different audience. This is a photo of a skateboarding baby chick from icanhascheezburger.com, where the results clearly favor sharing on Facebook by an almost 10-to-1 margin.

icanhsascheezburger.gif

Here’s a second site with wide audience appeal: a break.com video of a tornado forming in front of a couple watching from a parked car. The total number of Likes and old-style Share clicks dwarfs the number of tweets it received.

break.gif

Finally, we have these eye-popping results for Oprah’s No Texting Campaign,  where a predominantly female audience seems to overwhelmingly prefer Facebook. (Ironically, the Twitter users might be the ones doing the texting in the first place, perhaps contributing to the disparity).

oprah.gif

The limited data suggests to me that audience demographic strongly affects whether something is Liked (or Shared) on Facebook instead of Tweeted.

Of course, one example from each site is hardly enough data from which to draw a conclusion; so I examined a random sampling of different content on each of the same four sites to see if the preference ratios were similar. Sure enough, on each site the general preference was indeed the same. From this, it seems clear that different audiences prefer Facebook over Twitter and vice-versa.

Now, what about the content itself? Certainly, it isn’t front page news to state that some content is more shareable than others. But how much effect does it really have? To find out, I chose a selection of articles from The Washington Post, all published May 1st. By focusing one site I can be assured of a relatively consistent audience. At the same time, I can be assured of a diverse range of content since it is a general news source.

Here are the Like button results from five articles I picked, all of which were published the same day:

  1. An article on the gulf oil spill received 34 Likes at the time of my sample.
  2. A story on shifting immigration views drew 12 Like votes.
  3. This opinion piece on Obama and immigration reform received 10 votes.
  4. Another piece on the US economic recovery had 21 Likes.
  5. Finally, an article discussing a humorous video made by US soldiers in Afghanistan got a comparatively whopping 55 votes, the most of any item in this limited sampling. Additionally, the linked page that contained video itself had 68 Likes.

(The numbers for the examples I’ve cited are dynamic and will have changed by the time you read this.)

The top vote getters were the articles about positive or uncontroversial subjects. The two that discussed immigration reform (currently a hot-button issue in the US) were the least recommended. From this I conclude that the nature of the content plays a major role in whether it will be shared at all;  that, particularly in the case of Facebook, people won’t click ‘Like’ on something they don’t want their friends to see, perhaps due to concerns about privacy or because the nature of the content may inspire unwanted debate or attention. 

The fact is that there are things that humans simply don’t care to publicly share with others, things they may like but prefer to keep private. As an extreme example, do you really want your Like preference for this photo (warning: NSFW) showing up on the Facebook pages of friends, co-workers or even your mother?  Contrived? Yes, but dumber things have happened in the age of Facebook. It also shows that not every site or page is a good candidate for Like buttons. 

Some sites, in fact,  may find the buttons do harm instead of good. Personally, I find it a little creepy when I land on a page and discover that someone I know also happens to like the same thing. And while, yes, the similar practice of ad targeting goes on every day, it happens out of sight and doesn’t affect user perceptions. But the in-your-face, we-know-who-you-are aspect of Facebook’s buttons are a different matter, one that may well work against some sites that use them.

So, for example, if you’re selling “male enhancement pills”, cures for balding, creams that purport to clear up mysterious rashes in unmentionable places or books ‘For Dummies,’ chances are the Like button will be ineffective at least and damaging at worst. People either won’t click on them or their mere presence may inhibit visitors who would much rather blissfully maintain the illusion of anonymity.

If, however, you specialize in cute animal photos, silly videos, top-10 lists or something else innocuous, you’re probably going to do well – very well.

Now, to return to why I think blog #1 did so poorly in the Facebook popularity contest. That site specializes in neither the cute nor the overtly offensive, and it has a loyal, growing and diverse following. The writer who runs the site, however, does have very definite political opinions; and there, I think, is the problem.

Writing that touches on religious or, in this case, political issues is bound to offend someone. It’s just a fact of life. Ultimately, I have concluded that visitors to his blog are choosing not to take a public stand by clicking Like, which would tend to expose their political sympathies. After all, what is a Like button if not an expression of agreement or approval?

So, this seems to explain the horrid Like button results on a site I thought would surely benefit from it. It’s also consistent with my limited sampling of other sites, where the humorous, feel-good or uncontroversial items received the most votes.

For me, this has been an illuminating exercise. Though I could be mistaken on the precise cause of why things turned out as they did, it’s clear to me that Facebook Like Button functionality is inappropriate in some circumstances and won’t perform the way we all hope it will.

When deciding whether to add Like button functionality to your site, consider that:

  • Neutral content for general audiences seems likely to deliver excellent results due to its wide appeal. Humorous content will do even better.
  • Pages covering controversial subjects will probably fare very poorly.
  • Items that interest a narrow demographic won’t be shared widely on Facebook. Tech items, for example, will probably do much better on Twitter.
  • Your user demographics will determine whether Facebook, Twitter or some other form of social bookmarking suits their needs.
  • If you run a site that sells products that are shipped in plain, unmarked boxes, your visitors are expecting a level of discretion from your site that the Like button may perceptibly diminish.

Have you implemented the Like button on your site? What have your experiences been?

Read more from Michael Johnston on The Well Run Site or connect with him on Twitter.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Hi Michael,
    I haven’t implemented it yet, however, after reading this I think I will try it one one of my sites and see how it does.
    Thank you for this interesting study – I definitely had questions about this and was wondering if it was worth the effort.

    We’ll see how it pans out. Thanks!

  2. Phenomenal report here. Thanks for sharing such great tips in such great detail. I, too, manage a few different blogs and have wondered how unique audiences will react to the “Like” Buttons. This cleared up some concerns I have.

    Thanks for the great article.

  3. Toya says:

    Thank you for this post. I have been contemplating the value of the FB like button for my own site and this was a very comprehensive analysis that will help me to make a decision.

  4. Karol Gajda says:

    I added the Like style button on my blog about a month ago and I went from not getting much facebook traffic, to getting a worthwhile amount of daily facebook traffic. Small change, but definitely worth it. I also added a different kind of StumbleUpon button (the kind that shows how much traffic) and that helped a lot as well.

    Thanks for the thorough breakdown.

  5. Hey Michael,
    I haven’t tried it on any my site, but now i think it’s time to try it ;) !! I think i should use both buttons like and vote. Thanks for sharing this awesome study bud.

  6. I’m not at all surprised that site #2 had a lot more people “liking” it. It’s a “fun” sort of site, rather than an “information gathering” sort of site.

  7. Josh Garcia says:

    Hey Michael,

    Thanks for sharing this info with us. I haven’t implemented this to my blog. I do use the FB share button and I get a lot of traffic from that.

    Chat with you later…
    Josh

  8. Joshua Noerr says:

    Hey Michael, great post. I have found that for my demographic and style of content, personal development, it is not ideal to have a like button.

    I trialed in briefly, but found it largely unneccessary. I am not counting it out for the future, and I really appreciate the insight.

    Cheers!

  9. Ilz says:

    How about the differencte between Facebook Like & Share?

    I prefer Facebook share than Like. “Like” seems more powerful. I think “like” = “love”, so that article represents you. Facebook share is liking something without it be as powerful, or representing you; it was a interesting article, but I don’t love it.

  10. I had been thinking about this very concept. My site is targeted towards a particular type of mindset, which is not mainstream. When I received no interaction with the ‘Like’ button, I considered (among other things) that perhaps the reason why is that few people wanted to publicly endorse breaking out of the a socially accepted lifestyle and trying something that others would think is foolish or lazy. I have debated taking it off entirely.

    I think I will leave it for the remainder of the month and continue to monitor results. If nothing changes though, goodbye ‘Like’ button!

    PS – I would have totally clicked the ‘Like’ button if it were present on this page!

  11. Mary says:

    I think you missed an important difference between blogs 1 & 2.

    For most people, Facebook is for their personal networks, LinkedIn is for their professional networks. And keeping the two separate is really important.

    So, for example I don’t put items about business-systems-analysis onto Facebook – and I don’t add members of my choir to my LinkedIn network. And if I was into stockbroking, I don’t think I’d be putting things about it into Facebook, either.

    (And yes, I’m keeping my eye out for a like-button equivalent from LinkedIn ….)

  12. I dont know how to use it effictively but I tested the Like button on my blog but I havnt got any success. Its inspirational to see your success. Darren I think you should add some more pages on social media. Btw, whats the url of that fan blog? Ankush, http://ankushwood.blogspot.com

  13. In my opinion, facebook’s Like button is useful for the content which is catchy, casual, humorous or playful. For serious business-like blogs/sites, it may not work.

  14. Carrie Isaac says:

    I haven’t seen a huge traffic increase since adding the Like button. Facebook traffic is up around 4%, overall blog traffic is up 5%. But, I think I’m going to keep it in the hopes that that will grow over time.

    One thing I haven’t figured out about the Like button – when someone likes something on an external site, it only randomly appears to show in the Facebook stream. By default, it shows on the person’s profile, but in the past month I’ve only seen 1-2 friends “Liking” activity appear on my stream. I’m confused as to how it’s supposed to work. If people Liking things on my site showed up in their FB stream, it would most certainly drive more traffic to my site. But, if it just shows up on profiles, it’s a lot less effective.

    As a site owner, I’d like to see FB add Like notifications added into the stream. And, as a personal FB user, I think I’d actually much rather see what people are Liking outside of Facebook, rather than see that my friends are all Liking the FB fan page for “I Hate Facebook’s New Privacy Settings”.

    I guess I’m just hoping for better integration into Facebook. Right now, it doesn’t seem to be doing much for anyone (other than Facebook, behind the scenes).

  15. Mike says:

    Makes sense that a fan site about a singer would get more likes. I don’t think I’d get many on my site but I hardly have the traffic you do.

  16. Mike Chawla says:

    This article is an eye opener. I have added the Like button to my blog since some time ago. I couldn’t say if it’s a success as my blog is still new and has a little of traffic daily.

  17. @Mary That was really my point when I mentioned that the type of content dictates how and where it will be shared. Like you, I share certain things on Facebook, which is a general audience, versus things on Twitter or Buzz, where I’m dealing with a more professional audience.

    @Carrie Isaac Although Like buttons certainly help insert links into social streams, I have found that the Share button does it more prominently. In fact, I read an article recently where it went into detail over the differences between sharing vs liking; from a marketing perspective, sharing seems to have the edge. (This may account for why many sites run both.) Sorry, I can’t find the URL at the moment. But you can see easily see the difference if you try it yourself.

  18. When Facebook introduced the “like” button, I knew that this was perfect for “Candy The Magic Dinosaur”…

    I also think that twitter is not as effective for our audience but it could be more important in a few years time as it builds momentum.

    “Awesome Post”

    :]

  19. Roshan says:

    Hi,
    I’ve got a Facebook share button on my blogger blog and the problem which kills me is that it looks jumbled in Mozilla Firefox’s one of the versions (I guess it’s 3.1 or something). I’ve got a Twitter and Buzz button too. I guess everyone should have these buttons since lots of different people browse the web and we can’t predict who likes what!!

    -Roshan Ahmed

  20. Wynne says:

    Excellent reporting on the facebook like button. I think it is certainly a game changer in terms of driving traffic, but it is fascinating the stuff that you’ve pointed out here. What this tells me is that there is room for other creative bookmarking (with the massive following that facebook has).

  21. Thank you so much Michael, this is an awesome work you have done here. I haven’t started using FB Like button, but from your conclusion, it should work for some of my blogs which have general appeal.

    Thanks again for your work, I appreciate.

  22. akascholar says:

    Hello!!

    I thought this was an interesting topic as I too have considered the like button. I am going to agree with you that it definitely depends on the type of traffic that the site already receives, coupled with the demographics of the facebook users. My theory is that the majority of Facebook users who will actually use the “Like” button are newer generation, and subsequently will be more apt to “Like” pop culture types of sites and blogs. For example, I believe this is why your experience was subsequently more significant with the site of a popular artist. Facebook is more “social” and personally, I do not know very many who actually look for stock tips, etc on facebook. This could definitely be a flawed assumption, but it has been my observation with my friend pool. Maybe I need to upgrade! Thanks for the thought provoking post.

    akascholar
    http://www.educatedandfabulous.com

  23. Julius says:

    Through this post, I realized that we need to study the age groups of our readers and whether or not they’d want to share our content with others.

  24. George185 says:

    This really goes to show the power of leveraging social media to begin a pop culture powerhouse blog.

  25. hokya says:

    thanks for the info
    i haven’t use the FB Like button
    but i think i will

  26. Sanjeev says:

    Facebook like is a good initiative for people who are sharing content as well as reader of a profile wall. But at the same time one should keep the numbered box of Facebook Share button to attract viewers and encourage them to share content.

  27. Ishmael Ahab says:

    I also have the same thought. That is why I disagree with people that Facebook’s new like button will doom Google.

    I guess that Facebook is not that all encompassing. Not all people who goes to the internet also subscribe to Facebook.

    As for me, I’ll be placing this button to my blogs.

  28. Aaron says:

    Well, I’m about to find out! – Because of this – I was inspired to put a Twitter and Facebook pair of buttons on the site!

  29. What do you think of the “recommend” button instead of like?

  30. Boy this post is going in my weekends read.

    Let me save this in my bookmark.

    I would love to do some experiment while reading this posts with my other websites.

  31. Fred Kapoor says:

    Excellent article! Actually I’ve read thousands of “Like button” articles but none of these had this insight when expressing their message. I believe that it is very important for people not only to consider the “Like button” itself but to analyze its usage based on visitor demographics, which seems to ignore by most business bloggers.

  32. One part of me would like to see somewhat standardized and simplified button groupings on sites, and another would like to see less of them overall.

    I like things simple, so I don’t put many options on my blog. Perhaps that’s a mistake. I can’t say that I’m completely happy with the theme or look of my So Much More blog, but at least it isn’t cluttered.

  33. Good insights, it boils down to testing it out yourself, but this helps give a good direction as to wheather or not it is a good idea.

  34. Just what I was looking for. As usual. Apparently Darren can read my mind.

  35. chandan says:

    I am using FB and retweet button on my blog and I think It is good to let people share our story within their community.

  36. Good luck getting people behind this one.  Though you make some VERY fascinating points, youre going to have to do more than bring up a few things that may be different than what weve already heard.  What are trying to say here?  What do you want us to think?  It seems like you cant really get behind a unique thought.  Anyway, thats just my opinion.

  37. Tom says:

    I was just implementing the ‘like’ button a few days ago on my blog, only to discover their JS SDK has a bug in it – so i had to go with the iframe.

    And I removed the google buzz and stumble upon buttons because they weren’t used at all. It seems twitter and/or facebook social sharing buttons are the only effective way to go.

  38. What I dont understand is how youre not even more popular than you are now.  Youre just so intelligent.  You know so much about this subject, made me think about it from so many different angles.  Its like people arent interested unless it has something to do with Lady Gaga!  Your stuffs great.  Keep it up!

  39. I don’t need facebook like buttons for now because it just ruin my blog and makes my readers saw that my article wasn’t good enough for them.

  40. nick says:

    Just try. It if doesn’t work, get rid of it. Too much time wasted on over analysing these things. Sharing content and engaging users is what any website, trying to get ahead of the game, wants to achieve! Too many Geeks can spoil the broth!

  41. Jim Gagan says:

    I’m resisting using any facebook add-ins at the moment until there’s real proof it works. I don’t like the idea that facebook is taking over the internet. I posted a yelp! review the other day, and it showed up on my FB page and I didn’t want it to.

  42. Well done is better than spectacularly said.