April 7, 2010, 12:00 AM

A wording change may help retailers attract more Facebook followers

Facebook is changing the way that users interact with brands on the social network by replacing its “fan” buttons with “like” buttons on ads that direct users to brands’ fan pages. This could lead more Facebook users to follow brands, say experts.


Facebook is changing the way that users interact with brands on the social network by replacing its “fan” buttons with “like” buttons on ads that direct users to brands’ fan pages.

Retailers’ Facebook pages are increasingly important part of their online businesses since the pages provide an avenue to quickly and cheaply communicate news with their most loyal customers. And, in some cases, Facebook also provides a forum where brands like Avon Product Inc.’s Mark brand and 1-800-Flowers.com Inc. sell directly to consumers.

The probable result of the change in wording from “fan” to “like,” at least in the short term, is more Facebook users will engage with retailers and other companies, says Pam Abbazia, manager of search engine optimization and social media programs for search marketing consultancy and services firm Digital Brand Expressions. “People are used to clicking the ‘like’ button when they see a status update from a friend,” she says. That consistency across the site, where users already note that they “like” friends’ status updates or photos, was one reason that Facebook made the change, according to a memo that Facebook distributed to advertisers.

Facebook is also seeking with the change to increase users’ engagement with brands, according to the memo. Increasing shoppers’ engagement with companies has been a challenge for many retailers on the site. For all the retailers that have Facebook fan pages, 56% of online shoppers are Facebook fans of less than six retailers, according to a recent survey by ForeSee Results Inc., which measures customer satisfaction with web sites. The new wording will likely increase the number of users following multiple companies’ updates, says Abbazia. “This will make it seem like less of a commitment than becoming a fan of a company,” she says.

However, retailers like ThinkGeek, which has more than 62,000 fans, worry that while they may add followers, their messages may be increasingly ignored. “I worry that it may create clutter on users’ walls since they’ll be getting more information from more companies that they don’t want,” says Jamie Grove, the company’s marketing chief whose official title is director of evil schemes and nefarious plans. And, many of those new followers will have a looser connection to the company.

That’s exactly why many companies’ Facebook follower gains may be short-term pickups, says Abbazia. “There will be a sharp drop-off as soon as many consumers realize they’re subscribing to updates that clog up their news feed.”

To prevent attrition, retailers will be forced to offer useful content that is compelling enough that users don’t “unlike,” or unsubscribe from, a company’s updates, she says. That means that companies will have to work harder to keep the followers they have, she says.

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