Turning Facebook likes into purchasing behavior is the holy grail of social media marketing. New research, and some lessons from a popular pug, offer tips on how to do it.

Facebook “likes” make brands feel good about themselves. Brands sink huge amounts of effort and dollars into strategies and paid ads to actively grow their Facebook fan base. It’s routine for brands to track (okay, more like obsess) over their Facebook fan numbers, growth rates and the engagement they get from them.

And for what? Most brands want to turn any interested lead into an actual paying customer. What’s not well understood is this — if someone likes your product or service on Facebook, are they more likely to buy it?

I want to say yes, a Facebook fan is probably going to buy your product. But when I think about a range of the last ten brands I purchased from, I’m fans with none of them on Facebook, or any other social media platform for that matter.

Researchers at Harvard Business School have been tackling the “fans and brands” issue on marketing outcomes via a series of research studies. Their research is concluding that social media marketing can lead to bottom line results, but brands need to take extra steps to “leverage a like into profitable behavior”.

Facebook likes are a way for consumers to signal their fondness for your brand. But it’s a weak signal. If you want your Facebook fans to buy, you have to do more—clicking on a “like” button isn’t enough to get consumers to open their wallets.

Brands and marketers need to move away from encouraging weak brand signaling from consumers in favor of deeper engagement options that are more likely to convert. Here’s some thoughts on how.

1. Foster personalization by encouraging fans to post to your page

Facebook fans will get more meaning from your page when they’re able to personalize it in a small way.

Facebook know this and have modified the platform to better cater to the consumer’s desire to personalize. Facebook fans can leave visual comments and now we see threads on brand pages full of memes, photos, gifs and short videos. These gestures by fans aren’t trivial — they’re a powerful way consumers can deepen their engagement and personalize their experience of your brand.

Here’s an example. Take the Facebook page of Doug The Pug. He’s cute, he’s a pug and he’s also a stellar brand with over 5 million Facebook fans.

Note the comment threads from Doug’s posts—fans post photos and videos of their own pugs as comments.

Doug The Pug maybe a small dog, but he posts the right Facebook content to engage his fans.

The additional clicks and extra time it takes for a fan to comment or post an image is what makes all the difference here. Based on what research evidence from Harvard Business School is telling us, that increased time and engagement depth can be a strong indicator of future intent to buy.

Bottomline: Craft your Facebook updates so they encourage deep, personalized comments and posts from your fans.

2. Comment on comments

Here’s another lesson from Doug The Pug—he frequently leaves short, fun and on-brand comments on posts from fans.

Doug’s comments are especially powerful because people feel like they’re conversing with a small dog. Even if you’re not a cute pug, fans want you to acknowledge their comments. By leaving comments, fans are strongly signalling their love of your brand and it’s your job to acknowledge them.

It baffles me seeing brands posting to Facebook and then failing to acknowledge any of the subsequent comments. Don’t do it. It’s the quickest way to kill future fan engagement or worse, drive them away from a future purchase.

Bottomline: Leave comments. Your fans want them.

3. Make joining your online community slightly difficult

According to Harvard Business School research, the more clicks it takes to join your online community, the stronger the intent and engagement from the consumer.

A lot of brands already test your loyalty behind gated or exclusive content. For those building online communities, you need to find the right balance between extra clicks for signalling strong brand intent against annoyingly adding ones that don’t offer more value.

Here’s a simple example from Meetup. Often when you’re wanting to join a new Meetup group, the owner will make you write a sentence or two describing who you are or why you want to join.

“Hey, don’t leave this emply!” Me trying to join the Digital Product Design group in NYC

It’s a smart strategy and easily replicated. If I want to join this Meetup, and I do, I’ll make sure I take an extra minute or two to fill this out completely. Your strongest fans will go the extra mile to sign onto your social network.

Bottomline: Anyone into your brand will tolerate a few extra clicks to become a fan. So build them in. Compared to a simple “like”, they show a stronger preference for your brand. With that stronger intent, you can now segment these fans accordingly.

If you read this far, please take the time to ❤ and share, it helps.

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