You Are Not So Like-able, or Are You?

So Facebook now has more than a billion members.  A sixth of the globe.  A population that would make it the third largest country in the world (and perhaps the least democratic.) It is a remarkable achievement.

But what do those figures actually mean? In fact, what do any of the figures we pick up from Facebook actually mean?


They mean a bit more than the Joy of Tech tried to imply in its breakdown of Facebook’s billion people.  The cartoonists suggested that many of the accounts on Facebook are fakes created by teenagers to fool their parents, workers to fool their bosses, and Mark Zuckerberg to fool everyone (as well as the accounts for pets and stalkers.) That level of creativity would be pretty impressive.  Even more impressive though is Facebook’s claim that these are real, monthly active users.

Facebook might not have a billion people.  Some of its users will have more than one account.  Many of those accounts are businesses whose pages are run by people who also have personal accounts.

But if Facebook’s figures are to be believed, a billion accounts are used every month — an enormous market.

When a “Like” Is not a “Like”

Not all of Facebook’s figures though are that credible.  The SEC had a problem with some of Facebook’s mobile advertising numbers before the company’s IPO.  Its “like” numbers, too, are less transparent than they might appear.

Visit a website page with a “Like” button, and you will be able to see the number of “likes” that page has received.  It all looks pretty straightforward.  Placed above the “like” button, the counter suggests that it represents the frequency with which visitors have clicked that button.

Take a look at Facebook’s Developer’s page though, and at the bottom of the page, you can see that the “Like” measurement actually includes four different metrics:

  • The number of “likes” made on the URL;
  • The number of shares made of the URL (including copying and pasting a link back to Facebook);
  • The number of “likes” and comments on stories on Facebook about the URL;
  • And the number of inbox messages containing this URL as an attachment.

In other words, if a user does not press the “like” button, but does start a discussion on Facebook about a Web page, that page still gets a “like.”

In practice, that should not make too much of a difference.  But it does show that what you are measuring might not be what you think you are measuring.  That all-important “like” measurement is not a specific measure of button-pushing but a more general thumbs-up of approval that the page is worth an action.  There is no way to tell though, whether that action is a push of a button intended to show the publisher that a user  “liked” the content on the page or a heads-up to friends about an article the reader thinks is wrong, ridiculous, or offensive.

As you are tracking the numbers of “likes” your content receives then, do not think of them as pats on the back or applause from the audience.  Think of them as a measurement of provocation, i.e. the degree to which your content has managed to prod someone into taking some form of action.

Then look at the number of people who acted on that post by clicking through to a landing page — and imagine what would happen if more of the users of Facebook’s billion monthly accounts did the same thing.

I have another mystery that I have not had time to figure out on which I will get back to you.   I have posts which tens of thousands supposedly have seen, but I do not believe it.  I am working on it.  Maybe I am just slow.

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