Are Your Facebook Like Buttons for Sale?

It’s been about a week since the F8 conference, and Facebook’s new Social Plugins, including their Like button, remain the biggest news in social media. One of the most important benefits of the Like button is that it enables brands to grow their fanbases without cannibalizing “traditional” website metrics, especially e-commerce revenue. And Facebook is happy, obviously, to dramatically increase their web presence and their level of profile data per user.

But I see already that the Like button could be doing something more. Here’s an example: I go to and select The London NYC (disclosure: they are a client). I click the “Like” button there, and here’s what appears on my Facebook wall:

“Aaron likes The London NYC on TripAdvisor.”

So what happened? TripAdvisor just got two links back to their website by piggybacking on the brand equity of The London NYC, one to TripAdvisor’s page for this hotel and the other to Yes, the hotel gets measurable value in directing people to its TripAdvisor page, but that traffic is substantially less valuable than traffic to the hotel’s own site.

And therein lies the opportunity: The Like button could create a new B2B market where Fans are the currency. In addition to driving traffic and/or revenue, could sites like TripAdvisor charge for driving Fans, aka: Likers? Look at your own website, could your Facebook Like buttons be for sale? Help me if I’ve missed this, but I don’t see anything in Facebook’s Terms of Service that forbids it.

We can ask this question across a spectrum of business models/relationships; below are three general categories, to help get the conversation started:
  • Keep the target of the Like button at its source: If implemented, would/should Like buttons on point to the Amazon product pages or to the manufacturers’ pages? I would imagine that many manufacturers would prefer Amazon because of the heavy revenue-generating benefits.
  • Point the Like button to a third party site: The existing Like buttons on could point to that movie on Netflix, for example, to help drive revenue. Studios might prefer this for movies like “Up in the Air,” which just sort of come and go. For franchises like Star Wars, however, the studios might prefer the long-term value of the fan and potential merchandising opportunities that can be realized by directing to their own website.
  • Point the Like button to the manufacturer/provider’s page: This is the TripAdvisor example. I could see many hotels at least considering paying to have that Like button point to their own websites. See below for what they would gain by doing so...
To further highlight the opportunities and threats of the Like button, let’s continue with the TripAdvisor / London NYC example: Replacing TripAdvisor's Facebook “Share This” buttons with the Facebook “Like” buttons might seem like an incremental shift, but it’s not. It’s a power grab; it’s a first (and commendably early) move in a fight for fans and for eyeballs that drive ad revenue. The hotel misses out in at least three ways:
  • Missed long-term benefits of having the potential guest in its social graph. When I click that Like button, I have NOT become a fan of the hotel. I am not in that hotel’s social graph, and their marketers are not really any closer to me than if I clicked nothing at all. (Side note: we’ll have to discuss “fan fragmentation” in another post – pretty soon I’ll have many different flavors of becoming a fan of the same hotel, for example, via different review sites)
  • Less potential traffic to its own site (bad for a variety of reasons, including diminished upsell opportunities)
  • An arguably diminished share of potential revenue
Would hotels be willing to pay to regain these opportunities if TripAdvisor were to point their Like buttons to the hotel sites? Would TripAdvisor be willing/able to price and maintain this service in a way that makes up for their opportunities related to more site traffic?

The possibilities here are big. The big Social Media prize for 2010 is to determine the value per Facebook Fan for a given brand (and Twitter fan, FourSquare fan, etc). The toolset is not fully evolved here, but WebTrends is getting close with Facebook and others are soon to follow. In the meantime, some focused spreadsheet-building and a holistic metrics approach can yield at least an estimated FB fan value. As that number becomes more clearly defined, Fans could become a new B2B currency of the web. The review and reseller sites would have to include in their pricing the overhead cost of maintaining hundreds or thousands of Like button destinations, but the potential is certainly there.

Yet despite the opportunities, I don’t see this transition happening overnight. Here's three reasons why: 1) Depending on the brand, value per fan metrics are fuzzy to non-existent; 2) supporting this market could require large-scale technical and sales efforts; and 3) no turnkey e-commerce model for this like with Google’s AdWords.

Look for small sites –probably bloggers- to take this on first, most likely as an ad-hoc revenue model along with AdWords and banner ads. These small sites can skirt around the above challenges with spreadsheets and a manageable volume of Like buttons.

I focused on hotels today, but keep in mind that this discussion can apply to a large swath of websites – pretty much any site that reviews or enables ecommerce. Where do you think this opportunity will be realized first?