Monday, 05 July 2010 14:03

Liking, sharing and when to use them

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By introducing the 'Like' button, Facebook has effectively created a recommendation engine for the internet.

Since its introduction, the Like button has spread like wildfire throughout the web. But is it the best tool for the job?

There are several 'Like' tools available, in addition to Facebook inherent sharing capability. In this post we take a look at the differences between Liking and Sharing and how to decide which is the right tool for the job.

The differences

There are actually two Like plugins available on the Facebook social plugins page.

  • The Like Button shares a specific page on a specific site back to Facebook
  • The Like Box shares information about a fanpage on a regular website and allows users to like the fanpage from the website

In this case, the 'sharing' is in the form of a small recommendation shown on the Liker's newsfeed:

How a Facebook Like appears

When using the Like Button, it is usually to Like a specific web page. The Like Box is always about liking the fanpage, not the website.

Sharing, by contrast, is the act of sharing real information back to Facebook:

Sharing on Facebook

Sharing is not part of the list of Social Plugins on the earlier documentation page. It's part of the core API (Application Programming Interface - how developers allow external programmers to access parts of the Facebook system) and is designed for developers to create their own methods for their sites to publish to Facebook. A great example is AddThis, who are the developers behind the sharing plugin I use at the top of this article.

Sharing also works by simply posting a URL into your newsfeed - Facebook automatically grabs the site's most appropriate data (depending on how the site's META data is configured) and all the images on the page, all of which allows Facebook users to make more informed choices as to whether they want to follow the link or not.

What to use and when to use it

Like Button:

  • for sharing a specific page on a website
  • can be used to Like fanpages from a website
  • can be used for articles on websites
  • cannot be used for blog-lists to 'like' individual articles within a list
  • has a minimal presence on the Liker's newsfeed
  • makes the user a fan of your fanpage

Usually the Like Button is used to share a specific page. There are no configuration options which allow you to specify different URLS for multiple Like Buttons within a page, you can only Like the page itself. This is why it's no good for blog lists. There's no way to separate the individual items in the list from the page, as far as the Like Button is concerned.

However you can setup the Like Button to Like your Facebook fanpage, rather than the site itself.

When using the Facebook Like Button tool, rather than using your site's URL, use your fanpage URL instead.

Try it with our URLs: enter 'http://www.facebook.com/thinksync' and see how many fans we have.

Then replace that with 'http://thinksync.com.au' and see the difference.

As we only promote our fanpage via the Like Button, we only have a few Likes to our actual page - all of them from testing!

This is the route we've chosen to go at this point. As our social engagement takes place on Facebook and Twitter, we feel its best to draw the attention of potential new fans to our Facebook fanpage, where it's easier for them to see the kind of engagement we practice. If the Like was for our website, they would need to find our fanpage manually to be able to make an informed decision on whether they wanted our content in their newsfeed.

As I've said previously on this blog, social media is about engagement - no sleazy marketing tactics or blank corporate faces. You need to reach people on the human level. Our fanpage is a much better fit for our social media strategy than our homepage, at least as far as Likes are concerned.

Like Box:

  • is placed on a website
  • can show the fanpage Friendpile - a set of faces of all the people who've liked your fanpage
  • can show the fanpage newsfeed
  • only Likes the fanpage
  • can be customised to show more or less Facebook branding
  • cannot be used to Like individual items in a page
  • has a minimal presence on the Liker's newsfeed
  • makes the user a fan of your fanpage

The like box is all about promoting your fanpage on your website. I personally prefer the Like Box to the Like Button. It shows visible evidence of activity and user engagement, it looks very dynamic with the incluse of the Friendpile (which is also available in the Like Button) and allows quite a few customisation options.

If you are only using the Like function to promote your fanpage, then this box is ideal. However, if you prefer the low-profile look of the Like Button, you can use the method I outlined above to do so.

Sharing:

  • can be integrated into a website
  • can be pasted directly into a newsfeed on Facebook
  • can be used for entire pages
  • can be used for individual items within a page
  • posts an extract from the shared page to the user's newsfeed
  • does not make the user a fan of your fanpage

Sharing is a great way to get the maximum exposure for your site content. It posts the title of the page you're sharing, a short extract from the site (or its META data) and, if present, an image from the page. It also allows users to comment on the post, which is the crux of creating a lasting social media presence. You need to be able to interact with your fans, not just broadcast at them. Commenting is absolutely vital.

The only downside of sharing rather than Liking is that your content can be shared by users without them needing to Like your page. That doesn't bother me in the slightest. If users like my content enough to share it, I'm happy with that!

Conclusion

Used appropriately, the two Like options and the sharing capability are powerful methods for working with Facebook. Each has a specific purpose and outcome and it pays to understand the differences and be certain to incorporate these carefully into your social media strategy.

Update!

August 12 2010

Earlier this month Facebook updated the features of the 'Like Button' to include a sharing option: when users click the 'Like' button it now offers the option for the user to share the content to their Facebook wall. This changes the use of the Like button and therefor slightly adjusts the advice above.

I would recommend making a decision based on the purpose of the page. For example, our front page will still promote and share our fanpage, but we'll shortly be implementing the AddThis Share + Like button across all dynamic pages, blogs and portfolio items. These are pages that users may want to promote in addition to Liking - it only makes sense to ensure that they link to that content rather than our fanpage.

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