Facebook, website innovation

Why I Like the Like Button: Spreading Nonprofit Messages

31 Comments 30 April 2010

As most Facebook users know, Facebook changed its entire ecosystem a little over a week ago. Facebook created social plugins, an open graph, changed the “fan” setting to the thumbs-up “like” button, changed personal privacy settings, created Community Pages, links personal interests to automatically-selected pages or search queries, and…I still can’t find where the groups I belong to are showing up on my profile. Whew.

Facebook has always used the power of influence marketing to show you what your friends are doing on Facebook. In a new study by McKinsey consulting, word of mouth marketing is shown to be the only factor that ranks in consumer influence at every step of the purchase decision process. And every step of the process of becoming engaged with an organization as well, I would suggest. When I used to be a community organizer, I really encouraged “friend to friend organizing.” The power of a personal recommendation by a trusted influencer is incredibly strong. Virtual friends may not be strong influencers, however, but they are stronger influencers than strangers.

The Like button weaves influencers together, and networks together, easily.

Here are two examples:

Categorizing Friends vs. People who Like Your Facebook Page

Did you notice that when you go to a page, you now see the people who like divided into two categories? Facebook has always embraced the concept of influencers, and now divides the “people who like”a page into two sections:”friends who like” (those you are personally connected to on Facebook) and “people who like” (with whom you are not connected).

Facebook is not-so-subtly influencing you to Like a page your friends like, or Like a page that people who influence you also like.

Your Friends Influence You All Over the Web

You’ll soon begin to see the Like button all over the web. At the top of news articles, blog posts, websites, videos, etc. Facebook makes it very simple to grab the code for the Like button and place it anywhere on your websites. The Like buttons automatically display the names of your personal Facebook friends who also Liked the same content.

When you press the button it will appear in your Facebook news feed, and also become part of “interests and likes” in your personal profile.

With the Like button, Facebook enables your organization to become a network weaver.

I also see great opportunity to use the Like button to spread nonprofit messages and attract new supporters through network weaving:

1. Lower barriers to participation. As Jordan Viator wrote very eloquently in her summary of how Facebook changes might affect nonprofits, “there are less boundaries than ever before in getting people “engaged” with your cause.” I agree with this. However, I also think that the quick Like and lower fan barrier also means lesser commitment. Think about how you can motivate the really committed core within your organization to Like your Facebook page, and also Like it all over the web. When we see the same core group of people Liking our organization’s content on the web, the Like button’s influence grows. In other words, it’s not a fluke that someone clicked that button once; fans demonstrate greater organizational commitment when they Like something by your organization in several places on the web.

2. More exposure within Facebook. As Ashley McFarland writes, “instead of dropping targeted links into your text, allow a user to click the familiar “Like” button and save yourself so much work!” Placing the Like button on your content means that you expose more people to it: all Likes are shared via the news feed on Facebook. All Likes are entered into someone’s interests in their profile.

3. New fans from outside of Facebook. The new Insights for your pages are at http://facebook.com/insights. Insights now display sources: if your page acquired new fans from within Facebook, or outside of Facebook. You should see the external source fan count begin to grow due to the new Like button.  Facebook is working hard to bring you more “people who like your page”and offering you more exposure.

Here is a screen shot of the new insights page:

4. Understanding your supporter’s interests helps your organization become network weaver. With the new Open Graph, website admins now have access to information about where a Page’s fans are visiting elsewhere on the web. If you put the button on your website,, Facebook promises all sorts of great information about what else these visitors do on the web. As Ashley McFarland wrote to me in an email, “the big thing for smart NPs is that they will be able to widen their nets and gather their own information on a similarly large scale. Like options embedded in the content of your website? For free and with only a simple snippet of code? Fantastic!”

I see in this opportunities for cross-promotion, strategic partnerships, alliances, and information sharing. Nonprofit (and corporate) organizations can take this information and create network maps of where fans visit, have a sense of fan’s other interests, and better understand their needs. Though I personally am a bit worried about privacy issues with the new Facebook, I can’t argue that this type of information would benefit organizations tremendously.

In Beth Kanter’s blog post about the new Facebook changes, she writes that Robert Scoble thinks that “a website that doesn’t have Facebook “likes” on it will seem weird sooner than we think.”

I tend to agree.

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  • Great article! I would LIKE it, but I'm also still a bit concerned about Facebook privacy settings. 🙂

    That said, I think Non-Profits, and those of us who consult and write about using social media, will indeed come around to using FB Likes, just as you're saying. However, I don't think it will benefit NPOs as much as folks think it might (and I'm eager to be proven wrong).

    The way people became “fans” previously started to become overwhelming–so much so, that even as I was being selective about what I became a fan of, I still had over 300 pages I was a fan of. And let's not be fooled: I am not watching updates from 300+ pages & many I supported in order to support friends and important causes, however that support is virtually lost in the over-abundance that is Facebook. And now with “like,” I feel we'll see this effect amplified ten fold. People will like things because it's quick, easy, their friends are, it's cool and/or in the moment.

    I feel these likes will lessen the relationship quality between “likers” (?) and the orgs using. It's important to remember that Facebook implemented this in order to boost Facebook, not your website or Org. Time will tell how exactly we can best utilize these tools to do the later, and due to Facebook's Goliath-like web presence, we WILL have to adapt to these tools–but I am more worried about the quality of these new likes more than I am excited.


  • Hi Chris,
    My first thought after seeing the new Like button was that, though the barrier to engagement is lowered, I worry that the quality of engagement will also be lower. In other words, I echo your concerns. One of the ways I thought that nonprofits could battle this would be to utilize the “network weaver” element of urging influencers to Like things on the website, ask friends to Like, etc. It's a thought, and I'm the first to admit that time will show us how innovative nonprofits are really getting fans to Like their Facebook sites in a meaningful way.

    I also wholeheartedly agree with your comment that “it's important to remember that Facebook implemented this in order to boost Facebook.” Well said. (I have another post in mind with the working title “I haven't drunk the Koolaid yet,” as I think Facebook is now dictating exactly how they want us to use Facebook, and use the web.) This blog post, however, was an attempt to think about how, even if Facebook is dictating how it want users to act, a nonprofit can take advantage of the Like button and make more of it. With reflection, I think the Like button can be a portal to weaving fans together to create stronger network presences, and help noprofits better serve fans from understanding their Like preferences.

    It's just the very beginning of this conversation, and there are many other opinions out there that I respect as well. I'm really eager to hear what everyone has to say about how nonprofits should/could and even should not use the Like button. It is all about engagement for nonprofits, and we should all think about how the Like button can create quality engagement. Can it?


  • jordanv

    Debra – Great examples dissecting each section of the breakdown of the changes. I hadn't even looked to see how insights had changed yet and I love your point on how to look for influencers when trying to spread a message leveraging the FB like tool.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Chris that a) this has the potential to lower the quality of “supporters” on Fabebook and b) this is first and foremost good for Facebook.

    But, I hope, that like other changes we've seen in the past, we can find ways to leverage them and work past any inherent flaws. I'm cautiously holding my breath that these will lead to exciting new potential for npos and Facebook.


  • “I'm cautiously holding my breath that these will lead to exciting new potential for npos and Facebook.” You said it, Jordan! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


  • Quick comment, Debra: I liked the post early this morning, then I kept checking Facebook to see if it was in my profile (it wasn't). I looked again four hours later, and there it was.

    Thanks for keeping us up to speed on all these Facebook changes! I can't keep up.


  • Debra – This is an excellent overview of how the Social Graph will drive WOM, inform the content nonprofits create (and by the way, I think this forces the “should we get a blog or not” issue), and add value to visitors who seek to connect with friends they don''t know yet.

    Oh, and thanks for pointing out the Insights reports.

    Tell the kids I said “hi and behave”. 😉


  • The potential for understanding your audience and your potential audience is built into this new Facebook update. I am looking forward to more and more information about how folks are taking advantage of it as the Like button makes its way around the web!


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  • sue_anne

    Debra – Great post. A couple of things I really agree with: I love that Facebook has now separated out your “friends” from others when you visit a brand's page. I also really “like” (pardon the pun) the way that the “Like” button easily integrates into other web sites, blogs, etc. (Although I do think it's funny that one of the largest sites using the “like” button – CNN.com – isn't using the “like” nomenclature.

    For commercial brands, the easy engagement is a plus. But, I think non-profits are going to continue to struggle with how to convert that engagement into something meaningful. If someone clicks the “like” button, what does that mean for a non-profit? Are they willing to take additional action? How do you work to move them from someone listed on your page to an advocate, volunteer or donor?


  • NOTE: This comment was emailed to me from Sharon Huff because “2nd time in 2 days Disqus said error when I comment as guest.” I'm posting it on her behalf (and looking into the Disqus error issue):


    Thanks for this great article, & thanks for including screen shots for us visual learners.

    I am on my way to being a nonprofit & love SM but am wading through all kinds of tech/talk/thoughts when I just want to learn it quick so I can use it to connect with people to eliminate litter.

    I like the idea of 'like' button on a website. Question: Liker doesn't have to login do they? They just click on 'like', right? Thanks.

    Sharon Huff

    A Virtual Museum for litter-prevention
    Our goal is to go out of business because there's no more litter to showcase.


  • elyondekoven

    Nice Debra. Your post gives me more ideas about new insights, apps, and other tools that NPOs, in fact and FB-using org, could use. At the same time, given FB's penchant for rapidly changing itself, stealing ideas, and extreme muscle, any useful invention here will get whacked more quickly than it will get adopted. Do you agree?


  • Clarification Please: Would one of you care to elaborate on how the new LIKE button forces the “should we get a blog or not” issue?




  • Hi John, as @nonprofitbanker kindly asks above, I'd also like to hear your explanation of the “should we get a blog or not” issue comment. I took it to mean that we want to know as much as we can about our blog visitors and the Like button gives us more information from the Social Graph.

    As for the Insights report – I'm just shocked that pages don't link to the new Insights yet.


  • Thanks again, Ashley, for making this a stronger blog post than it would have been without your emailed thoughts.


  • One of the options instead of “like” is “recommend.” Both are the same button, and I'll be interested in looking at the trend in what types of brands use “like” language on the button vs. the “recommend” language on the button. Will it divide between nonprofit and brand? Interesting.

    I agree with everyone here who has commented, and expressed concern, about how to convert a “like” into an engaged supporter. This is a serious concern, and I'll be interested in learning from others how they successfully meet this particular challenge.


  • Hi Elyon, I agree with the fact that FB rapidly changes, and in fact is beginning to “dictate” how we will be using the wider web. However, I'm not sure what you mean by “any useful invention here will get whacked more quickly than it will get adopted.” Can you elaborate? If you mean that there are a lot of naysayers against the Social Graph and the like button, then I haven't heard them yet. I have heard a lot of concerns about privacy, which I echo, and would be the subject of a different blog post.


  • Basically, the FB platform forces a content creation issue for nonprofits. Blogs are content publishing tools that are relatively easy to maintain (when compared to the traditional website).

    In the case of the new Facebook Platform, having a WordPress blog gives you three distinct advantages over traditional template-style websites.

    1. Content Creation – Blogs allow you to quickly and easily create valuable AND SHARABLE content in a consistent manner – something people can keep coming back to “like”.
    2. Ease Of Use – The new Social Graph plugins is the tip of the iceberg. As Web 3.0 evolves at an increasingly faster pace, nonprofits will be seeking cost effective ways to keep up with evolving technology on their website. WordPress allows users without any technology skills to implement plugins in a painless manner.
    3. Development Community – Blog platforms (mainly WordPress) have development communities that are building free software all the time – and quickly. For example, when Facebook announced the new plugins, several blog posts were published about tweaking the code so that it would work with dynamic URLs (blog posts). Coding sucks and I knew that within two days, someone would make a plugin to add the new “like” button. There were 7 plugins within a day or so.


  • Shuey – see my reply to Debra.


  • John, Thanks for the clarification on your comment – appreciate it. Interesting take on its own and think you could easily expand this comment into a blog post of your own 🙂

    As you write, the WP developer group is quit active; I used one of the new Like button plugins for this blog, too. (Though there is a slight bug in it that I'm sure someone will fix soon…or I will.)


  • You read my mind… 🙂


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  • Ken

    I put the likes button on our Vietri website http://www.vietri.com and after getting up to 86 likes the next day it was at 27 likes any reason this would happen? Thanks for your help.



  • Hi Ken,
    I really don't know – I'm wondering if maybe one of the other folks in this comment stream might have an idea. Did you have 87 members of the Facebook Page that it creates for you after you put up the Like button (the admin end of the Like button) and then that went down to 27? I'm seeing 32 Likes now, btw, congrats 🙂


  • Publishing a post tomorrow morning with a link back to this one… 🙂


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Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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