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How we all react to Facebook likes
A while ago Matthew Inman (a.k.a The Oatmeal) published this cartoon titled “How to get more likes on Facebook”. In short, the cartoon’s message is this: if you want to get more likes on Facebook, focus less on self marketing and more on content. “Content is King” is the first thing they teach you on any internet marketing / SEO expert / social media douchery 101 course, so Inman’s message is not a new one. But it did make me think a bit about the way we react to Facebook likes.
As a web cartoonist, I find myself too often measuring a cartoon’s success by the amount of likes or shares it gets. While an important factor, it may be a bit overrated. There’s lots of online “scheisse” out there that’s insanely viral (mostly thanks to 11-year-old-cat-loving-rage-comic boys/girls), but from time to time you find a rare gem, a really insightful article / hilarious picture / inspiring cartoon that didn’t get as many likes you’d think it “deserves”.
Why is that? For one, some people are poor marketers – and here is where I slightly disagree with Inman: You can create the most compelling content but if you know nothing about marketing no one will ever be aware of it. Here’s an example: one thing I’ve learned over the years is that each social network has a different crowd with a different certain taste. Some of my cartoons will do well on Reddit but will never be stumbled upon. Others will become a hit on 9gag, but will get the downvote guillotine on Reddit. Therefore, it’s not just about submitting your content – it’s submitting the right content to the right social network.
So having marketing savvy is important, but is it enough? Not necessarily. It turns out that there is another factor to consider, according to this academic research on why content becomes viral. Here’s a short excerpt from the linked article, quoting one of the researchers, Prof. Karin Nahon:
Also puzzling for Nahon was what she describes as an “extreme power law” at work in the blogosphere. On the Internet, the power law means very few information providers capture the attention of most users. “For example, 98 percent of Internet users use only four search engines, and Google captures around 73 percent of that audience. In the real world that would be a monopoly,” she says. “It means we’re all depending on the queries and results of four search engines.”
The same imbalance holds in the blogosphere, where a few elite blogs capture most of the attention. The team identifies the most influential as “top blogs,” as opposed to “tail blogs,” the blogs of ordinary users and followers. Because the elites ignite the process of virality, they can frame messages and influence agendas, manipulating video content to enhance their own agendas and shape their own stories.
What does this mean? It means that there are a few “gatekeepers” who are providing us with most of the content we consume. Even in the Facebook era, what most of us like or share on Facebook was actually “discovered” for us (and often promoted to us) by those gatekeepers. For a publisher or a marketer, this means that like in real life, it also helps to have the right friends in the right places. In the online world, those friends are mainly power users in social networks, and reporters/editors in high-influence blogs and websites.
So what are our three lessons of the day? Great content is crucial, but you also have to be a good marketer. Powerful friends can help you with marketing. And lastly: likes, shares and stumbles are a good parameter for popularity, but they certainly are not a parameter for quality.
Having said all that, whenever one of my cartoons gets more than 1,000 likes, I spontaneously ejaculate in my pants. I guess the Facebook demon is in all of us.