Facebook Changes ‘Fan’ Rules

Facebook will soon make a change that may earn the site a few more friends in the small business community.

ABC News reports that Facebook will soon eliminate the option to “become a fan” of a company, celebrity or anything else on the site and replace it with the option to “like” it.  Now, this would just be a boring matter of semantics if not for two facts: Facebook has more than 400 million users and many businesses (included MainStreet) rely heavily on this site to help promote their brand.

For the past few years, businesses have built fan pages on the social network to help reach a new audience and to create an online community. Currently, Facebook users have the option to find a brand they like – let’s call it Awesome Co. – and click “become a fan.” Once they do, the user will start to see updates from Awesome Co. in their News Feed and an icon for Awesome Co. will pop up on their profile (good product placement.) At the same time, the profile page for Awesome Co. may quickly become a forum for “fans” to voice their opinions.

By comparison, users have long had the option to say they “like” something, but this is typically used on items like friends’ photos and status updates and less for brands. But according to ABC, Facebook has found that users are nearly twice as likely to say they “like” something than they are to “become a fan” of it.

“Too often people don't become a fan because that has a connotation that many people are not comfortable with,” said C.C. Chapman, a marketing expert.  “I might have a great meal at a local restaurant or get a great level of service from a local business but am I really a fan like I am for my favorite sports team? The answer is usually no.”

Now, if a user likes a brand, all they have to do is say so without having to also decide whether or not they want to be a fan. The relationship between the user and brand will remain the same, as updates from the brand will continue to pop up in the user’s news feed.

Some expect that the number of people who “like” a brand on Facebook will shoot up as a result of this, yet there is a question of how well this new arrangement will work in practice. “We feel Facebook users will feel deceived when they first begin "liking" brands or services, not realizing that they will start receiving communication from them,” said Jill Felska, co-founder of Pop! Social Media. This might require small businesses to be more cautious in how they promote themselves to this new breed of fans.

Sarah Jacobson speculated in PC World that users will eventually learn to discern between clicking “like” on something their friends post verses something that a company posts. “Here's my prediction: Facebook users will click "Like" on pictures and wall posts and status updates almost twice as much as they will click "Like" on brand pages,’ she wrote.

If that’s true, the worst that small businesses can expect is for things to remain about the same as they are now. But in the immediate future, this change could make businesses a little more accessible to a wider audience.

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