Why Facebook likes don’t drive sales

Way back in 2014 we posted on the limited effect of Facebook likes on driving brand growth. Its nice to see that three yeas later the esteemed Harvard Business Review (HBR) is now ‘on the same page’ as us 😉 A recent HBR article shot holes through two flawed assumptions that lead brand teams to waste time, talent and money getting likes for their own Facebook pages: i. attracting followers will drive sales, ii. followers’ endorsement will cause their Facebook friends to buy more. The article draws on 23 experiments involving more than 18,000 people.

1. Facebook followers are already brand users

There is data out there suggesting that liking a brand does drive sales. A recent study by comScore and Facebook suggested that people liking a brand’s Facebook page buy it more: people liking Starbucks’s Facebook page, or with a Facebook friend who liked it, spent 8% more a month versus the general population. However, as the HBR article says, “that study and others like it contain a fatal logical flaw. They confuse cause and consequence.” As they go on to say, “Its possible that those who already have positive feelings toward a brand are more likely to follow it“. Right on HBR. Data from the study we did in 2012 shows that over 80% of Facebook likers were already users of the brand.

2. Facebook page likers don’t buy more 

The lack of effect of Facebook page likes on purchase is confirmed by research quoted in the HBR article that used an ‘A/B’ test. All participants were given coupons for a free sample of a new cosmetics brand — redemption served as a proxy for purchasing.

  • Half the sample were invited to like the Facebook page
  • Half did not receive the invitation

And the results? Members of each group were equally likely to redeem the coupon; liking the Facebook page had no effect on brand purchase. What’s more, the HBR authors go on to say, “Across 16 studies, we found no evidence that following a brand on social media changes people’s purchasing behavior“.

In conclusion, the HBR article confirms that getting people to merely like your brand’s fancy Facebook page is unlikely to help you sell more stuff. Using Facebook for targeted advertising may be a better use of your time, talent and money.