25 August 2019
Facebook has changed the way we interact with each other, but how important and valuable are Facebook "likes"? Photo: Bloomberg
Facebook has changed the way we interact with each other, but how important and valuable are Facebook "likes"? Photo: Bloomberg

Are Facebook ‘likes’ that valuable and important?

Joseph Sung Jao-yiu, president of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has voiced his support for the pro-democracy Occupy Movement, but the institution’s pro-vice chancellor, Hau Kit-tai, holds a different view about the protest.

Hau believes that students occupying the streets supposedly to press for genuine universal suffrage are doing so just because they want to have more “likes” on Facebook. 

“The information technology nowadays could let people become famous much faster, but actually they don’t know what they are fighting for, what political ideology is,” he told a pro-Beijing newspaper on Wednesday. “‘How could I gain more “likes”?’ is what’s all in their minds.”

“They felt that they have given up a lot [in fighting for democracy]. They are even more carried away by praises from media. But after the movement, they will for sure go back to their normal lives, spending more time on video games than studying,” he said.

That’s a strongly worded commentary on the Hong Kong studentry, coming as it did from a distinguished member of the academic community.

As to be expected, student leaders assailed the university official for his unkind remarks, noting that they wouldn’t risk getting arrested and beaten up by police just to accumulate Facebook “likes”.

Hau’s comments may appear unfair and sweeping, but they have brought up one interesting question: are Facebook “likes” that important and valuable?

For better or worse, Facebook, with its 1.2 billion members around the world and 4.4 million users in Hong Kong alone, has changed the way we interact with friends, colleagues and family members.

According to a recent study, conducted by a team of psychology researchers from Australia’s University of Queensland, the experience of being ignored on the social network could have a negative impact on a person, particularly on self-esteem.

Facebook “likes” could indeed be a source of comfort and support. Humans by nature are social animals. They enjoy being popular.

But would it be valid to say that the desire for Facebook “likes” is now a major force that drives an individual’s actions? Probably not.

How about the importance of Facebook “likes” in the commercial world? Is it a valuable asset? Opinions are divided.

According to social media marketing company Syncapse, the answer is yes. In fact, a Facebook “like” per page can be worth up to US$174. 

The study compared Facebook users and non-users based on their spending habits, brand loyalty, propensity to recommend, media value, cost of acquisition and brand affinity to arrive at the figure.

However, Derek Muller, founder of science website Veritasium, said an experiment he conducted indicated that more Facebook “likes” do not necessarily equate with higher engagement.

For Facebook “likes” to lead to more business, Facebook users must engage or interact with the brands being promoted, according to marketing experts.

In fact, people “like” business sites and social media pages for all sorts of reasons, and a person who “likes” a certain product may not buy it for one reason or another.

Facebook “likes” must be earned over and over again for a buying sentiment to develop, the experts say.

Companies should therefore regard those who “like” their Facebook pages as potential clients. But until they become actual clients, their “likes” carry little value, if any.

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EJ Insight writer

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