It's an increasingly common practice and something I discuss with clients almost daily. But is it a good idea?
What is Fan-Gating?
Fan-gating is accomplished by creating two versions of a tab on your page—one that's shown to users who already Like your page and one to those who have not Liked the page.
The non-fans are encouraged to Like in order to “unlock” the content behind the tab. Because information about whether a user has Liked your page is easily accessible through Facebook's Graph API, it is relatively easy to implement a gate, or “reveal tab” as it is sometimes called. There are many companies that provide tools to do this and a list of some of them can be found here.
The reason to fan-gate is fairly obvious: to increase the number of Likes by making it a requirement to access something that is presumably desirable to your fans. This could mean access to download a white paper, receive a coupon or participate in a contest.
However, this begs the question of the value of a required Like. Should this individual be considered a true fan? Is he or she likely to remain engaged with your brand after accessing whatever content you have gated?
All Likes May Not Be Created Equal
Various sources have put forth estimates for the value of a Like, ranging from $3.60 (Vitrue) to $136.38 (Syncapse). But I think most people would agree that just as in the offline world, different customers have different lifetime values.
Common sense would dictate that people who choose to Like your page on their own rather than being required to do so may have a greater affinity toward your brand. That isn't to say that someone who Likes your page for the purpose of receiving a promotional offer won't become a valuable fan.
The key is what you do to build a relationship with new fans after they have Liked your page. If you have provided access to something truly valuable, that person very well may stay engaged. But as soon as your posts begin appearing in the user's news feed, if you aren't continuing to share something relevant, he or she may quickly tune you out, hide your posts or even un-Like your page.
Liking “in real life”
It is difficult to find a true comparison to a fan-gate in the offline world. The closest thing might be a membership rewards program that provides access to special offers. But while enrollment in a loyalty program may provide certain perks, it is rarely a requirement to access basic information or services.
Imagine if you had to join a frequent-flyer program in order to get access to in-flight entertainment. Would you do it? If it was as easy as the click of a (Like) button, you probably would.
Taking some sort of equivalent action to the Like button in the offline context inherently has more friction. There is no way for companies to get consumers to opt-in to receive communications and indicate their support for a brand publicly in one easy step. That is what makes the Like button so powerful, but also so ripe for potential overuse.
The risks of required liking
One concern I have with the overuse of gated content is that it will ultimately reduce the value of a fan.
Others have written about the idea of “Like fatigue“—the idea that people will get tired of constantly being asked to click a Like button and may eventually stop. But I think a bigger concern is that users will keep on clicking until the click becomes meaningless. Once everyone has Liked just about everything, you will have greatly devalued the currency of the Like.
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If your goal is simply to generate more fans for your page in the short-term, perhaps this concern may seem too distant to worry about. However, there are other risks to consider: The biggest is that Facebook is increasingly relying on data about how users interact with content to determine what gets visibility in the news feed. So if you have a large number of people who hide or block your posts it may have the effect of reducing your exposure to others.
Facebook is currently applying this filtering to apps that publish stories and it's not hard to imagine them applying it to pages as well in the overall EdgeRank algorithm. This is a real concern if you have added lots of fans through required Liking but failed to nurture the relationships.
OK, But You Still Want Likes
Maybe you've decided that you aren't going to require users to Like your page, but that doesn't mean you don't want them to Like it.
The act of Liking is easy, but sometimes people need a little encouragement. I appreciate how Mari Smith and Coca-Cola approach this on their pages. Each encourages people to Like but it is not a requirement.
I work with clients who run promotions on Facebook and many debate whether to fan-gate the promotional application. I always encourage clients to think about the trade-off of having people access a promotion and interact with the brand versus potentially discouraging people by putting it behind a fan-gate.
While it is impossible to do a controlled experiment to assess the impact of fan-gating, we do have data to support the argument that if you offer a fun and engaging experience, many people will Like your page on their own.
We recently ran a promotion on the Newfoundland & Labrador Tourism Facebook page where they gave away a free flight every half hour for an entire day. Participants were not required to Like, but Like buttons for both Newfoundland Tourism and WestJet (the promotion's sponsor) were included prominently.
The result? 80% of people who entered the promotion Liked the Newfoundland Tourism page. In addition, 30% of the participants also Liked the WestJet page.
In another example, Social Media Examiner's Mike Stelzner ran a contest to support the release of his book Launch. In this case, those who wished to submit an entry were required to Like the page as part of the entry process. However, the app itself was not fan-gated and this allowed anyone to view and vote on contest entries. What we saw is that nearly 80% of voters in the contest also chose to Like the page.
The topic of this post is likely to generate some strong feelings. For those in the business of selling the metric of Likes (to some extent I am one), this may border on heresy. My theory is not that trying to generate Likes is a bad thing, but rather that it is important to think about how you are accomplishing this goal and what it ultimately means for the relationship between organizations and those who Like them.
What do you think? I look forward to your thoughts and discussion. Please leave your comments in the box below.
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