Does “Liking” Lead to Loving? The Impact of Joining a Brand’s Social Network on Marketing Outcomes

Leslie K. John, Oliver Emrich, Sunil Gupta, and Michael I. Norton
Article Snapshot
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Key Takeaways

​We disentangle whether “liking” a brand on Facebook causes a person to view it more favorably, or whether “liking” is simply a symptom of being fond of a brand. We find evidence for the latter: brand attitudes and purchasing are predicted by consumers' preexisting fondness for brands.

We also explore whether “liking” brands causes consumers’ friends to view that brand more favorably. We find that when consumers see that a friend has “liked” a brand, they are less likely to buy the brand relative to more meaningful social endorsement.

​​Article Snapshot​s: Executive Summaries from the Journal of Marketing Research​​​​​​​

The mere act of “liking” a brand on Facebook does not cause consumers to view the brand more favorably; rather, this activity is simply a symptom of being fond of a brand.


Research

Marketers spend billions of dollars each year on social media to establish and maintain a presence on online social networking sites. As such, marketers are increasingly asking “What is the value of a Facebook fan?” We address a piece of this knowledge gap by assessing whether joining a brand’s social network site changes consumer behavior. We look at both the consumers who join (i.e., first-order effects) and the friends of those consumers (i.e., second-order effects). We predicted that joining induces no such change because it is simply a symptom of preexisting fondness for the given brand.

Method

We conducted a series of experiments with more 14,000 participants in which we induced people to join a brand’s social network (i.e., to “like” it on Facebook) and subsequently measured their and their friends’ attitudes toward the brand and propensity to buy it. To provide a benchmark against which to compare the (in)effectiveness of “liking,” we also tested the effect of advertising on brand attitudes and purchasing propensity.

Findings

The mere act of joining a brand’s social network (i.e., “liking” a brand on Facebook) does not cause consumers to view the brand more favorably; rather, this activity is simply a symptom of being fond of a brand. In addition, when consumers see that a friend has “liked” a brand, they are less likely to buy the brand compared with a more meaningful social endorsement: learning that a friend likes a brand, in the offline sense. Turning “liking” into improved brand attitudes and increased purchasing by either consumers or their friends requires more than just the click of a button.

Implications

Should marketers invest in garnering “likes”? We find no evidence of direct, first-order benefits from inducing consumers to “like” brands on Facebook. Yet consumers’ willingness to “like” brands can give marketers the illusion that their social media efforts are having an impact; after all, because “number of members” is both a salient and readily available metric. Our results suggest that merely investing in increasing membership – in the form of unsupported “likes” – may not be money well-spent.


Questions for the Classroom

  • Does “liking” lead to loving?

  • What is the role of social media in branding? What role should it have?

  • Should brands use Facebook as a marketing tool? If so, how may it be used effectively?


Article Citation

Leslie K. John, Oliver Emrich, Sunil Gupta, and Michael I. Norton (2017), “Does ‘Liking’ Lead to Loving? The Impact of Joining a Brand’s Social Network on Marketing Outcomes,” Journal of Marketing Research, 54 (1), 144-155.
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1509/jmr.14.0237 

Leslie K. John is Associate Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School, Harvard University (e-mail: ljohn@hbs.edu).

Oliver Emrich is Professor of Marketing, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (e-mail: oemrich@uni-mainz.de).

Sunil Gupta is Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School, Harvard University (e-mail: sgupta@hbs.edu).

Michael I. Norton is Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School, Harvard University (e-mail: mnorton@hbs.edu). 


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Leslie K. John, Oliver Emrich, Sunil Gupta, and Michael I. Norton
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