Academic researchers from Cambridge University have proven that Facebook likes generate what they are calling an unconscious and immediate effect.

Participants in the study provided views on a fictitious brand based on variations of its Facebook page. Each was identical apart from the number of likes, which ranged 12 likes up to 9.2 million.

Higher likes led to higher positive endorsements on the test brand by consumers, according to the report released by global media and digital communications specialist, Aegis Media, and its brands, Equal, iProspect, Isobar and Vizeum. Purchasing consideration also increased in line with the number of likes.

Social Proof

The findings suggest Facebook fans do indeed add indirect value to a business in how they influence the intent of others to buy, discuss and recommend a brand. The same concept is known as ‘social proof’ in offline marketing circles.

Whilst Facebook Likes hold a great deal of influence on the low to medium level (0-2000 likes), there is a significant drop off between medium and high (10,0000+ likes). Anything above this failed to yield the same level of increased positive perception.

There were differences too between those that regularly used Facebook and those who did not. Frequent users stood a higher chance of being more positive overall. They were also more susceptible to a larger amount of likes than low users.

Brand popularity on Facebook can influence a whole number of factors apart from positivity, researchers said. Interest, trust, consideration, preference, advocacy and value are all swayed depending on the number of likes the brand boasts.

Influenced Only by Likes

Respondents knew nothing about the brand apart from a short description on the Facebook page, so there could be no other factors capable of swaying opinion apart from the number of likes present on the brand.

Aegis’ CEO, Rob Horler, revealed the agency’s intention to launch further studies in the future to confirm the exact thresholds for consumer herding effects and attempt to decipher what it means for brands.

“Social proof clearly has a role to play in changing perceptions, and our experiment is one first step in understanding this better,” Horler said.

“This was a pilot study; we’ll be looking to construct wider research in the near future to take a broader view of social media use and other factors that affect unconscious behaviour.”