You Are the Ad: The Facebook "Like"
Before I went to see George Clooney’s The Ides of March, I checked the movie’s score at Rotten Tomatoes (new window). Eighty or so percent, I thought. Sounds good. I then noticed some interactive features I didn’t remember seeing the last time I had visited, which had admittedly been months, maybe a full year earlier: two gray buttons, labeled “WANT TO SEE IT” and “NOT INTERESTED.” Since I didn’t (and still don’t) have an account on Rotten Tomatoes, I expected clicking either button would take me to a page asking me to sign up to the site. But it didn’t. After telling Rotten Tomatoes that, yes, I had been wanting to see The Ides of March for sometime now, a little message popped up that said I had “liked” the movie on Facebook. Huh. That’s neat, I guess. I checked my Facebook a few minutes later to see if the click on Rotten Tomatoes had translated, and indeed it had. And, not only that, but two of my friends had already “liked” my “like.” A successful collaboration between Facebook and Rotten Tomatoes–and a demonstration of the emergence of three-dimensional digital nanotargeting
What do “three dimensions” have to do with anything? Glad you asked: some quick and dirty definitions are in order. During a political course I took this summer, I learned there are three different ways for leaders and constituents to communicate with each other: one-dimensionally, in which case the leaders do all the talking and the constituents do all the listening (information flows only one way, or in one dimension); two-dimensionally, in which case leaders speak and constituents respond; and three-dimensionally, in which leaders speak, constituents respond, and–and here’s the kicker–constituents speak and respond to each other about what they and the leaders are saying. Three-dimensional speech is uber-democratic. It’s also the future, thanks to social media making every statement and gaffe reliveable and retellable. Political strategies sink these days if the three dimensions of communicative life are not accounted for.
Nanotargeting is what it sounds like: very specifically “targeting” constituents, based usually on their interests or demographics. In “Long-Tail Nanotargeting,” (new window) political scholar Josh Koster claims Al Franken’s 2008 Senate campaign taught him that Facebook and Google are far better nanotargeting tools than traditional print media. This, he claims, is because Facebook allows users to demographically specify themselves, which gives companies data to analyze.
Notably, for some time now, the side bar to the right of the primary Facebook frame has been a place where Facebook advertises things related to my “likes”: it tells me about local tennis lessons because Roger Federer is one of my favorite athletes; it encourages me to “like” (the less good) Sister Act 2 because I “like” Sister Act 1; it points me toward Don Draper swag because I watch “Mad Men.” This type of advertising is one-dimensional with shades of two-dimensionality. At worst, it’s one corporation (Facebook) helping other corporations earn my attention, support and/or money by telling them how to cater to me. At best, these companies have opened lines of communication by noticing what I “like.” In some sense, the ads are a “response” to the original proclamations of what I find interesting.
But the most effective dialogue is three-dimensional: not only superior (company) to inferior (consumer), but equal-to-equal, consumers amongst each other– and Facebook has not forgotten this. When I told Rotten Tomatoes I “WANTED TO SEE” The Ides of March and it told Facebook, I was advertising The Ides of March for Paramount by nanotargeting, and by nanotargeting three-dimensionally–I was emphasizing my status as a fellow consumer to my Facebook friends who noticed my “like,” trusted my taste and/or remembered their own interest in the film, and “liked” it too; an action that, of course, will show up on their newsfeeds and nanotarget their friends three-dimensionally.
This is surely the rationale behind the connection Facebook has forged with sites like Rotten Tomatoes, AV Club, Huffington Post, et al. Why dedicate time and money and brain power to inventing an ad that has a catchy slogan, a memorable image, or an interactive game (the newest online craze) when, with the click of a button, visitors to a site can “like” a story and nanotarget its content straight to their Facebook friends–people who, in all likelihood, are similar to them and thus are likely to be intrigued also? Innocuously, the Facebook “like” might be helping the modern fractured audience pull itself together, both intra-niche–by encouraging people to promote things that Internet users similar to them are likely to enjoy–and extra-niche, by telling dissimilar Facebook friends to trust each other’s taste.
If this is a good or bad thing depends on if you–the person–mind being an advertisement.