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By B.L. Ochman
A disturbing and abhorrent trend has emerged on Facebook, where big brands force visitors to “Like” their page in return for a gift, coupon, or special access to promotions or contests.

“Don’t ‘like’ us yet?” Jockey asked in a recent email. “You’ll want to now!” Umm, no, I won’t. “Like our page to unwrap prizes!” demands Pepto Bismol. Nah! My stomach feels fine. Like us before you can create your own royal wedding commemorative stamp, demands People magazine.

What do forced likes prove?
They show that people will click a Like button because they like coupons, discounts and games, but they certainly don’t indicate that we plan to buy from the brand again, or come back to the Facebook page. Like so many disturbing marketing practices, forcing Likes is a nothing more than ham-handed bean counters’ idea of how social media works.

Facebook and other social media let retailers connect their online and physical properties in ways never before possible. And, as MediaLogic’s recent Retail Marketing Reports note, total visitors to social sites now rival physical retail traffic and, in some cases, are approaching the reach of national paid media. And, the report notes, more than 30% of retailers are forcing visitors to Like their Facebook pages to access their promotions.

Sadly, people who are forced to Like brands are also forced to give them access to their personal data, unless they jump through Facebook’s notoriously complex privacy hoops.

Will you still respect me in the morning?
And the long-term engagement, earned media, brand evangelism, and goodwill that Facebook and other social media can generate are lost in the process of buying likes. When People Magazine pimped its way past the million (forced) Facebook like mark in January, Forbes cluelessly advised “It’s still early in the game but clearly all publishers need to be paying much closer attention to their Facebook pages and how many ‘Likes’ they’re racking up. It’s a real-time indicator of how relevant a brand is to its audience — and especially to its advertisers.”

Nope, it’s not. Forcing people to like your brand is a lot like getting a kid to promise to be good in exchange for a cookie. Or promising someone you’ll still respect them in the morning. The promise and the like are forgotten as soon as the goodies are gone.

Hat tip to my blogging buds Joseph Jaffe and Mitch Joel who, coincidentally, recently posted about their dislike for brands that pimp for Likes. I was really happy to see that, because this issue’s been on my mind for a while, and one blogger is never as powerful as three who band together to make a point.

Bonus Links:
The Like Trap, Brian Morrissey
Hype Busters: Facebook Fans are Worthless, Glen Engler