Facebook Unveils the Secrets Behind the Like Button

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If there’s one thing websites and publishers can’t get enough of, it’s analytics — data-mining tools like Google Analytics and real-time snapshots of activity like Chartbeat, which show who comes to a site and when, where they come from, and what they do when they get there. Now websites can get that kind of info from Facebook too, thanks to some new analytical tools the social network launched today, which give publishers insights via Facebook’s plugins — including the ubiquitous “like” button. As social media starts to drive more and more traffic to websites, such tools are becoming even more important.

Facebook has had analytics for its own pages for some time, which show “fan” page administrators how users are interacting with the pages, whether they are sharing content, etc. — along with particulars about their age, sex and any other demographic info they have chosen to share through the network. And since it launched its social plugins last year, the network has provided some data about how users are responding to “like” buttons, etc. But the new features it launched Tuesday provide a lot more information, and real-time data, about that activity. The analytics include:

  • Like button analytics. Facebook provides anonymized data to show sites the number of times people saw “like” buttons on their pages (known as “impressions”), how many times they clicked on them, as well as how many times people saw those buttons on Facebook and clicked through to the site.
  • Comment analytics. Sites can see the number of times people saw the comment plugins Facebook recently launched, how many times they actually posted a comment, and how many times they clicked through from a comment that was cross-posted from the site to Facebook.
  • Demographic analytics. Just as it does with Facebook pages, the social network can show websites aggregated demographic data about the visitors to their pages who logged in with their Facebook profile.
  • Organic sharing analytics. Even if a site doesn’t use the Facebook open-graph social plugins, the site’s new analytics offer data on how often content from a site is shared on the network, either by someone pasting a URL or sharing in some other way.

Although many websites and publishers have concerns about integrating themselves so tightly with Facebook, in part because of the control that gives the giant social network (and in some cases, concern about the impact on users’ privacy), there is no question that this kind of data analysis is going to be very appealing to a lot of sites — particularly the ones using Facebook’s social tools to expand their reach, and looking for evidence that this strategy is working. They can see exactly which content is getting engagement and when.

Already, some sites, such as Talking Points Memo, have started to notice that Facebook is generating a growing amount of their traffic. (The Nieman Journalism Lab is asking other sites to submit data about where their traffic comes from, so it can track those patterns.) And the implementation of Facebook comments is likely to drive those numbers higher for many, although there are concerns about that as well.

One risk for publishers, however, is that they start to focus only on users who login via Facebook and spend less time paying attention to visitors who don’t. And the ultimate extension of that kind of thinking, of course, is to give up on your website altogether and just use a Facebook page, as the hyper-local community site Rockville Central recently did — something the social network is no doubt happy to facilitate.

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Post and thumbnail courtesy of Flickr user Retinafunk

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