What's A Like Worth? Let's Do Some Math...

Facebook "likes," Twitter re-tweets and @mentions, Reddit upvotes, Ycombinator news "ups," Diggs... these are the magical social media goodies that anyone engaged in social media promotional campaigns desperately seeks.

But, like most magical items, they're usually as intangible as fairy dust. Hence Dan Zarella, a super-smart scientist at HubSpot, an inbound marketing software company, has tried to apply a little bit of rigorous thinking to the problem. By messing with mathematics, HubSpot's calculated the "Value Of A Like" (VOAL) formula to work out how much a social media "like" (or equivalent, such as a new Twitter follower) is worth in actual dollars on your bottom line.

It looks like this: VOAL (in $ per Like) = L/UpM (LpD 30) (C/L) CR ACV

Don't panic. Even if your math expertise has withered to the equivalent of that of a bright 5-year-old since you left school, this equation is actually pretty easy. All of these terms express qualities like "Links per Day" or "Unlikes per Month," and they're arranged in way that the various ratios affect each other sensibly. For example, the "unlikes per month" figure takes importance away from the "likes" figure. Any social media manager with access to this data can even go to a special site Zarella's set up where they can tap in these figures and have the math done for you.

What's this figure for? Not much really. It's just another metric you may be able to use to work out how much effort you need to go to to get a "like," and this may affect how you think about social media pushes. And what the VOAL calculation really reminds us is that social media marketing and analytics is very much in its infancy—and understanding which levers to pull to affect the success of a social media campaign is more of an art than a science.

But as Zarella points out on his VOAL calculator page, social media marketing really should rely on some science rather than luck. That means you need to really think about what you're doing, and measure the effectiveness of your social media campaigns. And as we've reminded you recently, "There's Meaning in Numbers: Data Is the New Common Language."

[Image: Flickr user lostprophet]

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11 Comments

  • Danny Brown

    This wad already debunked by several leading publications and strategists - as well as real scientists - as being flawed. Let's just call it what it is - math and luck.

  • danzarrella

    Danny, thanks for the comment. But the formula has not been "debunked" anywhere.

  • Rob Clark

    Take ii on commenting... 
    Would hope that my previous comment from two days ago vanished due to technical glitches and not from my being critical of the content.

    The formula is flawed, as is very nicely put by http://www.seangolliher.com/20... and http://thebrandbuilder.wordpre...

    I took my own run at it and also found L to be entirely unnecessary to the formula.  C/UpM*(LpD*30)*CR*ACV gives exactly the same results.  This formula is cosmetic.  It gives you a value that is simply an abstraction of information you already had and presents it as something it is not.  For those who report by presenting number soup, that may be good enough...  well, not really, but odds are those types aren't looking at the data anyways so it could just as easily be a diagram of how to brew the perfect cup of coffee and the lotto numbers from last week ...but for those of us who are trying to present our clients or teams with answers this just doesn't cut it.

    We in communications and marketing need to bite the bullet and stop playing the math anxiety card.  Data is important.  Having reliable information so that you can make decisions with confidence is important.  It's not good enough anymore to hide behind something that looks all fancy science-like and spout numbers with no purpose or intent.

  • smartone2

    there is a huge potential with facebook likes the problem with likes is that right now they are only valuable to brands and not users!

    There is a facebook recommendation engine app that uses Likes  called recomendo. 
    http://recomen.do/ 

    it recommends facebook likes for a user based on their taste and in addition.
    you can designate friends as tastemakers in specific categories and that influences what is recommended to you.

  • Sean Golliher

    It's clear the equation is incorrect. He's trying to calculate the value of a like and the L's cancel. The units are also incorrect. You can't calculate the value of a like without having likes in the equation. This equation is still being pushed around social networks even though it is completely false. It's a marketing gimmick. It's even written out incorrectly to look complicated. Go to his valueofalike.com page and move the slider at the top. Notice the value of a like doesn't change? That's because likes cancel. Which means, you can remove Likes from the equation;  but he didn't notice. If the equation wasn't false this would be the most important discovery to notice. Also, since unlikes per month is in the denominator this means if you have zero unlikes then you are dividing by zero which isn't defined. Therefore, it's default must be assumed to be one. Clicks*CR is just sales so you can just make ACV the total sales from the social media channel and get rid of Clicks*CR. But you still don't have the value of a like. The units don't make sense. So their conclusion must be: you don't need to know the number of likes to calculate the average value of likes. Mathematically impossible. No one would pay attention to this if it wasn't being pushed as science on university blogs and other high-profile marketing websites. 

  • Rob Clark

    Lots of numbers in a row does not science make.  There are some excellent critiques of this formula:  http://www.seangolliher.com/20... and http://thebrandbuilder.wordpre... 

    If you are strictly focused on conversions, save yourself convoluted efforts to produce an abstraction of a value for a like and instead focus on the actual outcome ... conversions on your site as directed from social channels.

    But odds are your corporate Facebook page is intended to achieve something else.  Look to the objective you are seeking to achieve - the change you are trying to enact in the marketplace - and focus on metrics and measures that indicate you're attainment of that change.