Facebook has just announced a major change, which should come as no surprise to anyone, since they seem to enjoy messing around with things. This time they're changing the process for becoming a fan of a business or person (or concept, or beverage or highway exit - there are lots of fan pages). Instead of clicking "become a fan," you'll click "like," the same way you do if you like a friend's comment or photo.
I'm sure they think this is making the terminology more consistent. Yes, but I think it's a mistake. When I click that I "like" a photo of my friend Greg's 8-month old son, it's a quick little "hi, how are you, nice one" sort of thumbs up. I get a notification if someone else likes the photo or makes a comment, but that's about it.
If I become a fan of a company, I'm saying I want to hear more from that company. In my mind, it's like subscribing to a blog's RSS feed. It feels like a higher level of commitment, especially when you're used to the current like functionality. I'm afraid many Facebook users won't understand the difference. While it might make them more likely to "like" a business page, will they be surprised and annoyed the next day when they get an update from that business?
Regardless of all the finer details of like vs. fan, there's a bigger issue here: Facebook needs to do two things before it will become a serious tool for businesses:
Stop changing things all the time
I love messing around with social media tools, and I expect that many of them will change frequently. Not every marketer and corporate communicator feels that way. If you're trying to convince businesses that you are a serious tool and a valid channel, stop making us feel confused and clueless every time we log in.
Get a business board of advisors
Maybe you have one already. If so, they're not giving you great advice. Facebook grew out of a tool for college students to electronically check each other out. It's cool that it's become something that can be so much fun while providing some real value. But again, if you're trying to convince businesses to adopt you, ask us what we want.
Did you ask any marketers if they'd rather be liked or fanned? One thing I've heard in the 48 or so hours since the inevitable backlash began is the suggestion to make it neither like nor fan, but "follow." That makes perfect sense, and people would understand that. (Or were you worried about borrowing a term made popular by Twitter?)
Facebook, there are companies out there at all levels who want to communicate with your audience. Go find people from a dozen of those companies and ask them what they want.