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The power of Facebook's 'Like' button

When the new Kanye West/Jay-Z single H.A.M. made its debut on Facebook recently, I went in for a listen and clicked play. No music. Instead, a polite little pop-up: "Click the 'Like' button to play this track."

My finger hovered, hesitant to click.

When I finally did, I was rewarded with the operatic drama of West and Jay-Z's song, an explosive, testosterone-fuelled running commentary about "going H.A.M." (an acronym for "Hard As A Motherf-----," if you will pardon their French).

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But after the last strains had faded away, I continued to think about that Like button. I had enjoyed the track, but I also felt manipulated, like a big bully had taken my hand, rendered weak by my overpowering curiosity, and forced it to click on Like.

To "like" something in real life is a plain-Jane sentiment. On Facebook, though, "like" has a much more complex meaning. Call it the power - or the tyranny - of the Like button. Clicking Like ensures that your entire network knows about it. It is also the key - the only key - to gaining access to groups and fan pages and the discussions therein. On Facebook, you can either Like something or ... nothing. The door remains closed. And there is certainly no Dislike button.

"You can't dislike something on Facebook because liking it isn't about enjoying it or appreciating it or wanting it," explains Max Valiquette, a Toronto-based youth market and innovation expert. "Liking something is about allowing that particular thing to be a part of your network. Therefore, you don't dislike something: You 'unlike' it, meaning you take those permissions away."

In other words, "the word 'like' on Facebook doesn't mean what it does in real life," Valiquette says. Citing recent application developments such as the one I used to listen to the new track (BandPage by Root Music, a California start-up that launched it less than a year ago), Valiquette suggests that Facebook may soon be a way to experience all media - not just new music, but commercials and our favourite TV shows, too.

Since marketing, at its core, is about harnessing the power of word of mouth, the viral opportunities afforded by social networks such as Facebook can be limitless for those seeking to promote their band, brand or other wares. All it comes down to is the continued development of enabling applications. And the creative usage, of course, of that seemingly innocuous but oh-so-powerful little Like button.

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