“Who ‘Likes’ You… and Why: A Typology of Facebook Fans” – Digital/Social Advertising

Who “Likes” You… and Why? A Typology of Facebook Fans: From “Fan”-atics and Self Expressives to Utilitarians and Authentics is a study which attempts to categorize Facebook fans by their characteristics on the website. The study’s authors, Elaine Wallace, Isabel Buil, Leslie de Chernatony, and Michael Hogan, used 438 people on Facebook to examine their online behaviors (Wallace 93). This study has beneficial implications for advertising because its findings can identify and target the Facebook Fans most useful to particular companies. Instead of marketing to everyone, advertising money can be tailored to reach the fans most likely to buy a product from a company and increase its customer base.   Additionally, the Facebook Fan provides a type of free advertising by spreading the “brand message” (93).  When the Fan “likes” a brand, their friends see this choice, potentially provoking an interest in the brand and becoming a new customer.

In order to determine the different types of Facebook users, the researchers used an online survey service named SurveyMonkey. To ensure they were surveying the right participants the researchers asked, “Do you have a Facebook account that you have accessed since March 1st?”, and “Have you selected a brand you ‘Like’ on Facebook in the past year?” (97).  After the screening, the survey was given to 438 university students who were considered “regular Facebook users” (96). These participants were asked to consider a brand they recently Liked.

After the participant selection phase, the researchers then asked questions to measure aspects, such as self-expressiveness, brand loyalty, brand love, and word of mouth for the Liked brand (97). These aspects were measured on a scale from one to five with one being strongly disagree and five being strongly agree (97). Once the data was collected, the researchers used cluster analysis to form “clusters” (98). Based on the analysis of the collected data, the researchers determined four cluster types: Fan-atics, Self-Expressives, Utilitarians, and Authentics (102).

The first group, “Fan”-atics, are characterized by high brand loyalty, love and WOM (word of mouth). They like the brand because of both genuine interest, and also to create an image for themselves (102). This is a group that has a lot of Facebook friends, and is high on the scales of self-monitoring and materialism (102). They also are considered opinion leaders and seekers. We used the brand BluePrint Cleanse, whose Facebook page is below, to represent Fan-atics behavior.  A Fan-atic would “Like” this brand’s Facebook page because he/she is genuinely interested in the cleanse, but also because the product helps to create an image of someone who is health conscious. Because Fan-atics show high brand loyalty, love and WOM, this would be a good consumer to target.  Their interest in the product will make them try it, and if they like it, they will spread the positive message.



Screenshot from BluePrint Cleanse Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BluePrintCleanse


The second group, Self-Expressives, are similar to the Fan-atics in that they also have a high number of Facebook friends, self-monitoring, and WOM (101).  Self-Expressives, however, have slightly less brand loyalty and love, and are lower on the materialism and opinion leader/seeker scale (101).  The primary difference between this latter group and the previous one is that unlike Fan-atics who Like a brand to create an image and out of genuine interest, Self-Expressives usually just “Like” to create an image. We used the same BluePrint Cleanse example to demonstrate that these groups may Like the same brand, but the Self-Expressive only does so because it helps create the health conscious image. People in these groups would be good to target because they have a lot of Facebook friends, and when they try the brand and like it, they will spread brand awareness through word of mouth. However, since Self-Expressives have less brand loyalty, love, and genuine interest, they would not, standing alone as a group, be a prime audience for advertisers to target. The “Likes” made by this group for the brand may not garner any actual purchases because the group is lacking the interest.

The third group that was qualified as a Facebook fan typology is called Utilitarians. This group primarily “likes” brands to gain incentives, but they have no significant consumer connection to the brand (100). Some characteristics of this group include their low levels of brand loyalty, love, and word of mouth. Although they may “like” a brand for it’s incentive, they’re still likely to offer negative comments about the brand to friends and family. They have an average number of Facebook friends, but this group also spends the least amount of time on Facebook. Because of this, Facebook as a social media entity doesn’t play much of a role in their daily lives (101). You can see why it’s not entirely useful for brands to cater to this group via Facebook. They also have a medium level of self-monitoring the activity they do online. They aren’t concerned with the kind of image they’ve created for themselves through “liking” certain brands on Facebook, but it is still very possible that this group uses other aspects of their Facebook to project a desired image. This is done through the selection of what photos they post or the content of their status updates. The members of this group also consider themselves to be not materialistic and they’re Facebook behavior through “liking” brands suggest that they are not concerned with the opinions of others when it comes to identifying with a brand through their Facebook page (100).

One example of an ad or brand that Utilitarians might “like” on Facebook is this ASOS, an e-commerce fashion site targeted at young adult females.



Although the ad indicates to us that it has a high number of likes, our knowledge of Utilitarian Facebook behavior tells us that most of these likes come primarily from the incentive the ad is giving (access to the exclusive sale preview) and not actual brand loyalty on the part of the Facebook “liker.”

Similarly to the Utilitarians, the fourth Facebook fan typology, “Authentics,” are a group unconcerned with image, however the “likes” they give to certain brands on Facebook are genuine. This group has high levels of brand loyalty and love for the brands they “like” on Facebook. Their level of word of mouth isn’t that high because the brands usually “liked” by this group are established, popular, and not too self-expressive (102). This group also has a low number of Facebook friends, which suggests that the way they interact with brands on social media is reflective of the way they interact with people in real life. The interactions are more intimate and more frequent, making Facebook an extension of their social group in the real world. This makes it smarter for brands to advertise to this group  (102). The scores for self-monitoring and materialism for this group were also low because they do not seek validation from others online via the brand they “like” on Facebook. This goes back to the idea that the “likes” they give to these brands are most genuine.

The three brands below (Tide, Coca-Cola, and Apple) are examples of the kinds of brands the Authentic may “like” on Facebook.



These are highly established brands with huge followings and for that reason, the word of mouth on these products is significantly lower than say that of the Blueprint cleanse.


We felt that this study was significant and reflective of the contemporary climate of ads and brand culture because it suggests something that a lot of consumers have been thinking: there seems to be an immediate disconnect between the amount of “likes” a brand receives on Facebook and actual consumption of that brand. A lot of the activity that takes place, not just on Facebook, but on social media in general has to do with the creation of a desired self. The internet and emergence of digital media has allowed everyday, ordinary people to become social media curators. It’s not just reflective through the photos and content on these various forms of social media but through the brands we “like.”

That being said, there are a few limitations to the study. The sample used in this study was a single-culture sample made up of all Irish students. In order to make the results of this study more accurate, researchers should observe a cross-cultural sample made up of students from different regions of the world (104). There was also a limited exploration of user-generated content. Examining the way students interact with their friends on Facebook through status “likes” and comments on news feeds will help researchers to know whether or not they should broaden typologies to include other members of the Facebook community (104). There is also no discussion of the typologies that “un-like” brand pages. Monitoring this activity would give researchers an accurate time frame between the time a consumer “likes” and “un-likes” a brand.

Understanding Facebook fan typologies is especially important for brand and advertising agencies because it lets them know that something like Facebook “likes” is not always indicative of how successful or unsuccessful their brand is. A suggestion for ad agencies in the future is to open up research departments that specialize in this type of behavioral analysis. This can be thought of as the second wave of the Creative Revolution. Not only will creatives and salesmen be working together to come up with provocative strategies, but researchers of social media behavior can help to measure the effectiveness of these strategies. Creating strong relationships between brands and their consumer constituencies is going to be essential for the future of advertising and digital media.

– BM and CY



Buil, I., de Chernotony, L., Hogan, M., Wallace, E. “Who ‘Likes’ You… and Why?: A Typology of Facebook Fans From ‘Fan’-atics and Self-Expressives to Utilitarians and Authentics.” Journal of Advertising Research. 92-109. Web. Mar. 2014.


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