The Frontline documentary Generation Like (which can be seen in it's entirety here) gives a glimpse of the impact of the competition for likes, retweets, shares, and +1s in social media is changing teenagers. It claims that they are manipulated by and manipulating it to gain fame and even money while unwittingly doing the large social media corporations and their advertiser's business. There is definitely some truth to this argument but it's not just teenagers who are being changed (Though they might be more receptive and savvy in using these technologies). We all want to be liked of course.
The documentary is right in that likes are currency in social media. I just merged the Healthcare for All PA/PUSH chapter Facebook page (512 likes) with the state organization page (718 likes which you can also like at http://www.facebook.com/healthcare4allpa). This bought the total likes to 1,099 (there were 131 mutual fans for both pages). This improves the potential reach for the organization to around 140,000 people. The page for this blog has 335 likes after a recent ad campaign. Giving it a potential reach of 81,000 fans + friends according to the ad manager. The way to reach them is either through getting fans to share posts with their friends or purchase ads. The ads are targeted to those who they think want to see them.
Getting likes beyond your circle (aka. going viral) is of course the Holy Grail of social media. I have had a few posts go viral. It takes something really distinctive to reach that grail. It certainly helps if you're photogenic. I promoted my friends web and Facebook page in my last post to pay for his medical bills and he received 41 new likes there last week. I'd like to think my promoting had something to do with it.
Bill Maher spoke on Real Time about the dangers of micro targeting the news to tell you what they think you want to hear.