PALO ALTO: Facebook, the social network, is set to change the way that consumers follow brands on its pages, in an effort to increase the number of users who participate in this activity.

The pioneering portal, which has 400 million active members worldwide, has attracted a large number of major advertisers, which are keen to engage with this rapidly-growing audience.

Starbucks, the coffee house chain, and Coca-Cola, the soft drink, and are among the operators that have enjoyed the most success on this platform to date, signing up 6.4 million and 5.8 million "fans" in turn.

However, Facebook has now decided to drop the term "fan" and replace it with the term "like" on ads that direct netizens to these types of brand pages, according to information acquired by AllThingsD.

Research from Facebook found that its members use the "like" button, currently available to rate photos, updates and other similar items, almost twice as often as they opt to become a "fan" of something.

This latter status can be applied to anything from companies and celebrities to online games and specific topics of interest at present.

In a letter sent by the social network to advertising agencies, it argued that the phrase "like" offers "a simple, consistent way for people to connect with the things they are interested in."

"These lighter-weight actions mean people will make more connections across the site, including with your branded Facebook Pages," the company added.

In evidence of this, Facebook suggested that many individuals would be "more comfortable" with this terminology, and thus may be more willing to sign up to corporate profiles in this way.

"The goal is to get the most user connections so that you can have ongoing conversations in the news feeds of as many users as possible," it continued.

Earlier this year, Procter & Gamble, the owner of Tide and Pampers, said it was seeking to heighten its presence on services such as Facebook over the course of 2010.

Ciaran Norris, global head of social media for Mindshare, the media network, also recently predicted Facebook could take "billions of dollars" out of the global ad market in the next few years.

"Facebook is quite obviously going after TV budgets," he said. "[Facebook] sees itself as being able to do the same job that TV advertising is able to do, which is connect with people on an emotional level."

Statistics from Hitwise, the research firm, showed that Facebook leapfrogged Google to become the most popular site in the US in March, and Norris predicted this rivalry would continue to intensify.

"Some of the biggest direct digital advertisers are shifting budgets from Google to Facebook," he said. "Facebook allows for interaction, engagement and branding but also targeted messaging."

Data sourced from AllThingsD/The Australian; additional content by Warc staff