What motivates a “like”?
What motivates you to like something on Facebook? Is it simply that you have seen a post that you genuinely do like, or is there more to it than that?
Often you see a post about a negative experience, a frustration or a complaint and you spot that multiple people have liked this status. When I first noticed this happening, I found it incongruous and bemusing. Surely my friend can’t like the fact that her friend has been stuck on a delayed train for 4 hours?
As the use of the like function has evolved since it was enabled in 2009, more subtle motivators of likes have emerged. Whether it be the ironic or sarcastic like, intended to amuse, or the empathetic like, intended to comfort and reassure: a like is no longer simply a sign of approval. The norms of like usage have developed, so it is now a nuanced means of engaging with others in your network.
A gauge of success
Likes have become a powerful measure of commercial engagement, often forming the focus of social media strategy. The number of likes can be used as a means of gauging the success of a social media campaign to support a product launch and as a benchmark of the influence of a company’s brand in the social space. But what is the impact of likes on a social level for individual users? Are likes affirmative and rewarding to the ego, even if on a subconscious level?
The like culture on social media is one which is not limited to social situations, but crosses into life at home which once private space and the reserve of the family or close friends. It used to be the case that you could switch off when you were at home and have down time, not thinking about how others perceived you. Now most teenagers and twenty-somethings are still connected to their peers via social media when they are at home – or indeed wherever they are now that everyone has a smartphone.
Likes and mental health
Although on the whole the growth of social media has been a very positive development, allowing us to have a level of connectedness with a global network of friends and acquaintances as never before, there does remain a question in my mind – is the emerging like culture a positive and healthy thing for young people?
A timely quote from the American sitcom Suburgatory (!) suggests how millennials respond to likes: “I like my likes and when I can’t see them, I don’t like it”. Whilst popularity has always been something that plays on peoples’ minds and motivates them to act in a certain way – it used to be subjective and not tangible. A function which gives young people a quantifiable measure of their peers’ engagement with their thoughts, experiences and opinions is a concept that is unique to social media.
How do likes affect you?
How does it make you feel when your posts receive lots of likes? Does it spur you on to post similarly engaging content? Are you secretly delighted when someone you admire likes your status? I would love to hear your thoughts on this and welcome your comments below!