The other day, a friend on Facebook posted that a relative had passed away. She briefly wrote something along the lines of: “He lived a good life and will be missed. RIP.”
I read it and clicked the ‘Like’ button, joining a dozen other people who had also liked her post.
Obviously those of us who Liked her post didn’t like the fact that her relative passed away or the sorrow she felt. Rather, we liked the brief tribute she gave to her loved one.
My liking of her post made me think about Facebook liking in general.
Way back before Facebook, when we said we liked something, we said so because the thing we liked brought us happiness or pleasure. But today, liking (via Facebook) has changed. Here are some of the ways that we like things now…
CURRENCY: I’LL LIKE YOURS IF YOU LIKE MINE
Likes become a type of currency. It’s a thing of value (not much value… but some value) that people try to get from others.
Here are three ways:
- Businesses and brands ask for people to Like their Facebook page, which achieves an endorsement and indicates permission to receive periodic Facebook communication.
- Social content pages (such as cartoons, humorous or religious sayings, recipe pages, etc.) encourage the sharing of individual posts as a way to build social status and user engagement, and perhaps to be seen by others in that livestreaming sidebar on the right side of your Facebook interface. That’s why we see some of those posts including words like “Like if you agree” language.
- Among Facebook friends, liking seems to have attained a type of currency. If I post something and don’t get any likes for it, and then post something else and get more likes for it, I might be tempted to post more things that are similar to my post with higher likes. (Case in point: If I ever post anything about bacon, I’m guaranteed a dozen likes by the end of the day).
As a type of currency, likes influence what we do. We may be more tempted to post “likable” content because we want that little number ticking upward throughout the day. In a way, a like is a type of “payment” for consuming your content.
And just like currency, likes respond to the rules of inflation. Some who likes things a lot might have less social value inherent in each like compared to someone who doesn’t like things as often.
CONVERSATIONS HAVE CHANGED: LIKES AS BACKGROUND NOISE
It’s widely known that a large part of communication is non-verbal. When you and I speak face-to-face, we use a variety of visual cues to help maintain the momentum of the conversation. Our very presence to the other person shows that we’re in the conversation, and our body language adds further clues about whether we’re engaged our not. Even audible non-verbal cues like “uh-huh” and “yes”, as well as nodding in agreement, smiling, and even finishing other people’s sentences are all parts of non-verbal communication to encourage the conversation to continue.
Even on telephone calls, subtle comfort noise is built back into the system in order to assure each party that the other person is there, even if they aren’t saying anything.
It’s harder but not impossible to have this kind of non-verbal communication or comfort noise built into social media. Facebook has a little notification box on the lower right side of their screen that shows (with a green dot) some of your friends who are online right now.
I think likes have become a type of comfort noise. A like has become an acknowledgement that someone has read your stuff, especially the comments under a status/post.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Our idea of liking things has changed. The word “like” and the associated action of clicking a “thumb’s up” on a Facebook page, post, or comment, doesn’t just indicate that we enjoyed the comment in the traditional sense of liking other things. It’s not even an indication that we agreed with the information presented. Rather, it’s an indication that we’ve read it and we are paying a small deposit of social currency for it.
There is a risk that likes will be further devalued as they become more of an indicator of having read something. And we will continue to (generally) value the likes of a person who likes things less often than a person who likes things more often.