Out of all the features on Facebook, the “Like” button is probably the most frequently used and the least thought about. Think about it. We “like” statuses, comments, photos, and pages. We like products and movies; events and groups. We like a lot of things everyday, but we’re doing more than just clicking the Like button to express our affection for something. It turns out we like certain things for certain reasons and not necessarily because we actually like them. Sometimes we like things to express ourselves or open the channels of communication with people — to invite and initiate conversation. Sometimes we like things despite not actually liking them and we just want to let our friends know we read what they had to say. Because the Like button is so versatile, it could be considered one of the most important forms of nonverbal online communication we have (along with smileys and photo sharing). So what all is in a Facebook like? Read on to find out:
We “like” what we like
We like things, first and foremost, because we actually like them. They make us laugh, they’re cool, they’re interesting, they’re something we agree with or enjoy, etc. So we like these things to show the Facebook universe what we are into and to show the person/group that made the post we like what they shared. This can include everything from pages for products and brands to pictures of kittens, sharp-witted comments, and statuses about our friends’ achievements. We like these things, so we “like” them. Simple enough.
We like to “like” our influences
We also ‘like’ things just because we like the person or page responsible for the post. In Robert Cialdini‘s book, “Influence: Science and Practice,” the author notes that we are more likely to be influenced — positively or negatively — when we like a person or brand. He also observes that those who are likeable are more persuasive than those who are not as likeable and people who we perceive as bland. We may not like what some people say — we may not even agree with their posts or find their posts particularly interesting — but if we like them (or if those people are especially likeable), we’re very likely to like what they post just because they are the ones who said it.
This can be seen very often with people who are popular in their social circles, with celebrities, and with influential brands and pages. They may spew utter crap that is nonsensical and entirely irrelevant to you and your interests, but we transpose the likeability of their personality or social status onto the things they post and like them in return. In effect, the like button becomes a voting booth where we cast our ballots for an online popularity contest. And as you may have guessed, the more likes something has the more likely we are to give it another.
We “like” to be included
Sometimes liking is just an attempt to be included, whether it’s in the form of liking an event, liking a post on the newsfeed that has 100,000 likes already, or liking a comment that everyone else seems to like. In these instances a Facebook like could very well be nothing more than an attempt to stand in with the crowd. And it makes sense, we are social creatures — we did create social media. We like to be connected with other people or with something bigger, so when we see a page that was liked by a few of our friends we’re likely to like that page as well so we can feel involved (a phenomena known as social proof – – AKA “doing as the Romans do” — which also brought up in Cialdini’s book as a “weapon of influence”). And this isn’t a bad thing, as long as we don’t compromise our identities by liking things we don’t actually like — the social media equivalent of giving into peer pressure and social norms.
We “like” to be “liked” in return
Another function of the Like button is to encourage reciprocity with new (and old) Facebook friends by breaking the proverbial ice. We like their statuses and pictures to show them we’re interested in what they’re posting and to encourage them to like the things we post in return. We do this in person by agreeing with people, disclosing things about ourselves, doing favors, showing interest in what someone is saying, and listening attentively to what they say (all in hopes they’ll do the same for us). Reciprocation is a social convention that helps deepen interpersonal relationships, and according to Cialdini’s book, even politicians use reciprocation by exchanging favors for supportive votes. The Like button has the same effect as those actions and is a good way to engage Facebook friends we recently added or haven’t interacted with much. Though, that isn’t to say liking what someone has posted ensures they will like what you post in return — but it will encourage them to consider doing so.
We “like” to show support
Sometimes we like things to show our support, such as Facebook pages for ideologies and social movements. When we like these things we let others know what we are involved in and what is important to us: Our political stances, religious beliefs, and issues that inspire the activist in us all. Liking these things allows us to quickly express ourselves without having to think of something to say (the same goes for “sharing”) or without having to upload something to our photo albums. Additionally, liking a page or group grants us access into a like-minded community.
Similarly, we also show our support to people on our friends lists by using the Like button. Perhaps a friend is going through something difficult, such as the loss of a loved one or a strict diet of water and vegetables. We like their posts regarding what they’re going through not necessarily because we actually like them, but to show our friends we support them. In effect, the Like button becomes a virtual pat on the back that tells people we care about what they’re going through and we’re offering our moral support. This can be a handy tool for when you don’t know what to say but still want your friends to know you see what they’re going through and you’re there for them.
We “like” to be sarcastic and vindictive
On the other hand there’s the tongue-in-cheek or “sarcastilike” purpose of the Like button. For instance, say you warned your friend about something but he did it anyways and now has to suffer the consequences. Liking his status about the consequence of his actions is a quick (and vindictive) way to say “I told you so.”
“Turns out whitewashing a fence isn’t as fun as Tom said it would be. Whole afternoon wasted!”
Mark Twain likes this.
The Like button can also be used in a related manner for showing contempt or spite, such as liking your ex’s relationship change to single after breaking it off with his/her newest fling — or liking someone’s unfortunate horoscope reading. And because we also like things to show our support it can sometimes be hard for people to tell if you’re being spiteful or encouraging, which offers some cover if you don’t want your motives to be exposed (but on the other hand, it can make your attempt to show support seem mean-spirited).
We “like” to be informed
Liking a status means you’ll be notified of new comments on that status, and sometimes that’s the only reason we like what someone posts. In a similar vein, we may like a page because we want to see its posts or stay up to date with an event. This function of the Facebook like is more closely related with Twitter’s “Follow” option, but it still implies you actually like the thing in question even if you don’t — which can be misleading. The person liking your status may like what you said, or may just be nosy. So, if you find your significant other liking everything you post it could mean you found someone who is genuinely interested in you, or it could indicate he/she has a jealous personality type. Either way, good to know.
Who would’ve thought that simple little button could be so complex?
Are there any other uses of the Like button this article doesn’t cover? Share them in the comments section below!