Monday, July 12, 2010

The Psychology of Liking

We all know that person on Facebook. The one who Likes everything—let's call him Mike. Whether your cat got sick or you got a raise or went for a walk or had sushi for dinner, are feeling blue or just biked five miles, it's all Likable to Mike. How can we understand Mike's affability? As we use social media tools more frequently to connect with and communicate with others, the act of Liking is a means of creating alliances. But can Mike over-use this tool?

The Facebook Like button began as a quick and easy way to interact with others. If someone posts anything mildly positive, all Mike has to do to acknowledge the moment is click the Like button and his commentary and recognition are duly noted with a thumb's up sign. The Like button lets Mike reaffirm his connection online. It tells the person that he is an active node in the social network, and that he wants to be connected with the poster. Liking presents a means of belonging or securing attention online. To Like something announces Mike's presence loudly and connects not only to the poster, but also to the poster's connections. The entire network is made aware of Mike's relationship to the poster.

However, it's important to Like appropriately, which unfortunately many in the social sphere don't seem to understand. If Mike Likes simply for the sake of Liking, he can quickly be labeled an interloper. In the absence of a close relationship, Liking every single thing that someone posts sends a message of being inauthentic, particularly if Mike Likes statements that warrant some sympathy. If the relationship is not a close one, then Liking major events (e.g., an engagement, new job, new home, obvious excitement) adds to the connection. Liking the random, everyday events shared by a poster is reserved for more familiar connections. It is noticeable and a bit strange when someone within the network with weak ties to the poster, Likes or comments on a post.

As the Like feature filtered through the web, Liked items have become an extension of one's digital persona. The items affiliated with your Like "signature" construct your reputation online. Liking items that others within your network already Like, reaffirms your connection with the group by identifying points you hold in common. So there may be pressure to Like. Some of this pressure may account for large responses to major events; there may be certain points that even peripheral members of the network need to acknowledge. This could then lead to a shaping of Liking so that you choose to Like only items that create a specific image of you. If you over-Like—both personal items and items from the web—then there can be questions about the nature of your digital profile.

Take a moment to consider what you may have Liked lately, and the message that your Likes may be sending about your personality.  Do you pay attention to who Likes your statuses? What's your reaction when it's a peripheral member of your network?

I'm interested.

9 comments:

  1. I hate Like-Whores. Just like people who over-use the word, "love".

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  2. I hadn't thought about the folks who over-use the word Love, but it's likely that the same applies to them. Whether or not they realize it, they're attempting to construct an affable online personality, which may backfire as it is perceived to be lacking depth.

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  3. Great article! I don't like how the 'Like' button has replaced the need for words though, and personally try and resist liking photos instead of making a 'customized' comment. But of course, this probably follows a hierarchy too, save the words for your closest friends and family and substitute with like as you move to the outer layers of your social circle.

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  4. Hey Desiderata. Thanks for stopping by. The Like button seems in line with reduced communicative expressions overall. Think of how we communicate over text and IM - emoticons, acronyms, and Internet slang. LOL, IMHO, BRB ... all instances of compression with communication. I think we are more likely to "personalize" our experiences with first tier connections than other levels. In some ways, it might be the only way to manage our ever growing digital networks

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  5. I don't have a problem with Facebook friends I'm not close to liking my posts. I don't use Facebook for anything too personal. I post major life events, interesting links, and mundane occurrences if I can think of something funny to say about them. If a peripheral member of my network likes one of the former, for example that I graduated from college, it seems entirely appropriate. If they like one of the latter, I assume they think what I said was funny. If they like one of the links I shared, then I think we share an interest.
    It would be weird if someone I didn't know well liked everything I posted. I would probably interpret that to mean that they wanted to get closer to me, but liking doesn't create as many opportunities for starting a conversation as leaving a comment does. If someone I didn't know well liked everything I posted and never left a comment, I wouldn't know what to think. I might be a little creeped out. But I've never encountered that.

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  6. Gene said: "If someone I didn't know well liked everything I posted and never left a comment, I wouldn't know what to think. I might be a little creeped out."

    In some ways, Gene, you may be in the minority in terms of behavior on FB. Most people use it to dump personal flotsam into cyberspace. But your comment quoted above is telling about how we may create tiers for interaction even if they aren't explicitly stated.

    It would creep me out too. That person might suddenly find that she was unable to access my wall ;)

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  7. Something I've noticed is that I find myself liking the items of those people I am more likely to come into contact with outside of Facebook. Kind of like an empathy like. I dole out likes to people, not things, however, in the same way that I use it to make people feel good, I also make withhold my Likes, which is almost more powerful, for behaviour which I deem as self-indulgent, uninspired or just plain bad.

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  8. Sam, your latter point begs the question as to whether there is pressure to produce "Likeable" content. How much time do we invest in considering what we share? In some cases, the answer may be minimal, but there may be subtle pressure to produce witty status updates or content that makes the sharer appear clever/smart. .

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