Wednesday, June 1, 2011

From the Archives: The Psychology of Liking


Ed. Note: Following some technical difficulties and with Internet Week looming, I've decided to pull a few of my favorite tech-related posts to share with you while I wrap up prepping for my own talk next week.

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?

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