To ‘Like’ or not to ‘Like’… this is no longer the question.

It is the Facebook news dominating headlines worldwide; the beloved ‘Like’ button is to be replaced by a series of ‘reactions’ allowing us to succinctly express our love, anger or amazement over your friend’s shared content.

To me, it made total sense. I have had friends share news of engagements or pregnancies which warranted more than a ‘like’ and, similarly, news of death or injuries which needed totally the opposite reaction.

But what are we to do in this situation? I know full well that any comment I leave, no matter how small, will attract hundreds of notifications informing me that every other connection to said friend has commented at least similarly if not the same. And filtering those becomes tedious, akin to that call we all do to get rid of the annoying voicemail notification. “But you can turn notifications off!” you cry, and you are right, but I always feel a bit mean then; I care enough to comment but please don’t bother me once I have acknowledged you.

So, reactions seem reasonable. They allow me to neatly express my feelings without trying various awkward phrases in my head and allowing me to get on with my day afterward.

But what if I’m the person creating the content?

If I shared a video, picture or article with a message that I felt strongly about, and subsequently received a series of angry reactions from my various friends and acquaintances, where does that leave me? Are they angry at the piece? Or me for sharing it?

I suppose this depends on our definition of the purpose of social media.

In his book Twitter: Social Communication in the Twitter Age, Dhiraj Murthy says:

“Social media has been broadly defined to refer to ‘the many relatively inexpensive and widely accessible electronic tools that enable anyone to publish and access information, collaborate on a common effort, or build relationships.”

It is the last two aims that bring me to the crux of my problem; using social me to build relationships and collaborate on a common effort.

Pressing a ‘like’ button no more builds a relationship than thanking the cashier at my local Tesco makes them my friend. It is a social nicety, something that is unworthy of note as it occurs but highly conspicuous in its absence.

Nor do these singular, minuscule interactions provide me with enough information to either collaborate or debate an issue.

With no qualitative scale, how can I determine my friend’s real responses; are some likes worth more than others?

Of course this is great news for marketers.

Easing interactions leads to greater engagements rates and opening the choices will lead to more interesting analytics, something we thought was ‘Wow’ might only turn out to be a ‘LOL’.

For a long time now, we have struggled to see Facebook find its place in the world, like a forlorn teenager taking in copious amounts of information with no real purpose or way of using it.

Perhaps this is it, maybe this is, if not the first, another step in the direction of Facebook’s’ descent into a comprehensive market researcher’s dream.

And perhaps that’s not a bad thing.

What Facebook does well is contained within the beginning of Murthy’s definition, it “enable[s] anyone to publish and access information”. In other words: it is the first step in a meaningful communication, it isn’t the meaningful communication.

If one of my friends feels strongly about something I’ve posted, they have at least one way of contacting me. If they want to build or maintain our relationship, that can’t be done solely through Facebook.

Perhaps it’s time we stopped expecting Facebook and real-life to mirror each other, and realise the two can co-exist with vastly different purposes and, more importantly, with different normal behaviours.

Real-life and Facebook are different. And that’s okay

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