Why do you “Like”​ something on Social Media ?

Most of my posts on social media had been restricted to updates about my kids, mostly posted on Facebook and intended for my family overseas. I finally found some time to write a couple of articles on LinkedIn last week and that got me thinking about social media and human interactions on social media.

There are over 1 billion daily active users on Facebook and they generate over 6 billion likes every day. And 40% of those likes are not for branded content. So what makes someone like posts from other people on social media ?

One way to think about using likes is to compare it to spending money. If you explore that analogy further, you could apply some of the standard consumer behavior principles to it. There are various factors that apply to a purchase decision (a decision to spend money) and they usually depend on your buying behavior.

Let us apply some of the typical consumer decision styles to likes on social media:

  • Quality conscious buyer: Such a person has high standards and always likes content that is of high quality.
  • Brand conscious: This is someone who likes content produced by a well-known figure or a rich and famous person.
  • Recreation conscious: They don’t care about the value of the post and enjoy the process itself (of liking things).
  • Price conscious: These are folks who try to get the best value for money. Technically your like doesn’t cost you anything tangible, but there is always some social risk/cost that comes into play.
  • Novelty conscious: Such a consumer always seeks out new products and experiences for the sake of excitement and would like things that sound different and interesting.

Another way to look at likes is to consider the social implications. I asked some people informally why they liked things on social media and the most common answer was that it was to acknowledge a person or to return a favor and most people just felt obliged to like things back. I asked my kids the same question and they said that sometimes it was just peer pressure. Apparently kids do not like a post sometimes just because they didn’t like the person who posted it and liked things just to show that they liked the person. Most people also apparently check to see who else has liked something before clicking the like button. This goes back to standard consumer behavior where you always find early adopters for every product, an early majority and laggards based on their buying behavior.

Sometimes your risk perception comes into play while making the decision to like something. People are afraid to like a post due to a perception of uncertainty (political or religious topics for example) and when they are worried about its adverse consequences. These are possibly the folks who lurk around on social media and rarely participate? The asynchronous nature of digital interactions definitely allow for more consideration and planning than what is normally possible in a real world social situation. It is also interesting to note that people value likes from certain people more than those from others which in turn may mean that not all likes are created equal.

Either way, likes (or lack of them) are a pretty unique way of human communication and it seems pretty clear that the likes on social media don’t work exactly the same way as your interactions in the physical world!