The psychology of being ‘liked’ on social media

If you’re like any of the Start Digital team then one of the first things you’ll do in the morning is check your social feed. Depending on your poison of choice it could be Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or Linkedin. Whichever platform we’re on, one of the first check points is the ‘notification’ tab. ‘Has anyone liked something of mine’? ‘Has anyone tagged me’? Etc etc. It’s a habit we quickly get pulled into. It’s addictive. Have you ever stopped to wonder why it’s so addictive?

That little rush you get when your post gets more likes than normal? There is a reason for that rush. Dopamine. For every thumbs up or heart we get a little psychological high through a shot of dopamine. The more likes the more shots. The more shots we have, the more shots we want. And we’re in a loop. Scientists used to think dopamine was responsible for pleasure in the brain, but we now know that rather than create pleasure it makes us seek it.

A recent study on the effect social media likes have on a teenagers brain liken it to winning money or eating chocolate. The study also demonstrated that people are more likely to engage with posts that have been endorsed/liked by a large amount of their peers — a follow the crowd mentality.

The amount of ‘likes’ we get generally depends on how many friends or followers we have and the mountain of social psychology that’s happening behind the scene. If you’re looking at the amount of ‘likes’ you get on a post as a sign of engagement, it’s worth knowing the reasons behind your ‘likes’. If you can understand the reasons and psychology behind why people ‘like’ something you may be able to tap into it to increase your following, either on a personal or business level.

Why do we want to be liked?

Facebook introduced their like button in February 2009 — nearly five years after launching. Ironically, Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg didn’t ‘like it’. History indicates it took nearly two years for the ‘like’ button to get approval. How did we ever use Facebook without a like button? We all want to be liked right?

As social beings we like to talk about ourselves. A lot. Either directly or indirectly. More studies indicate we talk about ourselves nearly 40% of the time! When we start using our keyboard to talk this figure jumps to around 80%.

Why? Face to face communication is quick and occasionally awkward. We don’t have time to think of the words before they’re leaving our mouth. We speak from experience here. Talking online gives us time to think and words can be carefully selected to present yourself in the best possible light. The online space is something we can control.

We share our thoughts and interests primarily because we want to stay connected with the people we care about but also because we want to give others an idea of who we are. If our friends and followers like our posts we feel good. The more likes, the more dopamine, the better we feel.

In January 2017 The New Statesman wrote an article on social media likes. Tellingly one quote stands out:

“Likes are always an indicator of social standing, at my age,” says an anonymous 17-year-old survey respondent. “As someone who gets anxious and occasionally struggles with self-esteem, the amount of Likes on my posts can be both hugely uplifting or depressing.”

Scary? Yep.

Why likes are good for business

Understanding the power of likes on a personal level is different from scoring likes as a business.

We’ve covered why it’s important for businesses to create engaging content on this site before but why are social likes important for business? Do they increase revenue, boost engagement or build the company?

Well, yes and sometimes no.

We’ve recently noticed a brand called ‘Allbirds’ pop up in our Facebook feed. They’re a brand of sneakers out of the States. They turned up as a sponsored post likely because we’re sneaker freaks. Up until two weeks ago we’d never heard of them. They look great and we’re interested enough to follow their Facebook page but not interested enough to buy a pair. Yet. There is a whole social media dance that needs to happen before any money changes hands.

So why is our ‘Like’ good business for Allbirds? Well, aside from the fact that we will buy a pair in the not too distant future, our little thumbs up also has the potential to notify our 500 friends that we like Allbirds. A handful of these may in turn like the Allbirds page. The links continue.

Likes are great for brand awareness but don’t expect them to convert to jumps in revenue — unless you’re doing something really special and unique! From other studies (there have been a lot!) we know that conversions from a social like to a sale are very low. Why is this? We suspect it’s because firstly, liking something is easy and frictionless and secondly, we’re savvy to advertising and we need to build trust with a brand before handing over hard earned dollars.

In summary social media for business is a long term play. Launching a new page and expecting sales to start is not the best marketing strategy. More, social marketing should align with your broader marketing strategies. These could be Google AdWords, organic SEO, remarketing or more traditional print based methods. Social media is a cog in the machine

Wrapping up

In putting a picture or comment on social media you’re opening yourself or your business up to judgement. You’re making yourself vulnerable to the thoughts of others. If the post doesn’t elicit the reaction you’d hoped for it can hurt. As individuals and businesses alike we’re seeking approval from our peers. When we get the approval everything hums. We feel good — everyone, including businesses, get a little dopamine hit. It’s why we keep going back for more.

And more.

It’s also the reason why social media isn’t going anywhere soon.

If you’d like more information about our social media services drop us a line today.

This article was originally created and written for Start Digital on 28/11/2017

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by 290,182+ people.

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