in Marketing & Media

When Likes Don’t Work

Facebook Like IconA friend of mine announced last week on Facebook that his mother had passed away. Sad news.

I Liked this status update because I was engaged with the content and wanted to respectfully acknowledge my interest. Within 48 hours his status update received 115 comments, though only three Likes (my own included). Was it wrong for me to Like this news?

That status update — along with other sad status updates — underscores how Facebook’s Like button can fail to align with content people find engaging, but are afraid to hit the Like button on for fear of offending or appearing insensitive.

But if my friend’s status update had a Sympathize button, I’m sure it would have received a far higher volume of one-click votes and viral reach. For lazy humans, it’s a lot easier to respond to and engage with posts by hitting a single button, versus constructing and typing out (often from mobile devices) thoughtful responses.

Perhaps there’s a grand plan to propagate the world’s largest social network with a higher share of positive sentiment. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s even been some innovation beyond the Like with Facebook’s Action Types for various objects, with focus on verbs that imply a liking of something  (i.e., “read” or “purchased”).

Indeed, Likes and similar positive verbs are important for marketers in the social age. Likes are an explicit endorsement of a message or object; an expression of interest and engagement; and often a consumer request to opt-in — and they’re easy for consumers to use.

But as an imperfect human, I know people are defined by a messy continuum — things we like, things we don’t like, and things where we apply a whole bunch of nuanced verbs and adjectives to describe our preferences, feelings, motives and context.

I like the Like functionality, though sometimes I wish I had the ability to one-click respond with more descriptive precision — whether positive, negative or between.

How about you? Which Facebook action or sentiment buttons would you like to see?

This article also ran in MediaPost.