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The Psychology Of Liking On Facebook
Improve your marketing by gaining psychological insights into Facebook likes. Columnist Neil Patel explores five reasons why that simple click means so much to the human brain.
Click, click, click. Like, like, like…
Don’t tell me you’ve never done this. Your brain is on autopilot. Your eyes are glazed over. You scroll, scroll, scroll through Facebook’s infinite feed, liking images, updates, statuses and inane links to ViralBuzzUpWhatever.
This is social media at its nadir, hypnotizing us with an inane overload of stuff ad nauseum. All those “mind-blowing” articles may actually be blowing our minds.
Your brain on Facebook is a marvel. But what’s really going on in that mass of gray matter as you stare, scroll and click? What’s affecting the synapses? What’s being stored in the memory?
Basically what is the psychology of liking on Facebook?
I want to ask the question, but I’m not here to dish up psychological tidbits and pleasant platitudes. I’m here to give you results.
Here’s the thing: When you understand the psychology of Facebook liking, you can use this advanced intelligence to improve your marketing. Knowing the mental processes behind the world’s most popular social network is going to give you a leg up on the competition.
Know the psychology, and then capitalize on it to gain instant marketing power. Here are the five points you need to know about the psychology of liking on Facebook.
1. Liking Is A Form Of Human Acknowledgement.
Go to Facebook. Click the like button.
What did you just do? You committed an act of human acknowledgement. It was a social interaction between two or more persons.
Here’s what psychologist Dr. Larry Rosen wrote for Psychology Today:
“Like” is an example of what I would call, “virtual empathy.” We are all well aware of what it means to be empathetic toward someone: having the ability to understand and share in another’s emotional state or context.
When you click that “like” button, you’re communicating with another human being. What are you communicating? You’re acknowledging them in some way.
It’s not necessarily that you’re liking — as in expressing affection. Instead, you’re acknowledging. You’re saying, “I see. I understand. I am here.”
2. Liking Is A Form Of Trying To Earn Social Capital.
When we like on Facebook, we’re actually trying to earn social capital.
What is social capital? According to the boring-as-heck dictionary definition, social capital is…
the network of social connections that exist between people, and their shared values and norms of behavior, which enable and encourage mutually advantageous social cooperation
In the plugged-in, online, teched-out world of the interwebs, social connections happen online. It logically follows that social capital transactions will take place online. Naturally, the conclusion is that “mutually advantageous social cooperation” occurs when you click “like.”
This is not a far-fetched conclusion. When you realize that social interaction takes place online, and one of the primary tools of doing so is the “like,” it makes sense.
Liking helps humans to generate social capital in their online interactions.
3. To Like Is To Assert Who We Are.
It would be easy to see liking as something that affects the recipient of the like. But there’s more going on.
When you like on Facebook, you are affirming who you are as a person.
Like has become much more than just a positive reaction toward a post or update; it has evolved into feedback toward the person herself.
If you like a status that you agree with, you are publicly admitting and expressing that agreement through the simple click of the button. It is a message to ourselves that this is who we are, this is what we agree with, this is what we’re all about.
You are what you like. This is not random psychological speculation. In fact, this is the entire modus operandi behind Facebook’s massive monetization. It delivers ads to your timeline and organizes your feed based on what you like.
Time’s recent expose of Facebook’s algorithm explained it like this:
The debut of the “Like” button in 2009, which let users endorse specific pieces of content for the first time, helped News Feed hone in even more on which stories people actually enjoyed… How close you are to a person is an increasingly important metric, as judged by how often you like their posts.
Feeding people’s “likes” into an algorithm, information hidden in the lists of favorites predicted whether someone was white or African American with 95% accuracy, whether they were a gay male with 88% accuracy, and even identified participants as a Democrat or Republican with 85% accuracy. The ‘likes’ list predicted gender with 93% accuracy and age could be reliably determined 75% of the time.
Who you are as a person can be ascertained by what you like on Facebook.
4. Liking Is An Effort To Gain Psychological Feedback.
If we like someone else’s status or photo, then we are implicitly soliciting the same from them. Everyone loves to get a like.
An article in Psychology Today says what few of us admit:
The more likes you get, the more loved you’ll feel.
Yep. Have you ever felt that? Ooh — 10 likes. Wow — 25 likes. Nice — 100 likes! I am awesome — 200 likes!
We like to to be liked, and the numerical quantity of those likes is just as important as quality. We like because we want to be liked.
But what if we don’t get the likes we want? What if our status goes unrecognized? That little status update is an extension of one’s self, and when it is neglected, then we feel personally ignored.
CNet puts the issue in stark terms:
Being ignored on Facebook is psychological hell. You don’t really go onto Facebook to see how everyone else is, do you? You go there to get something crucial to your well-being.
We like for the same reason we go to parties, go out for drinks and hang out with friends. It’s about the psychological feedback. We want to be appreciated, acknowledged, recognized and affirmed for who we are.
5. Liking Is Often A Substitute For Deeper Levels Of Interaction.
Liking has plenty of positives, but it has some negatives, too.
One such negative is the erosion of deeper levels of interaction. The New York Times described social media’s assault on our culture as “The Flight From Conversation”.
A like is easy. It’s just a click.
A conversation is harder. It actually involves typing, talking, eye contact and substantial time. Relationships and conversations are work. With as many Facebook friends as you have, it’s hard to make time for that kind of in-depth relational cultivation.
A simple like is a whole lot easier. The like is a risk-free form of social engagement and obligation. It’s connection without the commitment.
So what are we to do with these gleaming psychological insights?
Don’t sink into depression. Don’t sign off Facebook. Don’t accuse people of being pathetic. Just acknowledge what it is, and make the most of it.
Here are some takeaways that will propel your marketing prowess:
- Know your target audience — their pain, their proclivities, their preferences. Understand who it is that you’re connecting with on Facebook. Try to learn more than their demographics. Try to intuit their psychographic composition and their deeper motivations.
- With this deeper understanding, post things that resonate with them. Remember, they are expressing who they are by liking. They will be more likely to like things that they feel confident about.
- Provide feedback. Everyone likes to be liked, so reach out and connect with your followers and likers. Give them the social capital and sense of affirmation that they crave.
Facebook has more psychological depth that most of us ever stop to think about. Next time you click like, think about what you’re doing, and apply the lessons from your self-analysis to the way that you use Facebook as a marketing tool.
What has your experience taught you regarding the psychology of a like? Let us know in the comments!
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.