The Effect of the “Like” Button

The "Like" button on Facebook (and now all over the web) allows a user to indicate positivity about a piece of content without actually writing a comment. Millions of people have "Liked" status updates, notes, photos, bios, comments, and now external web pages. Similar one-click sentiment links ("Endorse," "Helpful," "Not Helpful") now exist on LinkedIn, Quora, and other social networking sites. And of course "Upvote" and "Downvote" arrows have driven sites like Reddit for a long time.

Like0 What is the effect (as I see it) of these type of one-click sentiment buttons? In a sentence: Overall engagement goes up, substantive comments / contributions go down.

Take a blog post. Historically, the only option for a user to engage was to leave a written comment. Suppose I write a post and five people leave comments. With the addition of a "Like" button I would estimate three people would leave comments, but four people would click "Like." Before sentiment buttons: 5 written comments. After sentiment buttons: 7 engaged users, 3 commenters.

My friend Dario Abramskiehn asked me awhile ago why certain of my posts receive more comments than others. I follow Chris Yeh's theory on comments: the less serious / difficult / lengthy the blog post, the more comments it will have, assuming an average level of interestingness. I chalk this up to the law of reciprocity: if you take the time to crank out something really thoughtful and original, readers feel like they reciprocate the effort in a comment. So many, naturally, abstain. By contrast, if you post something provocative and short, it's easy to leave a quick comment and feel square with the effort of the blogger.

With a "Like" button, readers who would have previously abstained can now indicate passive positive sentiment. Some readers who previously left a comment but did so half-assedly would now click "Like."

The generic, safe nature of "Like" also increases total engagement when difficult topics would otherwise deter readers from chiming in. A friend recently posted a status update on Facebook about a relative's fight against cancer. It was a positive update — i.e., one that warranted congratulations or encouragement — but, given the sensitivity of illness topics, given the fear of offending someone — the status received quite a few "Likes" and almost no comments. By contrast, a message that's more straightforward — such as my tweet about how many libertarians are religious — received several comments but no "Likes."

Bottom Line: The "Like" feature and other passive sentiment links next to content on the web show that the way users engage with content will continue to change, and that the way to measure the vitality of an online community continues to be more complicated than raw numbers such as unique visitors or numbers of comments.

(thanks to Steve Dodson for helping brainstorm this. P.S. "Like" buttons coming to this blog soon.)

11 comments on “The Effect of the “Like” Button
  • This result makes sense — anyone can easily click “Like” but it takes more time to write that substantive comment. And clicking “Like” is more anonymous for responding to sensitive or provocative posts.

    My longer regular posts definitely get the fewest comments. Chris Yeh brings up a good point — as bloggers, are we primarily looking for comments, or are we seeking to share our views? If we wanted to maximize comments, we’d publish non-controversial, low-involvement “What are the best restaurants in XYZ city?” lists.

    I suspect people who’d leave thoughtful comments will continue to do so, while the “low end” migrates to the Like button.

  • Why do you think Facebook has not implemented “dislike”? What effect do you predict that would have?

  • Quora has “Unhelpful” and other sites have “Downvote” — I’m not sure why Facebook hasn’t done “Dislike.” Perhaps because it’s more personal content.

    For my blog I doubt many people would click “Dislike” — if they disagree they’re more apt to leave a thoughtful comment, I think. I suppose disagreement demands explanation more than agreement, because presumably if you agree with the author the author has already made the case / explained the details.

  • One-click sentiment button can be likened to an applause from each reader of a post, that is easy and snap. It doesn’t call for critical thinking and spares the author and his serious readers from wading thro a maze of “great post. Keep it up” sort of empty annotations.

  • Hello Ben.

    I’m new to this social media, blogging world. So far, I follow six sites and comment on three. This may be the forth, from time to time.

    The three I follow without comments, are strictly informational sites about the writing and publishing industry. I see no need to add to the forum, because I’m not emotionally moved, nor do I feel confident enough to add information the hosts don’t already know.

    The three sites in which I interactively participate, are HUMAN INTEREST sites, dealing with relationship conflicts and philosophy. They are not so much aligned with static information, as they express personal points-of-view, and FEELINGS. The topics naturally invite conversations, as they would in a face-to-face cocktail party. Since I’ve had plenty of life experience, I’m confident when commenting, and now I’m getting comments on my comment.

    So I believe when dealing with straight information, a LIKE button would be appropriate. When one writes about honest, personal, and emotional human stories, I think buttons wouldn’t hurt, but heart-felt posts tend to yield more written comments. Penelope Truck comes to mind. She opens her heart to her readers, and they respond in kind.


  • People might use “like/dislike” on the comments on your blog. Different level of engagement. Note also that FB recently added “like” to comments.

  • Tools like Twitter also appear to increase engagement, but reduce site comments. I get far more Twitter replies and direct messages about posts than actual post comments.

    Just as it’s easy to ‘Like’ content, it’s also easy to write a brief response that’s restricted to 140 characters and doesn’t form such a permanent mark on the piece itself.

  • DaveJ, I think FB hasn’t implemented a “Dislike” button because it’d harbor negative feelings toward others. “Like” only brings positive feelings, which is what social networking is supposed to do by fostering and maintaining relationships with your peers.

    Ben, IMHO, I think you shouldn’t include a “Like” button bc like you said, it’d decrease comments and I liked how you encouraged discussion on your blog posts.

    Just my two cents :o)

  • Ben,

    My question is this.

    I want to add the button to my page, but I am a little concerned and just a bit confused. If I add it to a page where I post things, will the posts then show up in the feed of the person who liked the page? If I do not, will they still get updates, or will the only result of their “Like” be to let myself know how popular my site is?

    Hopefully, EM

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