What is the value of ‘likes’?
We’ve lived with the words ‘like’ and its hateful neologism ‘unlike’ since Facebook introduced it almost five years ago. It’s become a staple of social media sites. We’ve all-grown used to seeing — and using — the like button to express delight in a post, but what does it really mean? We’ll explore the use of ‘like’ – Jon hopes he’ll convinced you to remove it, while Luke tries to defend it.
I hate ‘likes’ – Jon’s view
“Catastrophic crush kills 2 colleagues” screams the intranet headline. 2 likes. This ubiquitous interactive feature is on your intranet, most enterprise social networks and external social sites too, but what does the employee mean when they used it? Context and meaning are lost as soon as the like button is hit and this is what makes it a dangerous tool.
What do you mean, ‘like’?
At the heart of the problem is that liking something on your intranet can have countless different interpretations and where such terrible, contradictory ambiguity exists, interpreting it is very difficult. Difficult and pointless. Think about the last time you ‘liked’ a friends status on Facebook: did you like it, or did you use it to convey some other meaning in the hope that the author understood?
On your intranet, the same issue exists. The article accumulates ‘likes’, but what did they mean?
- The reader actually likes it: Really? can they really like the fact that two people died? Maybe they really hated those two people. Maybe they caused it! Is this gloating in the face of a tragedy? Call those two people into a meeting with HR immediately please!
- They like the title: Yea, pithy title. Nice alliteration.
- The reader fancies the author: The ‘like’ is a form of flattery. I like you, I like everything you do. Drink next week maybe?
- The reader appreciates the sensitive writing style: Horrible story with a really horrible picture, but what a splendidly well-written article.
- They’re sympathetic: In the absence of a ‘Ooo’ button, this is as close as I can get to digital sympathy.
Attempting to interpret is a facile as the button itself.
It’s like, shorthand?
When we use the like button in social media, it really means “I’ve seen you’ve posted” with no particular emotion conveyed. It’s the new ‘poke’, a digital wave from the other side of the road as you pass in your car. On the intranet, it’s more about the liker than the likee (gah, I hate myself for using such a word). The like says “look at me”.
‘Likes’ as a measure of quality
We’ve long advocated taking a fresh look at intranet statistics, proposing that managers move along from qualitative stats such as page views into a more qualitative dashboard more reflecting the outcomes of the intranet. Are ‘likes’ an example of such a measure? The answer is maybe and therefore no: if you can’t be 100% certain why an article or page has attracted its likes, you cannot use it as a measure of quality.
I like likes, so how do I make them work?
We need to look at making likes work or removing them from the intranet. Here are a few ways in which you might be able to rescue the situation.
- Add other buttons: Adding a ‘dislike’ and ‘meh’ button will give employees slightly more meaningful choices
- Add direction: Give employees some direction as to what like actually means.
- Add context: Only allow employees to like (or dislike) something when they comment on an article. That will mean you have context to the data and may just encourage employees to comment more.
I like ‘likes’ – Luke’s view
Jon has said why he hates likes. How he can’t see any value in them and how they can only be improved by expanding options and providing more meaningful context. I hope you – dear readers – are smart enough to realise this is bobbins and short sighted poppycock.
- If the like is so worthless – why do the user of facebook click like 3.2 billion times a day?
- If it gives the owner of the like nothing then how have some valued a single likes worth as $214?
We have to accept that ‘the like’ has come to be because it manages to offer the ‘seller’ the ‘customer’ and ‘the system’ real value. Moreover, the real power of its value is in its simplicity and the breadth of its meaning.
Who cares what like means anyway?
The crux of Jons argument is that a like doesn’t mean that someone likes something. In fact – it’s not really possible to know what someone means by the act of ‘liking’. This is a perfectly valid point and entirely true but, Jon has missed an important point – one that he has actually made himself in the past, That its not about the outputs, it’s about the outcomes. We need to forget about measuring the number of likes itself and focus on what behaviors the like drives. What is the outcome of a like?
On facebook the outcome is the most successful social media platform in the known universe and a mechanism that’s changed the face of marketing and created massive new businesses. But what about on the intranet?
What could like mean?
Firstly, lets take a more agnostic look at what the act of liking might really mean – Jon and I both agree there are plenty of potential meanings.
- That I like this thing
- I want to show the poster I have read it
- I want to show the poster empathy
- I want to endorse the poster or the message
- A quick way of sharing the item with other in my network
- A way of bookmarking
- I am interested in more of this kind of thing
Generally a like means…
All of these possibilities are forms of engagement and ways that ‘the system’ learns more about the person. It’s a very easy, low barrier to entry way for someone to tell the system the kind of things they will engage with.
In the corporate world, the things you want on your social intranet (especially when you first get it going) are:
They are all interlinked, but can be summarised as giving people the information relevant to them, that helps them do their jobs as best they can, make them more engaged in the tool, the organisation and their colleagues, and create a system where everyone adds value through full adoption.
Likes are an essential tool to make this happen. They are meaningless enough for someone to feel safe about ‘being seen to like’ something. Yes they indicate user interaction, offer social proof to others that the tool is being used, that their content is being read and appreciated. And they give information into the system about what kind of content people want more off. Whether that be information to the search tool to optimise results, or information to others creating content to ‘create more stuff like the stuff that got liked’.
Stand on the shoulders of giants
While every feature we add to our intranet must have purpose, it doesn’t need to be defined to an exacting degree of measurability. Its ok to just have features that people seem to like and use – if they drive the outcomes you desire for your organisation.
While we need to remember that Intranets are not internet sites, and that we shouldn’t just lift ideas from the web – we do need to recognise that there are some concepts that they have got right – probably though expensive and tiresome research. The ‘like’ is one of these concepts – whose power is in its simplicity and its non-descript meaning but universal understanding.
Is Jon right? Or is Luke right? Tell us what you think? Have you created a solution for the ‘like’ that you can share?