Why do people ‘like’ things on social networks?
It would be easy for us to assume that it is because they liked the content. But it is a bit more complicated than that. It’s a combination of the content, and the person who posted it.
People sometimes ‘like’ content, not because they actually like it, but because they want a lightweight way of building their relationship with the other person. It’s similar to being in a group, maybe in a bar or cafe, and there is someone there that you’d like to get to know better. They tell a joke that isn’t very funny – but you laugh that extra bit louder, and grab a bit of eye contact, just to build that relationship. Liking on social networks displays the same human behaviors. ‘Like’ might be as much about your relationship with the other person, as about the content they shared.
What this means: Just because someone ‘liked’ a YouTube video about Budweiser, that doesn’t mean that they’ll respond positively to Budweiser advertising. It also doesn’t mean that they want to become a member of the Budweiser fan page. In fact, they may dislike Budweiser, but like the person who shared the video. By targeting Budweiser ads, you may do more damage to the brand than good. When targeting advertising on social networks, mining content in the absence of understanding the people relationships is a risky strategy.
Footnote: Liking may be one form of phatic communication.
Kevin Marks has blogged about phatic communication on Twitter.
Grant McCracken has blogged some time ago about status updates and phatic communication.