Last week, I debuted #hpc­sm­chat, a Twit­ter-based chat where we dis­cuss social media issues. The inau­gur­al chat focused on the evo­lu­tion of Twitter’s like but­ton (for­mer­ly known as the favourite but­ton) becom­ing a pri­ma­ry means of engage­ment.

In the 8 years I’ve been on Twit­ter, I’ve noticed a lot of changes. Hash­tags didn’t exist when I signed up, and it seemed to be used more as a way to chat with friends.

Since then, hash­tags of emerged, and retweets were intro­duced, now a pop­u­lar method of shar­ing infor­ma­tion on Twit­ter. Shar­ing has become a much more cen­tral tenet of Twit­ter usage.

The like but­ton has been a great exam­ple of the evo­lu­tion of Twit­ter. In the begin­ning, Twit­ter users typ­i­cal­ly used it as a book­mark fea­ture. Today, it fills a mul­ti­tude of pur­pos­es.

Tom Albrighton of ABC Copy­writ­ing had this to say about some of those uses:

Clear­ly, the Twit­ter like but­ton serves a pur­pose, but my issue with the but­ton isn’t that it has no pur­pose. My issue is that it’s become a sub­sti­tute for the retweet, and I think that threat­ens engage­ment.

One of the rea­sons the like but­ton appears to be gain­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty is that I think peo­ple see it as a tool sim­i­lar to the Face­book like. Award-win­ning mar­keter Helen Hesk of Mel­on Com­mu­ni­ca­tions agrees.

As the prac­tice of using the like but­ton as a like has become more pop­u­lar, we see more likes and few­er retweets on con­tent we share. Favourit­ing instead of retweet­ing is a poor way to engage with peo­ple.

The per­son whose tweet you likes receives noti­fi­ca­tion, but no one else does. It doesn’t tell your fol­low­ers that you liked it, nor does it give the orig­i­nal tweet­er the cour­tesy of shar­ing his/her tweet to show that you liked it.

Retweets, on the oth­er hand, tell your fol­low­ers that you thought the con­tent was good enough to share it with them. That’s how jazz pianist John Kan feels.

In fact, if your fol­low­ers nev­er see your likes, what pur­pose is served to like a tweet as a sign that you liked it? Or as Mary Wright of Mary Wright Design Ltd said, why not just retweet it?

Just this week, one of the tweets I sent out received more than dou­ble the num­ber of RTs it had. Clear­ly, peo­ple liked it, but just not enough to retweet it.

Maybe peo­ple don’t want to com­mit to a retweet, for some rea­son, and a like allows them to engage with­out com­mit­ting. That seems lazy to me and the oppo­site of what social media is. After all, it’s called social media for a rea­son.

Lik­ing isn’t social at all. It doesn’t share any­thing with your fol­low­ers and out­side of sim­ply look­ing at a tweet, it’s the weak­est form of engage­ment pos­si­ble on a tweet.

As I said, it does serve a pur­pose (to book­mark, polite­ly end a con­ver­sa­tion, a nod to some­one else’s thank you, and so on), but the trend towards it’s becom­ing the pri­ma­ry engage­ment method of Twit­ter is dis­cour­ag­ing.

As I said recent­ly, just retweet­ing is hard­ly engag­ing, but it’s cer­tain­ly bet­ter than just lik­ing, and at least your fol­low­ers see it.

What do you think? Let me know in the com­ments below.

About Kim Siever

I am a copy­writer and copy­ed­i­tor. I blog on writ­ing tips most­ly, but I some­times throw in my thoughts about run­ning a small busi­ness.

Fol­low me on Twit­ter at @hotpepper.

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