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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