It has been able to change many things within three years. The relationships with our friends; the way people, pop stars, companies measure their value. And – somehow – the concept of marketing itself.
Introductions are not necessary: we are talking about the “Like Button”, the button which allow us to show our liking towards everything. Toward a picture, a phrase, the status of a friend, a brand, a performer, a book that somebody else stated he read.
We can Like everything, and this sometimes turns into a paradox: I can put a Like to another Like I’ve just put.
The history of the Like
When was the “Like” born? Actually in 2007, but it didn’t show up right away.
A Facebook developers team – among them Andrew Bosworth – was thinking about a button to typify the liking of the news shared in the newsfeed. There were several graphic ideas: a star, a plus (+), a thumb up. They immediately thought about the “Like” word, but not everybody seemed to appreciate it. Insomuch as this is one of the first draft of the Like Button:
In October ’07 FriendFeed launched it’s own Like Button: that’s why – together with other reasons within the team – the idea has been put back into the drawer for a little while more. Until a couple of years later, when the World was finally ready to welcome one of the biggest ever digital (and social) revolutions: on February 9th 2009 the Like Button was launched.
For other details, here you’ll find the story, told directly by Bosworth.
The 21st April 2010 Social Plugins show up. And thanks to them, the Like Button started to leave the borders of Facebook, spreading allover the web. After 3 months, 350 thousands websites had decided to implement the Like Button in order to publicize their products, from the World Wide Web to Facebook.
A year later, 2 and a half million websites have inserted it into their webpages – about 10 thousand new adepts per day – and the magic button guaranteed an average traffic rise of 300% for websites.
Among the first successful cases, we can mention two examples we have often talked about on YDL: the Levi’s Store, a Like-based e-commerce, and CNN, the first news portal to welcome the Like in its homepage.
Again, in April 2010, there’s another news, which will have a great impact onto the business communication World: the “Join this page” button disappears. We don’t “enter” into the pages anymore, yet we “Like” them.
Technically, it’s a thin line: it’s always about pressing a button. At a level of the message to the final user, though, it’s a very important passage: it means the total merging between the marketing and the day-by-day actions inside Facebook. The Like is not anymore a simple opinion about something: it’s a punctual action to which we can give a punctual price.
And the rising of the “thumb up” do not stop here: a while after – June 16th 2010 – the Like sneaks into comments as well. Everything we do on Facebook, every single piece of conversation, can be liked. We do not need to spend time writing “Yes, I agree” or “You’re right” and then send the comment: the only thing we need it’s a click.
In these 3 years, the “Like Button” has entered our life and – in a certain way – our mindset too. And as for many things, somebody over considered it: in 2011 an Israeli couple went for giving to their baby the name Like. It seams like a foolishness, doesn’t it? Still, Wikipedia says that.
The value and the non-value of a Like
Let’s start with a philosophical question: what does Like mean? Here a snatch of a post dated back from the early history of the modern web, when the Like was just introduced (2009):
Depeche Mode has a page on Facebook. They’ve just announced the cancellation of some of their concerts in Brazil. And what’s really strange is that as of right now, 422 people “Liked” this on Facebook. What does that mean? Are these people happy to hear that they won’t get to see the band?
Why people put Like? It’s almost become a shifty meaningful gesture: from one side millions of people use it quite randomly, while on the other side thousands of marketers see on it the main existencial reason for a brand to be online (ok, it’s not always true: sometimes marketers think also about the ROI).
The Like has designed therefore an out-and-out revolution: not only it has simplified our lives, it also has flattened our relation with society.
I personally like the definition of “Like” given by this other blog:
A Like can be a torch that burns forever, or a flash in the pan.
So, a Like can be a strong signal, “a torch that burns forever”: a tender feeling demonstration toward a brand that we really like very much, toward our best movie, toward a celebrity who is our favorite star since we were kids.
However it can also be a “flash in the pan“. A Facebook ads campaign that made us laugh for a while and we forgot immediately, a product liked by a friend of us, so ok-I’ll-put-a-Like-too.
But also something we put by boredom: I don’t want to express an opinion, I only need to show that I’ve seen it. Or a pity gesture: this guy asked me, I’ll put this ‘damn like’ so he won’t bother me anymore.
And then we have the generalist mass phenomenons. The Likes put in order to show that we are interested, to show that we feel it’s our cause.
The groups created immediately after tragedies (natural catastrophes, premature deaths of celebrities) are able to catalyze thousands of fans in a few hours, because people have to show “they’re worried about it” or “they feel close”, regardless of who created that page – are and what are its real objectives.
The Kony phenomenon has been a “flash in the pan”. Nearly a million of Likes, thousand of millions of shares, statuses, videos, images that millions of young indignant have shared to launch a precise message: We care. And then, nevertheless, that’s it. Have we done something concrete for Africa, for Uganda’s children? No. But, hey, we put a Like. Fair enough.
#Kony2012 it’s a phenomenon typical of our society, and our society has been severely affected by the “irresistible lightness” of Likes.
We can define it the “Like that makes you feel better“, and it’s not only about Kony. There’s much more. We could write a full branch of the marketing literature arguing about the “Like for a cause” universe.
Put a Like and Procter&Gamble gives a dollar to poor children. Put a Like and a no profit donates a dollar to the stray dogs. Put a Like and another no-profit gives 3 bucks to the tornado’s evacuees. Put a Like and Starbucks plants a little-tree. Put aLike and 50Cent donates a meal to a starving baby.
This is a topic we already faced – in a post called Hey you, give me a Like, I will donate a dollar: is it fair to tell people that by just clicking the the Like button we can help the World to become a better place?
Are we actually helping people or are we just irrevocably simplifying and banalizing our social commitment?