Click “Like” or “Love”: The Meanings Behind Social Media Reactions

Is your social media relationship ready for the next step? It’s time to move from “like” to “love.”

Learning the true meanings behind social media reactions “like” and “love” could be just as helpful to marketers as it is to young lovers. After all, think of what a difference feelings can make when it comes to relationships. Are you and your significant other ready to move in together? Or are you just friends? Liking someone might get you a date. Meanwhile, loving someone could get you a diamond ring and a lifetime together.

Relationships are complicated, even (especially?) online. But there is a clear difference between liking someone, or something, and wanting to commit to that person or thing indefinitely. Sure, both create warm and fuzzy feelings. But think about what turns something from a “like” to a “love”? It comes down to the favorites: the favorite sweater, ultimate comfort meal, forever date. It’s the sweater/food/person you would choose if you could only pick one.

So, while it’s great to have options, at the end of the day you also want to have the thing you simply adore. How do you find that? Or, talking about social media meanings, how do you get your audience to really fall in love (and not merely like!) with you?

Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down!

In the beginning, our social media reactions started with “liking.” Of course, we’re talking about Facebook and those ubiquitous thumbs up “like this” buttons. With those little blue thumbs, the phrase “I liked it” took on new, technical meaning and “liking” became an online activity. (Meanwhile, thumbs down to “dislike” is not a relevant emotion for Facebook. And you can now be angry, sad, in love, or care for a post.)

But how did “thumbs up” become “like”? For starters, it’s not entirely clear where the thumbs-up gesture originated from, or its meaning. It could go back to ancient Roman gladiators and an arena of spectators. Or, it could have something to do with World War pilots signaling over a noise-filled runway that everything was a-okay. Somehow, it entered everyday life. It’s a signal of approval for movies and entertainment; an encouraging and friendly gesture. 

In the Facebook world, having the option to “thumbs up” started as a way to upvote a post. In saying “I like this,” and stamping it with your digital thumb, you indicate the idea appealed to you. And then the likes and likes would multiply….

What of your own internet experience, social media reactions, and the meanings you give them. Are you a casual liker? Or do you give away your “likes” for free?

“The like button has acquired a panoply of meanings in the social realm,” Chris Taylor wrote for Mashable’s Lies the Internet Told Me series in 2019. “It can be used variously to mean yes, I agree, I hear you, sure, why not, I guess. It can be used as a bookmark. And that’s just scratching the surface; there are a whole bunch of other reasons, personal and political, why we might be giving you a heart or a thumbs-up.”

And Introducing…Love!

In 2016, Facebook users gained new feelings and abilities. Not only could they “like,” but they could react. As part of a redesign, Facebook rolled out “love,” “haha,” “wow,” “sad,” and “angry.” Emojis offer a quick way to easily convey an idea, feeling, or emotion. With the updated reactions, Facebook sought to find buttons that would offer “universality and expressivity.” And, since Facebook users log on from around the world, the emojis couldn’t represent different emotions to different cultures. 

Meanwhile, our friends on Instagram skipped over “like” and went straight to “love.” If you like a photo on Instagram, a little red heart appears. However, given the combination, it’s a “like” but it’s also a “love.” Even though an Instagram user is choosing to press a heart-shaped button, it also represents the easiest way to convey any emotions, approval, or support for the post. There is no option to “care” or “laugh” about it. You either like it or you scroll on by.

Or do you?

Understanding Social Media Meanings and Reactions

Per Psychology Today, it wasn’t until the 1970s that social psychologists started seriously studying love and began to look for ways to clearly define those messy like, love, and lust feelings. These studies brought us scales to measure the change from “liking” and “loving” and thoughts on passionate love (sexual attraction) versus companionate love (mutual respect and affection). For example, a question on the “liking” scale would be: “… is one of the most likeable people I know.” And a question on the “loving” scale would be: “I would do almost anything for….”

Let’s talk about social media meanings and “like” or “love” reactions. An example of “liking” some there would be choosing to follow them, pausing to read or look at their post, and maybe reacting to the post. An example of “loving” would start with following the person’s profile, sure. But then there would be more — depending on how well you know that person offline, it might mean posting a comment, reposting their content in your own feed, clicking a link, or sending a direct message. It’s the actions that require more thought than simply pressing “like.”

This is where “like” and “love” are different online. With social media reactions, “like” does not carry the right meaning. An influencer could have millions of followers, and yet not feel the love. Indeed, in social media terms (and algorithms!) an engaged and interested community means getting more than just “likes” and followers. To gain traction for your brand, you have to do the work to take relationships to the next level.

Finding Love Online

The good news is that, if you want to get love on social media, you don’t have to sign up for a dating app. The bad news is that there is work involved.

Social media marketers want their audiences to fall in love with them. When they do, they will enhance their brand recognition and see a greater return on their digital investment. Consider this: A “like” feels good in the moment. But a click on a link could turn into a purchase or a subscribe that keeps the conversation going much longer.

So, how do you turn “like” into “love” online? Like most things in the communications world it comes down to, well, communicating.

In the real world, it is readily accepted that strong communication makes for strong relationships. When you can explain to your significant other what you are experiencing, or what your needs are, you are able to not only meet your needs but forge connections. Online, brands want to forge connections. To do so, they have to meet needs. Such needs could take a variety of forms. It could be about providing relevant content that informs, educates, or entertains. It could be about directing consumers to life-changing products. Either way, the pathways of communication must be open! This goes both ways, too.

Be a Good Brand Online

If you want a good relationship for your brand online, you have to be a good partner. Understanding the meanings behind social media reactions is a place to start. Now how can you change “like” to “love”?

  1. Take time to listen. Get to know your audience and their likes and dislikes. There is a good chance they are already telling you what they need.
  2. Work on yourself, er, brand. This might be a bit corny for businesses, but you have to love yourself first. Are you creating positive, helpful content? Is your website up to date? Does your brand need a refresh? 
  3. Remember it is not always your turn. Being in a relationship means taking turns. That could mean you might need to go quiet during challenging times. It could mean you should ask your audience questions. Feature your employees in your feed, share posts from your followers featuring your product, or hand over the reigns of your social media for a day.
  4. Think quality over quantity. Would you rather have 500 invested followers or 500,000 sleepy followers? Partner with micro-influencers who come from passionate and active small communities. You will see results.
  5. Appreciate a “like” and savor the “love.” Remember that your brand is always growing and remains dynamic online. A “like” is still a conversation starter. Appreciate it and look for ways to turn it into a “love.” Then, when you grow that relationship, remember the hard work it took to get there. 
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