What does it really mean to Like something on Facebook?

Back in May this year, Facebook claimed there were 50 million “Likes” made every day. But does the word “like” really describe what people mean when they click the button?

I expect most of us have seen some instances where the word “like” seems inaccurate to some degree. For example, around 3000 people have “liked” a news article about the crash that killed IndyCar racer Dan Wheldon. And with the status update below, what exactly do the 5 people mean when they state that they “like” this Facebook status?

As far as I can see, when someone clicks “like” somewhere on Facebook, it is for one or more of the following reasons:

  1. They find it funny
  2. They agree with what is being said
  3. They appreciate it in some way
  4. They are a fan of it
  5. …They like it

So, does expressing the fact that you “like” something equate to each of the above?

  1. If you find something funny, does that mean you like it? I find it funny that a friend of mine missed the last train back so had to wait at the station for 4 hours in the middle of the night, but I’m not sure I’d say that means I like that they had to do that… So I am expressing that I find it funny, not that I like it.
  2. If you agree with what someone’s saying, does that mean you like it? I agree with my friend saying that the latest episode of my favourite TV show was disappointing, but I obviously don’t like that it was; nor do I particularly like the fact that my friend is saying so. So I am agreeing, but I’m not saying I like it.
  3. If you appreciate something, does that mean you like it? In most cases it obviously does, but with examples like the above news article it seems that there is some kind of appreciation present that can’t suitably be described by the word “Like”. So this one’s a little unclear too.
  4. If you are a fan of it, does that mean you like it? Yes.
  5. If you like something, does that mean you like it? …

So the Facebook “Like” covers off 4 and 5…but 1, 2 and in some ways 3 are left wanting. Facebook needs a word that truly encompasses all of the above. As far as I’m aware, that word hasn’t been invented yet, so they have free reign to invent a whole new word…

Do you have any examples of “Like” being used unusually? Do you think Google’s “+1″ works better? Or perhaps the commonly seen “thumbs up”? Maybe you think “Like” is just fine how it is! As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts.

  • Vincent Petry

    There are also cases were people dislike, but still click the “Like” button, then write their disagreement in the comments.

  • http://www.magicbelles.com M Stinton

    You forgot reason number 6: Liking something because they want to be liked back…

  • http://webofawesome.com Nicholas Johnson

    To “Facebook like” something means to signal interest in the thing. Lots of people “like” cancer. 1-5 don’t apply.

  • http://www.brandwatch.com Dominick Soar

    @M Stinton – that’s definitely a good point!

    @Nicholas – I guess “signal an interest” is often covered by 3, but for examples like yours and the news article above perhaps your phrase is more accurate.

    Thanks both for the comments.

  • http://www.millwardbrown.com D Barrowcliff

    Interesting post Dominic. I also think that people often Like something because it says something about themselves; their beliefs, values, personality and so on.

    You might be interested in some research we conducted on brand fan pages in order to establish the ‘Value of a Fan’. One of the questions we asked was why did you become (or Like) the brand. You can read more about it here: –



  • http://www.brandwatch.com Dominick Soar

    Thanks Dave – using it as an expression of personality is interesting.

    Your research piece is very interesting – especially that 47% of people consider a main benefit of liking a Facebook Page to be just the fact that it allows them to show that they like it. They are kind of like accessories or image-statements in this way, as you suggest.

  • Carol G

    Personally I sometimes like certain articles because I want them to appear on my page so that I can share with my friends and so that other people will become informed about the existence of the article, basically because I find it interesting and I want to share it.

  • raad

    was pondering exaclty this today.. guess its just shows what kind of impoverishment FB and other social media are serving us.

    On a more down to earth note, each Like is just another tick on FB’s stats they can show off to the investors and another chance for an ad view/clickthrough. Bah, I say…

  • puxx

    I find it annoying when i post that i do not feel well…and some would even dared to like it?!!! As if they want me dead!

  • puxx

    I know the button LIKE as something u like and appreciate!

  • Cynthia Griffin

    I think people often use the “like” button to simply acknowledge that they saw the posting.

  • Ariful Hauqe Shuvo

    i have no example ebcuase if you like on a post then ite means you will some news that is helpful or new

  • Olive

    For me, its kind of irritating when a friend post an unhappy event or he is sad, and somebody liked it. You can comment but please, dont like it.

  • Olive

    Its very simple, Like means you like it.

  • Birth Day Banditt

    Either change the phrase “Like” to “Agree” or add a “DisLike” button. Liking something to acknowledge it just makes NO sense!

  • http://www.brandwatch.com/author/iris/ Iris Vermeren

    Thanks for your comment! Perhaps the most important takeaway in this article is that marking content with a ‘like’ has various meanings that are highly dependent on context. It’s a form of self-expression: you agree, acknowledge, appreciate the content, etc. Often it’s just an easy way to let people know that you enjoy it without leaving a comment.

  • Birth Day Banditt

    Yes, but enjoying someone’s beheading without leaving a comment? People are too confused and are forgetting what the real meaning of LIKE really is. This country and whole social media thing has gone totally against everything we all have been taught in English class. Remember English class? I wonder if they even teach it anymore!

  • Mike Gallo

    I recently reacted in dismay when I saw several “Likes” associated with the news story about the beheading of another journalist. I was chastised for not being smart enough to understand that “Like” really doesn’t mean like like as in a normal sense of the word.
    The Like button is inappropriate and a poor choice for reacting to this type of story unless you are a terrorist and really do “like” it.

  • Bala

    I See or I Read so I like

  • http://www.brandwatch.com/author/iris/ Iris Vermeren

    Wish I could Like that you Like, to show you that I Like.

  • http://www.brandwatch.com/author/iris/ Iris Vermeren

    I agree Cynthia. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they enjoy the content. Lots of people just just use it to simply acknowledge something.

  • http://www.brandwatch.com/author/iris/ Iris Vermeren

    Hi Olive! The meaning behind a Facebook ‘Like’ depends on the context. In your case, I think your friends want to express their empathy. It doesn’t necessarily mean they enjoy/like an unhappy event. There is true technique to its usage! ;-)

  • http://www.brandwatch.com/author/iris/ Iris Vermeren

    Hi Puxx. Liking something on Facebook is definitely a way to let people know that you enjoy the content, without leaving a comment. However, today I think lots of people also push that button to say “I hear you,” “Uh-huh,” “Yup.” I read this and thought about it for a second.

  • http://www.brandwatch.com/author/iris/ Iris Vermeren

    Hi Puxx, a ‘Like’ in that case would be a sympathetic response. They want to let you know that they acknowledge what you posted and show their empathy. Perhaps Facebook should introduce a ‘dislike’ button after all?

  • http://www.brandwatch.com/author/iris/ Iris Vermeren

    A Facebook Like is simple in its nature. However, today, a “Like” has many different meanings and can be used in different ways. The meaning is is highly dependent on the context in which the “Like button appears. Most often, liking something is a quick way to express approval for a status, image, etc. It’s casual and doesn’t require any real thought or consideration.