A look into Facebook’s ‘Big Like Theory’

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In the TV show “The Big Bang Theory,” the humor and fun of the show comes from the relationships between the main characters as expressed by their geekiness. Geekiness often evidenced by their special and superior understanding of complex mathematical algorithms and science problems. As viewers we don’t always understand all of it, but we get that geeky commonality is what brings this group together and makes them tick.

Facebook ticks along pretty much in the same way, using complex algorithms and science to determine the strength and quality our relationships with our friends to affect what content we see and like in our News Feed… to keep us entertained enough to come back for more and more. So now I’ve got a “Big Like Theory: I’d like to share with you that plays into that idea.

Recently Facebook added to its mobile Messenger app the ability with a longer held push of the thumbs up “Like” icon in the bottom right of the GUI the ability to add a bigger like to a message. With a lot less fan fare than say, the release of their PNAS Emotional Contagion Study, the new “big like” ability seems to have gone largely unnoticed with the exception of a few sites that have remarked on it as a new feature that’s now available. No one has asked why or what it could mean if we started actually using it. Which surprisingly… I have found myself doing.

While its easy to lump a bigger thumbs up icon into the entire category and psychology behind icons and stickers in general  — think incredibly telling ways to understand users emotions, creativity, humor and tone in their communications (for both the recipients, services and the corporations that offer them). I think there might be something even bigger behind the new big like.

My theory is that likes in general are probably still one of the biggest data points that Facebook collects around content. But that the way we use a like in a messaging app is different than how we do in the News Feed… and this is a actually a problem that Facebook can not only solve but derive great benefit from solving.

Typically on Messenger I find myself only using the thumbs up in lieu of typing OK or some other form of affirmative acknowledgement, not me actually liking or appreciating something communicated to me. Because it’s the most accessible icon and right there at my thumb I jab it often to acknowledge some point made in the message. Now with the big like option so prominent and easy to use, I’ve found myself when I actually appreciate, enjoy, truly “Like” something, using the big like. Great, so Facebook has me, a 47-year-old male who only a year ago was scoffing at stickers and icons, well and truly big like trained.

So my “big like theory” is that if Facebook reaches a critical mass of users with similar behavior as the well trained me … they can take the big like out of the Messenger app and put into on to the News Feed. The reason they would do that is that would solve a similar problem that plagues News Feed content. Many users like content to acknowledge to the poster that they’ve seen it, not actually to indicate a positive preference for that piece of content.

If I post on my News Feed that my dog was hit by a truck last night and that made me feel terrible, I can assure you that I would get a number of my friends liking that post. Not because they like the content and/or hate dogs or enjoy seeing me unhappy … but just to let me know they’re with me and tacitly acknowledge that I’m experiencing some kind of emotion.

The difference between preference and acknowledgement is extremely important to Facebook, but both data points they would definitely want to know. A big like would then indicate both data points and the original like could serve as just the acknowledgement of content seen.

If a Facebook big like strategy could elegantly solve that problem by letting people like or “big like” the content they could have a deeper understanding of users actual opinion or emotional reaction about content, albeit in a still positive way, that would further avoid the necessity of the dislike button many users claim to desire.

That’s the kind of deeper understanding between the emotional reception of content that Facebook would love to have. Think of it almost as the simplified opposite of the posters option of adding “Feeling Loved/Happy/Sad/etc.” when they create content.

Understanding better how users feel about the content they’re seeing on Facebook when gathered on a large scale via an opt-in big like action might help tell Facebook what they want to know without getting them into the mess the National Academy of Sciences research has.

unnamedTimothy Brown is a social media marketing veteran developer of multiple apps and web properties covered in publications such as Time, Forbes, GQ and Wired. Presently he is the co-founder of Reqvu, Inc. a company that specializes in social word of mouth.