There are half a dozen forms of engagement and interaction you can have on Twitter, but the newest is the like. If that sounds odd, given that Facebook likes are the standard for social interaction these days, you’re not wrong. The reason is that Twitter recently changed their Favorite button into a Like button, to better reflect the way people were using it.
Rather than just prattle on about likes, I’m going to go over each form of Twitter engagement, and then come back to the topic of likes and how you can use them.
Formerly known as favorites, Twitter likes are the simplest and yet previously most mysterious form of engagement on Twitter. They don’t do all that much on their own. Tweets have a like counter, and that counter shows how many people have liked the tweet. In contrast to Facebook, Twitter likes do not show a list of the people who have liked the tweet.
Likes do a few other things when you like a tweet. For one thing, when you like a tweet, it appears in your list of likes. Did you know you have a list of likes? It’s true! If you sign into Twitter and go to your own profile, you’ll see a list of “tabs” up at the top. These are Tweets, Following, Followers, and Likes. Tweets is the default, and has the sub-tabs of Tweets, Tweets & Replies, and Photos & Videos. The first is your default “filtered” feed of everything you’ve posted publicly. The second is a less filtered version with replies to people – more on that later – and the third is a filter that only shows images and videos you’ve tweeted.
Anyways, if you click on over to the Likes tab, you will see a feed of all of the tweets you have liked or favorited in reverse order. This plays into something I’ll discuss later, which is one of the possible uses for liking tweets, and ways people use likes.
Additionally, of course, when you like a tweet, the poster of that tweet is notified. If you like a retweet, the person who retweeted it will be notified, because you’re technically liking the tweet that person made that includes the retweet, not the original tweet itself.
Buzzfeed, of all places, did a study of why people favorite tweets, back when they were called favorites. They also called favorites “one of the most complex and cryptic forms of online communication.” That’s a tall order for what is, essentially, just a thumbs up.
And that’s it.
Reasons People Like Tweets (And Why You Should Too)
To bring things back to likes specifically, we can think about Buzzfeed’s study. They called favorites, what are now likes, mystifying. Different people, it turns out, use them for different purposes. Some people took the term “favorite” seriously and were very stingy about handing them out. Others, steeped in Facebook culture, used them as a light equivalent to likes.
Now that they ARE likes, well, that usage has gotten a lot more popular. Still, let’s look at the various ways you can use likes.
1: Bookmarking Tweets. I mentioned that you can see a list of all of the tweets you’ve liked at any time, right? Well, that’s how some people use it; as a list of entertaining things they can refer to any time, to re-live memories, refer to particular posts later, and generally just have on hand to reference. I like to use it to “bookmark” useful guides for later, as well.
2: Expressing Appreciation. This is perhaps the purest form of a like that could exist. The Twitter like, in this case, is literally just a statement saying “I liked this post.” There’s nothing more to it, and nothing less. Some people use the social network literally, after all. These are probably even the same people who changed how they use the button when it changed from favorite to like, even though the button functionally didn’t change at all.
3: Showing Acknowledgement. This is, if anything, even less engagement than an expression of appreciation as above. It’s nothing more than a statement saying “I saw this post.” Sometimes it’s used for one-way messaging; as in, someone @mentions you and you like it to acknowledge that you saw it, but either don’t want to post it to your feed, or don’t have anything to say to continue the conversation.
4: Automatic Support. This is something that brands do, and something that I’ve written about before. Some brands will set up bots to monitor certain hashtag uses, keywords, or other Twitter search results, looking for new content. When that content appears, the bot will like the post. Sometimes it does more, sometimes not; regardless, it’s an automatic process.
5: Fishing for Follows. Some people use likes as a “notice me” poke. They’re liking a post from someone in the hopes that the person whose tweet they liked will go and investigate the account of the person liking their post. The ideal end result is a mutual follow, but that’s rarely the actual outcome. Most of the time, the liker gets nothing and the likee just accepts the like and moves on.
6: Passive Aggressive Hate Likes. Surprisingly enough, this happens; when someone is agitated or angry at someone else, they will like all of the other party’s posts as a way of saying “I could say something here but I won’t.” Carrie Fisher actually has some interesting examples of this; she will like and retweet insulting posts just as a way to silently sass the poster, as if to say that the words don’t hurt her.
7: Non-Verbal Communication. There are a lot of “shy” users on Twitter, who actively monitor their feeds and follow people, but don’t post or reply themselves. Some of them just have nothing to add, while others feel as though they aren’t “allowed” to contribute to conversations amongst elites or celebrities. Thus, all they do is like.
8: Flagging for Future Theft. Unfortunately, this happens on occasion. A user will like popular content, just to save that content for later. A week, a month, a year down the line, that user reposts the exact same content without editing, to make it look as though they are the ones who came up with the content. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of any enforcement on the low-key plagiarism going on here.
9: Personal Engagement. Sometimes, someone will like your post but not retweet it because, while they personally like the post, they don’t think it fits with their own content plan. They don’t want to send your tweet to their audience for fear of losing some of said audience, but they appreciate the tweet nonetheless.
10: Affection Expression. Sometimes, when you like someone, you pay attention to what they have to say and you digitally stalk them to keep tabs on them. Some people religiously like any post made by their friends, family, or crushes, regardless of content. They do it to show support, to try to get noticed, or just because it lets them feel a connection.
11: Setting a Reminder. Sometimes you see an interesting post you want to read, but you don’t have time on the go. Rather than try to remember the link or lose it forever, some people just like the post. They will then, later, go back to their likes and read the links they had set aside. Remember, you can always un-like a liked post just as easily as you liked it. There’s not even a notification for it.
12: Friendly Support. This is similar to the Twitter crush idea, but it’s more of a mutually supportive relationship amongst friends. I, personally, have many friends who are business owners, some of whom are struggling to gain traction. I like to like their posts as a way to show additional support, and to “seed” likes so that people who don’t want to be first can feel free to like the posts as well.
13: Just a Whim. Honestly, some people don’t really know what they’re doing, and as a consequence, they will just like posts more or less randomly. You can also throw in drug users here, people who browse while high or drunk, and don’t quite have control over what they’re doing at any given time.
14: Showing Sympathy. The sympathy like is a controversial topic. Last year, Facebook was rumored to be working on a “dislike button” that showed sympathy for negative happenings, but didn’t require a post. The idea is to make expressions of sympathy easier and less awkward. Of course, their actual implementation is rather… childish.
15: Social Aggregation. Sometimes there are people or entities that monitor when tweets in certain niches – like with the hashtag monitoring link above – reach certain thresholds. One such is Favstar, which looks for funny posts that reach a certain level of popularity, and then “awards” that user a favstar, simultaneously showing that post to the Favstar follower base. Perhaps they should rebrand, though. I guess LikeStar doesn’t have the same ring to it.
16: Contest Entrance. A lot of social media contests, either just on Twitter or using a cross-social entry method like Gleam, require follows/likes/retweets to enter. A lot of people like a lot of tweets that they don’t actually like, just to enter contests and have a chance to win prizes.
17: Complete Accident. Twitter for mobile has gone through a bunch of redesigns over the years, and sometimes during a design phase, they have buttons fairly close to one another. It’s fairly common for people who aren’t precise with their fine motor skills to like tweets they don’t actually want to like, just because the buttons are so close together.
18: Brand Reputation Aggregation. Some brands will like any positive testimonial they receive, so they have one aggregated feed of all the positive press they get. They can then use this later, in marketing or just as social proof.
Twitter has been making a lot of changes (especially Q4 2015). Here is a quick up-to-date breakdown of retweets, mentions, and DM’s.
Recap 1/4: Tweet Retweets
Retweets on Twitter, in this case, means pressing the actual retweet button at the bottom of a post. When you retweet a tweet, the original poster of that tweet is notified. The tweet is posted to your followers and your feed. It is shown as the original poster’s information, with a small green “you retweeted” at the top, where “you” is your username.
Some people don’t like this form of retweet because it puts someone else’s profile information in the feeds of their followers. It takes away from them, but realistically that’s not a bad thing. People tend to dislike feeds that are just “me me me” all the time. People also tend to dislike feeds that are just memes all the time, but that’s another story entirely.
When you press the retweet button, you are given the opportunity to add a message. If you do, that message, posted by you, appears in your feed instead. The tweet you retweeted shows up below it, slightly indented, as a smaller version of its former self. This is a more ideal version of the retweet, and allows you to promote others without demoting yourself.
Recap 2/4: Tweet Manual Retweets
Manual retweets have somewhat fallen out of style amongst some users. Rather than using Twitter’s retweet functionality, a manual retweet is a copy and paste of the original tweet. You copy and paste the same message, put it in quotes, and add RT: to the front of it. You can also add your own commentary or hashtags if you have the space.
Manual retweets have fallen somewhat out of style simply because Twitter implemented the two-form retweet button. The ability to add your own comment – full length, not just whatever leftover characters remain in a manual RT – meant the manual RT lost most of its functionality.
Manual retweets do not notify the original poster unless you @mention them as well. Most people will RT @username “original tweet here” (added message). This is fine, but again, a lot of people are starting to prefer the retweet button, both for ease and for space.
Recap 3/4: Twitter Mentions
A mention is when you put someone’s username in your tweet with the preceding @ symbol. This sends a notification to that user, so you can use it to gain their attention and talk to them directly, but without using direct messages.
This type of engagement comes in two forms; the “private” and the public. I put private in quotes because it’s not truly private, like a direct message. Rather, it’s just hidden from your public feed. Users can still see it by clicking on the “tweets & replies” tab in your feed, or by watching the conversation directly in either your feed or that of someone else you mentioned.
The only difference between a public and a private mention is whether or not the tweet starts with the @ symbol. If the tweet starts with it – that is, the very first character is a @ with a username attached – the tweet is a reply. You can reply directly to specific tweets, or you can reply to a user in general. When replying to specific tweets, people can see the comment you made by clicking on the tweet and expanding it to see replies.
Public mentions just have the @mention in a different space. If you’re making a reply to someone and want that reply to be public, the most commonly accepted way of doing it is to add a . before the @. A tweet starting with .@username may count as a reply and show up in that tweet’s feed, but it also shows up in your audience feed just as a post you made would.
Recap 4/4: Twitter Direct Messages
Direct messages break all the rules. They are one to one private messages through Twitter as a platform, from one account to another. They don’t work the same way as tweets, and they have a much higher character limit as of just recently. They are most often used as private messaging and as direct customer support in a private setting.
There’s not much more to direct messages. If you’ve ever used email or any web forum with accounts, you’re familiar enough with the concept. If you somehow haven’t, think of it like Facebook messages, without the live chat interface.
How Do You Use Likes?
After this update, do you treat them the same as favorites, or are you liking more tweets than before? Let us know in the comments below!