How Much is a “Like” Worth?

When you think of engagement on social media, what immediately comes to mind? The number of likes, shares, comments your post generates? These are the standard metrics, but why do they matter so much?

Of course, there is a psychological payoff for taking the risk and putting our thoughts out there for the world to see. Every positive comment or click is validating. But there is also a neurochemical reason why those numbers mean so much to us. Every positive interaction with a post activates the reward center in the brain and gives us a little boost of dopamine. That dopamine is what keeps us coming back to get more dopamine, more likes.

But is it an accurate measure of engagement? If we focus on the visits, likes, and shares, it’s just about the numbers. But if we focus on contributing meaning content through our own work and the work of others, it’s real engagement in the form of making meaningful contributions, building relationships, and being thought leaders.

Check out Zach Broussard’s YouTube video, #proposd. Learn more about the UCLA research about the neurological influence of likes on the brain.

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Editor’s Note: We are excited to now be collaborating with Melissa in our eternal quest for a return to “real” engagement. Beyond the psychology so eloquently presented above, we believe that it’s time to not only re-educate the “Like” generation but to demonstrate what authentic engagement looks like – quoting from Melissa; “… making meaningful contributions, building relationships, and being thought leaders.” Please join our journey by adding your observations, comments, suggestions, below. Melissa and I thank you in advance! Dennis J. Pitocco, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief.

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Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.https://www.melissahughes.rocks/
Dr. Melissa Hughes is a neuroscience geek, keynote speaker, and author. Her latest book, Happier Hour with Einstein: Another Round explores fascinating research about how the brain works and how to make it work better for greater happiness, well-being, and success. Having worked with learners from the classroom to the boardroom, she incorporates brain-based research, humor, and practical strategies to illuminate the powerful forces that influence how we think, learn, communicate and collaborate. Through a practical application of neuroscience in our everyday lives, Melissa shares productive ways to harness the skills, innovation and creativity within each of us in order to contribute the intellectual capital that empowers organizations to succeed with social, financial and cultural health.

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  1. Like all things, the Like over time has changed its original meaning a little, taking on greater importance in the social world, inevitably becoming a custom phenomenon. Among other things, they make us feel “part of something”, of a community. In this case the “likes” take on an identity value, because it is a consensus of a very large group of people, whose size we don’t even know. This effect gives us the feeling of being inserted in a reality, virtual, but absolutely present in our daily lives. Knowing that many people read our page makes us part of a network and the “Likes” increase the feeling of being considered by the group and, somehow, supported.
    Already the simple like stimulates you to contact other people more easily and this is an extraordinary thing: to be in contact with people in various parts of the world. Personally then, I am very grateful to all those who do not limit themselves to the likes, but give their significant feedback. This enriches me culturally and stimulates discussion, which I believe is in the spirit of social networks.

  2. Thanks for another awesome and thought-provoking read, Melissa.
    To paraphrase that old real estate saying, social media is all about engagement, engagement, engagement. Yet different forms of engagement serve different purposes for different people (professional/business versus personal/recreational, for example). While it’s true that “Likes” are the quick, easy and cosmetic type of engagement, they also may serve as “social proof” by triggering a platform’s algorithm to attract more readers, followers, shares, etc. (note: I almost made a Freudian slip by typing “tricking” instead of “triggering”). However, I believe the best and most effective engagement is a constructive and open dialogue via comments between the author and readers — as you point out (meaningful engagement).

    I’m also reminded of the quality versus quantity argument about social media marketing (smm) and engagement — opinions of which appear to run the gamut. Thus being able to solicit an appropriate balance of various types of engagement strikes me as the best result, if possible per social media metrics. It’s not always “the more the merrier” regarding smm. At the same time, “Likes” likewise” matter, albeit to a debatable extent.

    Lastly, as you state, “Likes” serve a psychological purpose via the brain emitting more dopamine. This may in fact cause the content creator to maximize more content creation due to the positive feedback. Whereas, fewer “Likes” and engagement might discourage or depress some content creators by leading them to believe their posts are meaningless or lack merit (whether true or false). There are worthwhile arguments on both sides.

    • You’re so right about the standard metrics (i.e., likes, shares, retweets, etc.) triggering the platform’s algorithm to share with more people, David. This is such a great point. I remember when I first started publishing on LinkedIn, the people in my network saw my posts because that’s the point of being in someone’s network. After they changed the algorithm, I had to share and tag and stand on my head to get any kind of exposure for it.

      Thanks so much for making this point and strengthening the conversation going forward!

  3. What an important topic, Melissa. Thank you for helping me re-calibrate with your insights. I know there have been times when I was tempted to remove a post or share because it received little or no response. That is “feedback” worth taking in, but it doesn’t have to mean anything dire. It’s a slippery slope to silencing myself. I’m going to refer back to how you how you reworked Maslow’s hierarchy to look at motivation and reward a little differently.

    • I think we’ve all been there, Mary… deciding whether to leave a post out there even if it doesn’t have the metrics we’d like. I’ve learned that getting people to see the post is the biggest battle. I’m glad Maslow is giving you a little different perspective. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. Dr. Hughes, thank you for writing and sharing this article. Speaking only for me I will say a simple “like” is rewarding. Posting, sharing, and comments received are indeed real engagement. These are signs that I have created something that resonates with readers which do produce a feeling of happiness, along with feelings my work being deemed quality. Since joining BC360 I have made many new friends from all over the world which is something I am very happy with.

    • I agree, Joel. Sometimes a simple like is rewarding and there is a place for it in social media. I think the bigger point I was trying to make is those numbers that we all focus on aren’t really what engagement is all about. The conversations we have with people here on BC360 about your work or someone else’s work — that’s the bigger reward for me.

      • The conversations we have with those we connect with are extremely valuable. In a way likes and the number thereof are indeed engagement. The number of likes, etc.you get a comment or an article you wrote are indicative of the connections or how much you have reached people. Engagement need not be verbal or extended online dialogue are indeed real engagement. Thank you for your response and your opinion.

  5. Melissa, this is a great topic, and I am glad that you are addressing it. For me, engagement is where it all comes to life. While I agree that seeing the number of likes creates a momentary high and that there are benefits to having that number soar, what matters to me more are the conversations that happen after the last word is read or spoken. I enjoy reading and listening to diverse content, and there are many talented writers and thought leaders out there (yourself included), adding to the content selection.

    It fuels my desire to learn, and often when I engage with either the author or others after reading or listening, I walk away with golden nuggets of inspiration and insight. And, many times, it leads to a new connection – many of whom I now consider friends. When I read or listen to something that impacts me, I want to let the person know that it did – and why. Often, other experiences and revelations come out of those conversations, and, at least for me, it’s helped me to understand my tapestry of emotions and thoughts better.

    When I first started engaging on Linked In several years ago, I was nervous. But what transpired was something that I never imagined. I met new people, gained insight, and I even found my voice. There is so much that we can learn from one another, and it extends far beyond what you or I may write in an article or essay. And, as Sarah Elkins has so eloquently taught us, connecting extends beyond the keyboard too.

    Lately, people have left me comments on my pieces that bring me to tears but all in a positive way. It is humbling, and I am continually inspired by the authenticity and willingness to be naked here in this space. It isn’t easy to put yourself out there – at least for me anyway. So, to see what transpires and to feel that energy that generates, that is so rewarding.

    • I would love to say that the *likes* don’t matter, I agree with you wholeheartedly that it’s the engagement in comments, adding to the discussion with opposing opinions constructively shared, that makes it worth coming back to any platform.

      When my blogging & podcasting journey began, I kept a very close eye on the *likes*, checking back every hour (or less) to see the response to my vulnerability in sharing with such a broad audience. It was my early “viral” LinkedIn post that made me realize how meaningless those numbers could be. There were a lot of comments on that post, which was encouraging, but the huge number of likes didn’t change my life in any way. They weren’t the RIGHT likes.

      Now my efforts are all about creating the right connections, not the quantity of contacts. After all, I don’t want my network to be a hyped-up, online version of a dusty old Rolodex!

      • “Now my efforts are all about creating the right connections, not the quantity of contacts. After all, I don’t want my network to be a hyped-up, online version of a dusty old Rolodex!” Amen to that, Sarah! Your brainchild conference, NLV, is a testimony to your philosophy brought to life. Many of the people that I have met at NLV year after year are not just connections, they are trusted colleagues with whom we’ve nurtured rich relationships.

    • I love how you shared that trepidation in the beginning and gradually finding your voice, Laura. We’ve all been there, and some of the folks have commented on this piece that they don’t feel comfortable commenting yet. I get that and I’m so glad people are weighing in with points like these that show how complex “engagement” is.
      I also appreciate your comment about being humbled by others taking the time to read and share their thoughts and be “naked in this space.” I, too, share that awe sometimes and I am grateful for those “naked peeps.”

  6. Dear Melissa, I truly appreciate you bring to our attention the significance and importance of giving meaningful feedback to the authors.

    Speaking for myself, I read to educate myself, get to understand the emotional and perhaps spiritual values that the author presents to me, and, when it triggers me to respond with my comments, I do so with a greater understanding of the whole message. Being thus engaged, I feel the liberty to share a few of my own thoughts, feelings and often times include some appropriate ‘inspiration’ I have received from some great minds who have gone before us.

    I do not believe in merely ‘liking’ an article for the sake of liking…. And yes, I do feel ‘good’ after reading great articles, posts and messages from the many authors here in BizCat 360 as they do make it easier for me to face the challenges of tomorrow.

    I am blessed and feel privileged to have the opportunity to share my feelings of appreciation by way of my comments and likes.

    “As we develop a greater appreciation and affection for words that heal, bless and cheer, we will develop an even greater disdain for words that damage, disparage and disrupt.” Robert Burton

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Jonathan. I love the point you make about being inspired by others and inspiring others with your experiences. That’s so true. There are times when I read a post and just “like” and I believe there is a place for this. But it’s the rich dialogue that is really rewarding. Thank you!

  7. From one week to the next, I’ve had roller coaster-style numbers. It is disappointing when it’s down from one week to the next but the one thing I’m most proud of are the comments themselves. I do try to focus on that. But having a HUGE number could also lead to other, high-visibility publications.

      • I always appreciate getting published and am extremely grateful. I worry that I am not responsive enough and am not as active as I’d like in reading other articles. I get so consumed with my day job (plus I’m a slow reader) that I don’t interact as much as I’d like and feel I’m alienating other writers.

    • I agree that it’s often disappointing to see one piece get great exposure and elicit great comments while another doesn’t seem to have as much reach. When I notice one of my articles isn’t doing very well, I share it and tag some of the people in my circle asking for a little feedback. The value of those relationships is immeasurable. I’m working on sharing and tagging everything going forward as I’ve found it really helps. Also, BIZCAT makes it super easy now with the links right in the notification email.

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