THE BLOG
04/01/2014 12:16 EDT | Updated 06/01/2014 05:59 EDT

Why Do Facebook "Likes" Have So Much Power Over Us?

I recently wrote a blog post about a topic that some people consider controversial, and I have to admit it garnered some surprising feedback! I found myself feeling a sense of disappointment after this compared to some other posts that get loads of positive feedback, and make me feel great. It got me thinking, why should a "Like" affect me this way? What is the power behind it and is the way it makes us feel something we should celebrate or be hesitant towards? How many people feel a sense of inferiority when they realize they have less Facebook friends than someone else? Or less followers on Twitter? Do you ever feel proud of yourself for getting a large amount of re-tweets? Does it make or break your day to have your posts "Liked" by your friends?

Receiving praise or reinforcement from social media is a new phenomenon. We didn't have this a decade ago. We weren't constantly surveyed by our peers (or even strangers!) about whether what we put out into the world was good or bad. When we made eggs for breakfast no one saw a photo of them and no one (except maybe our roommate or partner) told us they liked them. And that was fine! We didn't rest our happiness on that comment.

So how come today our moods are so often reliant on the responses we receive online? We are so affected by what other people think about what we post on social media that we'll even take down posts or photographs that don't garner a strong response. We have moved beyond posting updates on ourselves for the sake of information sharing and we have moved towards posting for the pure sake of reaction, hopefully positive.

In this Psychology Today article, the author suggests that "Likes" are virtual empathy. And it's true; having 100 people like the fact that you got a new job or made a delicious meal feels like having 100 people right there with us, rooting us on. It feels like we're in this together. And after all, isn't that what the human experience is all about? But did you know that social media is actually changing the way we view intimacy? It's turning it into a numbers game.

Following the crowd can lead you astray.

Sometimes I wonder if posts on Facebook or tweets on Twitter that have the most amount of "Likes" or shares get that way because we tend to follow the crowd? This article in The New York Times says if your friends like a post, chances are, you will like it too. This is because we trust our friends's positive opinions more than if they gave it a negative review. The article goes on to say that this kind of "herding" of opinions could potentially mean that people are not giving genuine responses, that they don't really like something, they're just liking what their friends like. If you can't trust the "Likes" to be authentic, then why should they matter or affect how you feel? And the next time you go to "Like" a post ask yourself if it truly reflects you as a unique being or if you're falling for the herd mentality too!

"Likes" can create envy.

I've talked about the "Fear Of Missing Out" (FOMO) phenomenon creating a Jealous Generation before and social media is one of its biggest causes. When you see posts, tweets or photos that have high levels of shares or "Likes," it can evoke that FOMO sensation; you probably want to post something popular too! But then when you do, do you feel genuine joy or a different kind of pleasure? A "keeping up" kind of happiness? Envy is not the best motivator in life, envy is about competition and insecurity. When you are genuine and authentic with what you post online, yes you may still care about the response, but it's going to be what you put out into the world that matters not the reaction of someone else. And that creates a centred feeling that counters envy.

You might go further than you intended to.

There is a huge wave of selfies sweeping the world right now. And if you Google "selfies," almost all of the photos that come up are sexy. Why is that? Why are people seeking their "Likes" and shares by revealing themselves online to total strangers? I guess it is a way to get attention depending on what kind of attention you're seeking. Even fitness has been taken over by this sexualization, check out #fitspo streams and you won't just see healthy, active people playing sports or at the gym. You'll mainly see very thin women wearing very little (workout) clothing posed erotically. This article in Toronto's NOW Magazine talks about the dark side of fitspo and how it's pressuring women (and men) towards anorexia. I have to wonder, is this pursuit for the sake of health or is it for the "Likes"? And do we put a greater value on our "Likes" out of a need to be accepted?

The best reaction is an authentic one.

And the best way to achieve an authentic reaction is to be authentic yourself. Being addicted to "Likes" creates a feeling of neediness, says this NY Magazine article, and feeding this need gives people the same buzz as any addiction will. It's about being addicted to reactions, when instead we should be putting our energy and focus into creating genuine experiences first. Yes, there are a lot of great things that can come from online popularity. There are many people who have turned their "Likes" into a business (often a blog), although it may surprise you to learn that some people actually buy their followers! That part makes no sense to me. Social media is about engagement and buying followers is misleading your audience AND yourself.

How social media makes you feel shouldn't just be about "Likes" and follows. Even though most businesses today track their social sharing stats, it is an important part of their marketing and KPI, they too must understand that audiences are fickle. Trends come and go, and the only way to sustain yourself through the ebb and flow of popularity, in business or in your personal life, is to remain constantly grounded in who you are, not what you are or how many "Likes" you may achieve. Because ultimately I think this quote from Horace Greeley, an American newspaper editor and politician, sums it up perfectly, "Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, and riches take wings. Only one thing endures and that is character." Let's put authenticity back into the things we "Like"!

Have you experienced a high from social media sharing? Or a low? What happened? How did you handle it? And how did it differ from an emotional reaction you received in person?

xo Natasha

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