Stars versus Hearts

Two little icons that signify so much. The heart: indicative of love, affection – even passion. The star: symbol of the heavens, hope and excitement. Both optimistic; both deployed across social channels to encourage users’ engagement.
The ‘like’ button has long been successfully utilised on Facebook. It’s ok to ‘like’ something. It’s not too strong – not too forceful. ‘Liking’ communicates a wealth of sub-emotions, from gentle appreciation or wry amusement at an ambiguous drawing by a child, to emphatic enthusiasm for a trending political cause. It’s safe because you can have degrees of liking something. But is this true of a ‘favourite’? Semantically speaking, the answer is surely ‘no’. A favourite is a superlative. Furthermore, how many favourites can one reasonably have before all your preferred content forms a nebulous bank of ordinariness with nothing to distinguish one item from another beyond a little yellow star?
Of the social media platforms, it is Twitter’s growth that has slowed in recent years and consequently it has sought ways to encourage users to engage more with content. At the beginning of November, Twitter exchanged the star ‘favourites’ button for a heart button in the hopes of simulating the success of Facebook’s ‘Like’ button. At Organic we undertook a little research to discover whether this seemingly subtle feature shift would have a measurable impact on user engagement.

Contenders, ready?

We analysed the top ten Twitter brands, celebrities and media providers in the UK according to follower numbers. We looked at the last 20 tweets before and after the icon change (making allowances for the effects of paid promotion and virality). We found that there had been an overall average increase of 17.33% in favour of the heart over the star icon.

Round 1: Hearts beat stars

So why has this simple adjustment yielded such a significant increase in ‘liking’ activity? Could it be the familiarity users have with the option to ‘like’ something, as established on Facebook, Instagram and Periscope? Does this prove that a ‘like’ is more flexible than a firmly-committed gold star with its lofty celestial ‘favourite’ status? Certainly this appears to be the case when we examine the ‘celebrities’ and ‘brands’ categories. People aren’t reluctant to ‘like’ or ‘heart’ something Harry Styles has tweeted, for instance.

Round 2: Hearts take a hit

Perhaps not surprisingly, users were reluctant to ‘like’ something on media channels, given that news content is often alarming or negative. Instead, media channels experienced a drop in ‘liking activity’, perhaps because here the former star icon more appropriately signified importance over preference. ‘Likes’ weren’t abandoned on media channels altogether, however. Stirring events and human-interest stories such as the England vs. France football match at Wembley saw users hitting the ‘like’ button far more frequently. So where hearts were warmly engaged, likes followed.

The knockout

So what’s next? At Organic we feel the heart icon is a step forwards in terms of engaging users with the content, but it’s not the whole picture. Brands interested in more than measuring their success in ‘likes’ are best served by first generating content that will more substantially engage users, making it impossible for users not to share or enter into a conversation with the brand. This would signify a more meaningful engagement and would win them the battle for users’ hearts and minds.
Our Founder and Managing Director, James Moffat, also spoke about our research on The Wall. You can read his article here >