04.11.2015 Capturing hearts: Twitter dumps favourites for likes – but what does it mean for brands?

Hold on to your hats, but Twitter has gone and dumped one of its most familiar features.

As of November 3rd, ‘Favourites’, which have been on the platform since 2006 (ancient by social media standards) are being replaced with ‘likes’, a feature first coined by Facebook in 2009. Likes on Twitter will be represented by a heart button, replacing the ‘favourite’ star next to the re-tweet button.

As one Twitter user asked “How are we supposed to end conversations politely with no favourite button?”. Indeed.

So why the change?

“We want to make Twitter easier and more rewarding to use,” explained Twitter’s product manager Akarshan Kumar. He also pointed out: “You might like a lot of things, but not everything can be your favourite.” And he is right; tests have shown users tend to be a lot less frugal with likes compared to favourites. The like button is designed to encourage users to engage more with content they wouldn’t normally share or consider to be their ‘favourite’ posts.

Kumar describes the heart as “a universal symbol that resonates across languages, cultures and time zones.” As a social media icon it is already familiar to users of Instagram, Pinterest, Periscope and Tumblr as well as Twitter’s other service, Vine. While this move should succeed in making the service more attractive to casual users, by borrowing heavily from their rivals Twitter runs the risk of losing its distinctiveness to people who use multiple platforms.

However, there is a way of changing the icon to a completely different emoji. The Metro reported that the Stylish extension for Chrome or Firefox browsers allows users to choose which symbol they want to use in place of the heart.

To date favourites has been the only part of Twitter’s service not to have been fully utilised by users, largely because the function of the button was unclear. Were people meant to favourite things they like? Or things they approved of but didn’t want to re-tweet? Or was it just for their very favourite tweets? This confusion is not ideal for a social media service that prides itself on being as simple as possible. While the old favourite button’s functions (liking, filing, acknowledging) hasn’t changed by renaming it ‘like’, this is is a clear move by Twitter to drive more engagement.

If this latest move pays off, it will ensure Twitter retains its position as a powerhouse of the social media market. This is more vital than ever, after the platform saw a fall in user growth this quarter while Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, has rapidly grown to over 400 million users, compared to Twitter’s 320 million.

Twitter launched a US TV ad campaign last week as part of its strategy to attract new users, and a UK campaign is expected in early 2016. Whether this succeeds will not just be about attracting a greater number of casual users, but convincing brands it is worth putting money into advertising on their service.