Twitter Gets Emotional

A tempest in a teapot has been brewing over at Twitter since the online social networking service replaced its ★ with a ♥. But what at first seems a simple switch in symbols—from indicating the “favoriting” of tweets to “liking” them—might actually point to an identity crisis for the 140-character company.

As reported by Katherine Rosman in The New York Times, Twitter’s core function tweak has enraged tweeters, who see it as a boneheaded move and responded with hastags like #hatetheheart, #bringbackthestar, and #heartgate. “Twitter was made for retweeting and FAVORITING tweets. NOT liking them. This isn’t Instagram or Facebook,” chirped one tweeter. “I DO NOT GO ON TWITTER TO BE REMINDED THAT I AM CAPABLE OF HAVING FEELINGS,” all-capped National Review reporter and Fox News contributor Katherine Timpf. “I understand why they did this,” said Zack Smith, who runs the website GamingRebellion. “Their growth has been flat and they’re trying to be like Facebook. But the heart makes me feel dirty.”

Why so emotional? I’ve been following the brouhaha closely, because nearly a dozen years ago I dropped a love bomb into the boardroom with Lovemarks, reinventing brands not around what people say or do but how they feel. The problem with the new Twitter symbol is it’s off-brand. Smith noted in the article that he feels “genuinely weirded out” seeing a heart next to someone’s avatar when they like one of his tweets, writing: “OK@twitter, if you wanted to make me feel like I’m using a dating app you have succeeded. As Rosman writes, Twitter is “a place of professional connection and conversation. Though I obviously love absolutely everything my boss tweets, for example, I don’t want to send him hearts.

Even though some users have voiced their concerns over the choice of a heart as a symbol, people seem to embrace the change. In just one week since the heart symbol was released, ‘likes’ increased by 6% and total numbers of users have increased by 9% according to Twitter’s head of product, Kevin Weil.

Meanwhile, a new app is getting the balance right between Like and Love. Russian supermodel and philanthropist Natalia Vodianova recently launched Elbi, a micro-charity app aimed at millennials that hopes to “add meaning” to their online existence. Super-Nova’s app makes it possible to make micro donations of £1 or $1 to charitable organizations all over the world, including Save the Children, Walkabout Foundation, and dozens of others.

As explained in Russia Beyond the Headlines“Drawings posted by Elbi can be tagged by pressing the Love button, similar to the Like button on social networks. Unlike the latter, which has more to do with massaging users’ vanity, the Love button on Elbi generates micro donations. The better the created content—whether a photograph, a drawing or a get-well message—the more Loves it gets in the form of more money raised for charity.”

Favoriting is not the same as liking, and liking is many steps removed from feeling love. (As American author Jonathan Franzen reminds us, “liking is for cowards.”) Twitter recognizes it needs to move into a more emotional space to stay competitive, but love is nothing to be toyed with.

But it seems that Twitter has a solution for that, too. Some tweets require a different response than a heart – nobody wants to heart comments about disasters. That is why the platform is already working on introducing different ways to react to Tweets. These could include hands clapping or a thumbs down symbol.

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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