Facebook’s ‘Like’ and Conspicuous Consumption

Wondering why we freely and often make our tastes public (specifically, our brand preferences through Facebook’s ‘Like’ mechanism), Nicolas Baumard discusses how we purchase goods to display our good taste:

In a way, Facebook can be seen as a handy device to send a lot of very precise signals about your opinion and your values! (The average user becomes a fan of four pages every month, according to Facebook). Note that this theory of marketing is just a form of honest signal theory, advocated previously by Veblen in social sciences and Zahavi in evolutionary biology. The difference is that, instead of being focused on the display of wealth, this bourdieusian explanation is interested by other qualities that also need to be adverstised by individuals such as intelligence, social connections, moral disposition, etc.

To conclude, people may buy razors advertised by Beckham not because they think that these razors made Beckham successful or because they trust Beckham is such matters but because buying a razor linked to Beckham convey a certain message about their distinction.

I feel that the ‘Like’ functionality is an expense-less method of conspicuous consumption: signalling your likes and brand preferences without having to actually purchase anything (we are saying “I aspire to be the type of person who likes x, y, z” or maybe more accurately “I want you to think I’m the type of person who likes x, y, z”).

I particularly like the introductory section on how Facebook’s ‘Like’ functionality has doubled brand integration on the site, compared to the old ‘Become a fan’ method. It has apparently reduced the mental barriers (lowered the “threshold”, they say) for users to signal their brand preferences, making sharing easier. And that last bit is key for Facebook.

via The Browser