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The "Like" button has quite possibly become one of the most clicked buttons on the internet through social networks, but if you are also using a symbol, which is the best to use? Facebook and Youtube use the "thumbs up" whereas Instagram and Tumblr use the "heart" symbol.

Is it just personal preference for using each symbol or is one symbol better to use than the other?

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Depends on the situation and context ? – Mervin Johnsingh Aug 23 '12 at 16:49
up vote 6 down vote accepted

I would say it depends on the context of your application. Facebook and twitter use the thumbs up icon to denote an appreciation while the heart icon is used to convey a more "cute" emotion. You also have to realize that tumblr and instagram have generally a younger population as compared to the diverse user group of Fb and you tube.

User base of tumblr which states

Here are some of the trends that I’ve found to have pretty significant influence among the Tumblr user base.

Female wannabe-indie tweens

Tumblr is often referred to as ‘4chan for girls.’

While for Instagram, the user base as per this article is

Online consumer metric analysis service Experian Hitwise estimates that greater than 50 percent of Instagram users are between the ages of 18 and 34, with teen users accounting for a significant proportion of the rest. In contrast, the majority of Facebook users are over 25 and, compared to their younger counterparts, do not rely as heavily on mobile devices and applications.

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A thumbs up will probably have more of a socially recognizable message than a heart or a +1. The plus side to the way Facebook does it, is that they include the label "like" to explain the icon.

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+1 I would even go so far as to speculate that "heart" fails in this context because it's come to mean 'favourite' (i.e., save this content somewhere in my account for later). – msanford Aug 24 '12 at 15:19

Great care should be taken when choosing which symbol to use as you don't want to encourage votes based on emotions of content, rather the quality of that content.

As a morbid example:

Facebook status wasting internet:

Oh no my dog is dead. What a shame. May he RIP.

What would a 'like' of this suggest? Do you like the fact their dog is dead? Probably not. Do you want their late dog to RIP? Probably. How do you display that emotion?

Consider another example - a youtube video showing information about something bad, to use current affairs, the Norway Gunman's trail. This has like and dislike options. You may LIKE the content of the video (Journalistic quality, production) but naturally you dislike the subject of the video. Does that warrant a like or a dislike?

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It really goes with the personal preference of the web designer, also considering which icons are "in" or famous in the social web. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and the likes have their own simply because no one wants to just copy another site's "trademark" symbol. Some small-timers do copy but that's just how they get along; yet some still build up their own identity, like Pinterest.

As long as the icon itself lets users perceive of a positive notion, that icon remains effective.

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I've recently done a competitive analysis on a couple of trip planning sites and apps. They all featured articles about destinations and things do to which you could bookmark.

The heart symbol seems to have two general purposes for the moment. Sometimes the heart works like the Facebook button but sometimes it also works like a bookmark/add-button as an alternative like the star or the plus symbol.

If you are planning to build your own social sharing button such as Facebook or Google + that should be embedded on other web sites you would problably need to brand it a little more. The heart symbol is very generic and you really need to work with it in order to stand out. But if the heart symbol is only going to be used on your own site a heart might work fine. In that context it will be a symbol that your user quickly would learn and understand, much like the house icon representing the front page.

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