Divergent Effects of Likes and Comments on Sharing on Social Media: The Role of Implied Intimacy

Yuheng Hu and David Gal, 2020, 20-106

Social sharing among consumers benefits social media platforms and marketers alike through increased engagement and awareness. David Gal and Yuheng Hu examine how a basic feature of social media engagement—likes and comments—influences sharing

They analyzed the data from over 2.5 million posts of almost 168,000 users of the social media platform Instagram. They measured how close or distant commenters and “likers” were from posters by whether they were strong ties (users who are both followed by and follow the poster) or weak ties (users who follow the poster but are not followed by the poster). They augment their Instagram data through a series of experiments to further explore the relationship between likes vs. comments and subsequent sharing.


The authors find that likes and comments have different effects on sharing in large part because of the different intimacy implications they carry. Likes do not tend to imply a high level of intimacy between the person liking a post and the recipient of the like. By contrast, comments— which are specific and customized to the recipient—generally imply a higher level of intimacy between the commenter and the recipient.

Receiving more likes from both strong and weak ties was associated with increased subsequent sharing. Receiving more and more intimate comments from strong ties was associated with increased subsequent sharing, while comments received from weak ties were associated with reduced subsequent sharing. In other words, receiving an unwarranted level of intimacy from socially distant individuals in the form of comments was associated with a reduced tendency to share on social media. 

Put into Practice

There are a number of steps social media platforms might take to facilitate sharing by users.

  • Social media platforms might minimize the prevalence and salience of comments from socially distant others relative to other forms of engagement—particularly on posts that are of a personal nature. For example, they might more prominently highlight comments from close than from distant others and they might nudge close others (but not distant others) to comment on a post.
  • Platforms might also evaluate comments according to how likely the content is to signal intimacy, and take measures to ease consumer concerns about privacy when such comments come from socially distant others.
  • Marketers should consider how the design of social media platforms influences the tendency of social media users to share on social media. The effects of likes and comments will vary according to contextual factors such as platform design, platform features, what people use the platform for, and the characteristics of the participants and connections among them.



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