Thumbs Up vs. Five Stars: How Interaction Complexity Affects User Engagement

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Thumbs Up vs. Five Stars: How Interaction Complexity Affects User Engagement


Posted by Theron Lalla, Associate Account Manager

As part of a recent site change, YouTube switched from a star-rating system to a much simpler Like/Dislike option. Some users didn’t care either way, but a lot of other users expressed disapproval of the idea. I agree with the latter camp, and here’s why – and why it’s relevant to your engagement strategies.

A simple “Like” says nothing about the video’s real effectiveness. Whereas a video had to be truly viral to actually cause a viewer to put even a miniscule amount of thought into the ratings, a simple “Like/Dislike” button is unfortunately too easy to click. Imagine if restaurants were rated like this. Every fast food chain would end up next to the upscale restaurants in your next Zagat guidebook, purely because it passed a minimum threshold of “Hey, I could eat this again.” In both cases, a simple like/dislike option makes quality irrelevant. How are videos supposed to ever go viral now that the “must-watch” videos now share the same popularity as the “not bads”?

I will say, however, that there are some instances where a simplified rating system is better. Facebook comes to mind as the main example, where a simple “Like” on a comment, status, photo, or activity serves as micro-indications of approval. It’s the virtual version of passing your coworker in the hallway and giving them a smile or a nod, letting them know you acknowledge them – even if you don’t have the time or energy to commit to a full-blown conversation. In these scenarios, breadth is more important than depth.

And there’s the rub. While traditional media, often to the chagrin of niche program viewers, profits from the breadth-over-depth approach, online media is different. Depth, in this case, leads to increased participation and sharing among Internet users – which leads to breadth among a more targeted demographic.

So why is this important to your brand? Because essentially, it’s another factor to consider in branding strategy. If your brand’s main KPI metrics focus on impression, clicks, and coverage, then simplified interactions would help accrue higher surface-level participation and awareness. If your brand’s main KPI metrics focus on transactions and conversion rates, then more complex interactions can work to help target users who may be further along in the purchase cycle.

In the end, a multi-pronged approach is usually better, but considering these factors should help decide which element has more weight to the program. Although many companies focus either on breadth or depth (often at the expense of the other), those that do manage to find that balance definitely deserve a thumbs up. Or five stars.

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