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web content which is specifically intended to make Facebook users click the 'Like' button associated with it
'Survey respondents also claim they look to social networks and message boards to seek product recommendations. Thus, blog posts should act as Likebait to spark word-of-mouth referrals.'Brafton 17th January 2011
'Facebook cracks down on 'Like-baiting' … Pages that explicitly ask News Feed readers to 'Like' their posts will be demoted in Facebook's ranking.'Telegraph UK 11th April 2014
Wanting other people to 'like' you is a perfectly natural human response which goes right back to early childhood – from sharing sweets in the playground to trying to make others smile or laugh. And it seems that it's a force as powerful in the virtual world as it is in the real one. Wanting others to like you in the online universe, however, isn't necessarily socially-, but more often commercially-motivated, and it's something certain web users try to achieve via a medium known as likebait.
the phenomenon of likebaiting is now so commonplace that Facebook started to clamp down on it …, automatically detecting posts that explicitly invited responses
Likebait is any piece of web content posted with the definite aim of compelling your fellow social media users to like it (i.e. in the sense of showing that you agree with or enjoy something by clicking a button on a social networking website). There's nothing wrong with this in principle – after all, people generally post things that they care about and it's therefore only natural that they want others to find them interesting and share them too. In the business world however, this phenomenon of liking things can be a powerful tool, since endorsements like these can raise a business's profile and significantly improve its search engine rankings. It therefore makes sense to encourage likes to happen by posting content which compels people to hit the 'Like' button. This is often done in predictable ways – posting an engaging video, quotation or celebrity picture which is likely to be popular with readers, for example – but can also be implemented a little more sneakily – such as deliberately posting a contentious statement which people are highly likely to agree/disagree with.
The phenomenon of likebaiting is now so commonplace that Facebook started to clamp down on it in 2014, automatically detecting posts that explicitly invited responses and ensuring that these were not shown more prominently than other, more relevant content from sources that users were genuinely interested in.
Sadly there's also the related phenomenon likejacking, a variation on clickjacking, where a 'Like' button is exploited for malicious purposes.
The word likebait is modelled on its forerunners clickbait and linkbait, the former similarly referring to content which encourages clickthroughs, the latter describing content designed specifically to entice other content providers to link to it. Another related term – sharebait – refers to a social media post which includes text, images or video, designed to get the reader to share the post on social media. All these variations on the 'bait' theme may also play a part in content farming, the practice of publishing large amounts of low-quality content in order to promote search engine rankings.
Concepts such as these are connected to the broader concept of SEO (Search Engine Optimization), the now widely accepted technique of editing content to improve its search engine rankings. There's also the related concept of SMO (Social Media Optimization), which describes a parallel process in which social media outlets are used to generate publicity and brand awareness, and thereby improve search rankings.
Read last week's BuzzWord: Garbage patch.
This article was first published on 20th January 2015.