Engagement Buttons


Published on September 18th, 2013

“Like.” Not only is it an indelible component of casual sentence structure, the term also governs how we respond to everything from news articles to comments from our closest friends on Facebook. This finding is part of a report released today that gives news organizations recommendations for engaging online audiences in new ways.

A heartwarming story about a local hero? “Like!” But “Like” doesn’t always seem appropriate. A fair, but counter-attitudinal, post in a comment section? It’s challenging to press “Like.” What if news stations used other buttons? What if, instead of “Like,” one could click “Respect”?

In this study, we asked respondents to interact with comments on one of two different news stories about right-to-work laws and gay rights. The comments were arranged so that half presented left-leaning political views and half presented right-leaning political views. Some of these comments were actual commentary from the selected articles, and others were created to showcase a variety of tones. One-third of the participants saw “Like” buttons next to the comments, one-third saw “Recommend” buttons, and one-third saw “Respect” buttons. The participants were free to click the button if they “liked,” “recommended,” or “respected” a comment.

This research design allowed us to examine three things. First, we could determine whether button-clicking behaviors differed depending on which button was present. Second, we could investigate whether people reacted differently to opposing views based on the button they saw. And finally, we could analyze whether the patterns held across two news issues. People who saw the “Respect” button clicked more on the buttons than participants who saw the “Recommend” button. There was no difference in number of clicks for people who saw the “Like” button.

These word choices are consequential. And, the “Respect” button has both business and democratic implications. From a business angle, respondents seeing a “Respect” button clicked on more comments in a comment section. From a democratic angle, respondents seeing a “Respect” button clicked on more comments from another political perspective in comparison to the “Recommend” or “Like” buttons. Most broadly, we have evidence that the language of online buttons matters. People respond differently when they can “respect” a comment, rather than “like” or “recommend” it. There is also evidence that news sites should include a “Respect” button in their comment sections for both business and democratic reasons.

Academic Presentations

Stroud, N. J., Muddiman, A., & Scacco, J. (2013, November). Framing comments in social media. Paper to be presented at the National Communication Association, Political Communication Division, Washington DC.


Ashley Muddiman

Faculty Research Associate

Josh Scacco headshot
Joshua Scacco

Faculty Research Associate