1 star The star – it’s reminiscent of grade school when good work meant a star on your homework. Those stars were coveted, points of pride, purveyors of bragging rights.

Or so I surmised. School wasn’t really my focus in those days, but my best friend Michelle had quite a collection of stars so I knew what they looked like…

Incredibly these days, not just children but also adults – competent, sane adults of all backgrounds and ilks – will do all sorts of things in online games and on apps to get a star. Really. No money, no fame, just a little star that appears on their device.

I learned this when gaming pros from Silicon Valley came to UCSF to teach a group of us in medical education how to use gaming techniques to increase learning in our teaching.

I was suspicious but I tried it. After all, their data was good. Certainly their income far exceeded mine as a teacher. And guess what? It worked. Not only that, games are a big hit whether I’m teaching students or full fledged adults: practicing health professionals from 30 something to 60 something years old. Go figure.

So people like this kind of positive feedback. And it turns out it’s at least as fun to give stars as to receive them.

But what does all this have to do with social media?

***Today’s Tip: Favorites and Likes Aren’t about You***

Most social media platforms have either a favorite button (twitter uses stars) or a like button (Facebook made these famous.) When I started tweeting, I used the favorites button the way I used the favorites tab on my web browser: to keep track of things I especially liked and might want to return to. Basically, I used it to curate content for myself.

It turned out that was wrong.

Favorites should be used like ‘likes’ as a way of acknowledging others, supporting them, interacting with them and increasing one’s digital networking and social capital.

Of course, I can imagine a world where both existed: the traditional favorite and the like. The former would be the content you find most useful or want to keep track of while the like would be an interactive, virtual pat on the back for things other people said or posted that you wanted to commend. In this formulation, they would serve different purposes. And if I ruled the world, that’s how it would be. Unfortunately, I don’t rule the world and there’s no indication that I ever will, a fact I find hugely reassuring.

So for the time being favorite and like frequently and generously. Not so much that your approval becomes meaningless but enough that others know you’re keeping track of them and appreciate their contributions.