A graph from Isaac Hepworth demonstrates exactly how favouriting on Twitter has increased over the last 12 months. It all stems from the major update to the platform Twitter released in December 2011.

This change put the option to favourite a tweet front and centre and increased the ease by which favourited tweets could be viewed. 

Interactions (within the ‘Connect tab’) started to include information about who had been favouriting tweets. And the new ‘Discover‘ tab included the option to see your friends’ favourite favourites.

Behaviour change

It’s interesting to note how a change like this from Twitter, albeit a fairly significant one, can begin to alter the way people use a network.

Favouriting increased. But, according to Twitter, it increased in a very specific way. It was often @-replies (i.e. messages that were only really intended to be seen by the recipient) that were being favourited more than more general tweets.

Twitter’s change resulted in a behaviour shift, but was it the behaviour shift that Twitter itself was expecting? This focus more on replies suggests Twitter’s increasing role as a communication tool rather than only for updates.

Giving credit (and more)

This brings about a wider question around why people use the favourite feature on Twitter. This is Twitter’s description:

Favorites, represented by a small star icon next to a Tweet, are most commonly used when users like a Tweet. Favoriting a Tweet can let the original poster know that you liked their Tweet, or you can save the Tweet for later. 

So a favourite is seen as a way of giving credit. Similar to the Facebook ‘Like’, which has seen a much higher adoption. It’s a lower level of commitment than a retweet (old or new) – or a share on Facebook – and it is less public (despite the changes).

Last year, Allthingsd revealed that Twitter was experimenting with giving users the option to ‘star’ or ‘like’ a tweet. At the same time it also revealed that the original name for the favourite was ‘thanks’ in early Twitter testing.

So it’s clear how Twitter intended people to use the feature, it’s just that, until recently, not many followed suit.

Let’s get on the curation bandwagon

Personally, while I use favourites in this way (to give credit), my main motivation is usually more curation-led. I’m usually looking to store a tweet (or a link in a tweet) that interests me and that I might want to access later. [It is for this reason that I recently suggested to social-media-time-machine service Timehop that it could look to include favourites on Twitter as an option for users.]

The curation trend is a big one – look at the recent success of Tumblr, Pinterest and other curation-led publishing platforms. Add to that the emergence of services liked to Twitter favourites such as IFTTT or Stellar.

A new data benchmark

The final point to make about favourites is from a data perspective. This data is clearly useful for Twitter and its algorithms – helping to develop a Facebook-esque social graph. But it’s useful for brands too.

Retweets and other engagement metrics are good indicators of how a community is responding to activity on Twitter. But recording information on favourites is useful too. It helps build intelligence around content that is working and resonating with the community.

Now if only Twitter would get around to releasing that analytics tool it has long promised…