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Image / Editorial

The power of a compliment – and why Facebook ‘likes’ don’t count

by Louise Bruton
09th May 2019

As long as it’s not said in a creepy way, paying someone a compliment can improve their day (as well as your own); and no, hitting ‘like’ on someone’s Instagram post doesn’t count

It’s nice to get a compliment. No matter where it comes from, whether it’s someone you’ve met on a night out and they’re fawning over your shoes in the ladies’ toilets (and also complimenting your freckles, your accent and your outlook on life); or one of your elderly neighbours who tells you that “pink is definitely your colour”, as she winks at you and you search for hints to her own wild past, it is appreciated.

When a compliment is done properly, it’s an instant beam of happiness or a flutter of butterflies in your stomach, depending on whether you want to wear the face off the deliverer of said-compliment or not. When a compliment wobbles, it can border on creepy or leery, and nobody wants that.

Social media compliments

Knowing the power of a compliment, I decided to dish one out, in an unusual move, to someone I haven’t seen in years via that dreaded crutch called Instagram.

Related: Seven of the best body positivity Instagram accounts to follow right now

The purpose of Facebook and Instagram, other than making Mark Zuckerberg filthy rich, is to keep people connected, but the hovering nature of checking people’s profiles or replacing meet-ups with ‘likes’ on photos (“Oh, their mum died? I’ll like their tribute post. That will comfort them”), has warped what it means to stay connected.

In exchange for doing the bare minimum (like clicking ‘attending’ to an event we never intend on actually going to), we think we’re dishing out compliments left, right and centre. Alas, we are not. We’re setting up a fast path to disappointment, weakening the human connection that we crave so much.


As a full-blown social media addict, I’m big enough to admit that I know the games we play to get people’s attention online – for platonic or pelvically passionate purposes. I also know the loneliness you can feel if the interaction you get online doesn’t match up with your actual life.

What use is a few hundred likes on a post if you’re sitting in alone – and not by choice – on a Saturday night, eh? We post for a reason. We post to remind people that we’re out here doing our thing. We update our feeds to remind people that we exist and sometimes we just want the reciprocation received in a message that reads: “Hey! You are a good human. Well done”.

Make it genuine

Cooped indoors and working over the bank holiday weekend – the perks of being self-employed – I spent a lot of idle time on social media watching other people have fun. Doing my usual scroll, I noticed that I only did deep dives on certain profiles and I wondered why that was. My conclusion; envy, I wanted their lives. And thirst, I wanted to look at them.

Focusing more on thirst, as is the way, an insane and ballsy idea hit me. Knowing full well that I only search for men I vaguely know on dating apps, where I think we all carry out some form of “funny bumping into you here” charade, I tested out a new mode of action and I messaged an old acquaintance, vaguely piquing an interest in them. I told myself that it was for their benefit more so than mine. 

The message loosely went along the lines of “this might sound a bit insane” – it did – “but I thought I’d share this non-consequential compliment” – I have no expectations here – “as I’d like to hear if someone felt this way about me” – I’m a sucker for praise – “but I often check in on your profile because…” – because I think they’re rather wonderful from afar – “so there you go”. And there I went.

compliment on social media

Only slightly selfish

The power in sending a message like that, especially if it’s someone who tickles your fancy (or more), is that you not only make their day inarguably better but you feel good too.

There’s a rush in taking a risk with your ego – so it’s only slightly selfish – but there’s safety in doing so because you just want to let them know that they’re great. That’s all. It’s like throwing a stone into a lake. “You’re great”. Splash. Done. As you were. No one has to worry about rejection or heartbreak. It’s just a compliment. 

Related: ‘Self-care’ is not a buzzword, for young women – it’s essential

Before I hit send, I had to make sure I wasn’t acting out in a moment of madness and left my phone down for a while, waiting for any overriding sense to speak up. I pictured myself on the receiving end of a message from an old pal and realised it’s only a bad thing if A) the message is creepy (it wasn’t), or B) if the recipient isn’t actually very nice and rejects little acts of kindness.

I hit send. The thrill was indeed sharp. A humbled ‘thank you’ would be the correct etiquette and response in a situation like that but whatever happens next is anyone’s guess.

Put yourself out there

With dating apps, I guess we’re weighed down in the actions of scrolling and swiping, the anxiety of coming up with a good opening line or the fear of being ghosted that you can forget about the people who are already in your orbit.

We forget that we’re all putting ourselves out somehow and it’s nice to be reminded there’s something quite lovely about us.

Nothing may come from a message, a compliment or a mild risk like that – but to know you’ve made an impression on someone or that they’ve made an impression on you, that’s a really warming thought and sometimes that’s enough.


Read more: Is Instagram turning us into a generation of show-offs?

Read more: Things I’ve learned from women I follow on Twitter

Read more: There is nothing more radical than liking your own body

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