This confusion results when a company uses an everyday word prominently in its business. (We also get related questions about what is and what can be trademarked, but that’s a discussion for another time.)
To determine how to style Like and similar words, let’s step back and see what we’re working with.
Categorizing the Terminology
Facebook encourages its users to approve of other people’s posts by clicking what it labels the Like button. When clicked, it highlights a thumbs-up symbol on the post. If we look at Facebook as software, then what we’re describing is a feature, which the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) defines as “a distinguishing characteristic of a software item (e.g., performance, portability, or functionality).”
The question becomes, then, what is your publication’s or organization’s policy for styling software features? Facebook itself capitalizes Like, along with other actions users can take, such as Comment and Share; the sections of a Facebook account, such as News Feed; and types of accounts, such as Profile and Page.
Many style manuals don’t address how to style software features, just software titles. The only one I found was BuzzFeed’s online style manual. It doesn’t cover software per se, but it does have an entry on social media and apps. The main advice is:
When describing functions on social media platforms/apps, initial-capitalize and set in roman type (e.g., “The best thing you can do for your feed is use Hide Post liberally”). Within instructions, initial-cap and italicize function names (e.g., “Click Edit Preferences, then Prioritize Who to See First”).
In the Copyediting newsletter, we do something similar, except we use a different font and font color to make them stand out instead of italicizing.
Capitalizing a feature makes sense: it’s specific to the software and sometimes proprietary. Other social media sites, for example, give users a way to approve of a comment, but no one else calls it a Like. Capping the name of the software feature, then, seems to be a good practice.
Verbing the Terminology
If the term is proprietary, can you turn it into a verb? Companies don’t like you to do so (understandably) because it weakens their claim to a trademark. Facebook is particular about not using its features as verbs. From the Friending page in the Help Center:
You can add a friend by searching for them and sending them a friend request. If they accept, you automatically follow that person, and they automatically follow you — which means that you may see each other’s posts in News Feed.
Note that the text doesn’t say “You can Friend someone by searching. …” It says “you can add a friend.”
While we might say what we like in speech—“All I’ve done today is Like Facebook posts!”—in print we need to take more care. Companies will protect terms that are important to their businesses, and that can mean lawsuits.
Describe the action instead: Jane clicked Like on Tom’s Facebook post. It might be a clunky solution, but erring on the side of caution will help protect our authors and publishers.
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