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How Facebook’s ‘Reactions’ Will Change the Game – An Overview for Marketers

So, by now you've met these guys:

How Facebook’s ‘Reactions’ Will Change the Game – An Overview for Marketers | Social Media TodayThese are Facebook’s new Reactions - which, to some, aren’t all that new. Facebook started testing Reactions over four months ago, rolling them out to users in Ireland and Spain, two nations chosen for very specific purposes within the framework of the development process (Irish and Spanish users have fewer international connections, on average, while Spain enabled Facebook to test how the Reactions would be used in a country where English was not the dominant language). But to the rest of the world, this week was the first time we got to see Facebook’s new, emoji-inspired response buttons, providing people with more ways to quickly and easily respond to Facebook posts.

How Facebook’s ‘Reactions’ Will Change the Game – An Overview for Marketers | Social Media TodayAnd you know what the most common complaint about Reactions has been thus far?

How Facebook’s ‘Reactions’ Will Change the Game – An Overview for Marketers | Social Media TodayThat’s right, for all the discussion and debate, one of the biggest criticisms of Reactions has been that there’s no ‘dislike’ button.

Of course, Facebook was never going to give users a dislike option - as noted by Mark Zuckerberg himself at one of his regular Town Hall Q & A events back in December 2014.

The like button is really valuable because it’s a way for you to very quickly express a positive emotion or sentiment when someone puts themselves out there and shares something. Some people have asked for a dislike button because they want to be able to say, “That thing isn’t good.” That’s not something that we think is good. We’re not going to build that, and I don’t think there needs to be a voting mechanism on Facebook about whether posts are good or bad. I don’t think that’s socially very valuable or good for the community to help people share the important moments in their lives.”

The logic of not introducing a dislike option seems pretty clear – the potential for negative interactions, and thus, negative user experience, is too high, and Facebook wants each user to stay on platform as long as possible, to interact more with Facebook content, so adding in a ‘dislike’ option seems somewhat counter-intuitive to that goal.

But that said, what was the logic behind the development of the new Reactions buttons and why were these five new emotional responses, specifically, chosen? And then, what might Reactions mean for those using Facebook for marketing and advertising purposes?

Emotional Intelligence

In a new post on Medium, Facebook Product Design Director Geoff Teehan has provided a full rundown of the development process behind Reactions, providing some great insight into the depth and complexity of the process Facebook has gone through ahead of implementing one of the biggest user-experience changes on the site in some time.

In the long and detailed post, Teehan describes how they started work on Reactions around a year ago, when Zuckerberg brought together a team of people to investigate how to make the Like button more expressive.

The process was eventually broken down into two core tracks :

1.       What are the reactions we will use beyond Like

2.       How will people input and consume reactions

For the first element, the team studied usage patterns of stickers – Facebook’s own variation of emoji – and short, written responses on the site, one-word comments like ‘LOL’ and ‘Wow’.

How Facebook’s ‘Reactions’ Will Change the Game – An Overview for Marketers | Social Media TodayHow Facebook’s ‘Reactions’ Will Change the Game – An Overview for Marketers | Social Media TodayThis gave the team a better understanding of how communication was evolving on the platform, and in particular, how the shift to increased mobile use has lead to more short-form communication. As we’ve written about previously, the mobile shift has played a significant role in the growth of emoji use as people seek faster, easier ways to communicate on the go, and that shift is particularly significant for Facebook – according to their most recent numbers, Facebook’s’s currently seeing around 1.04 billion Daily Active Users, with 934 million of those accessing the platform via a mobile device.

Based on this research, and subsequent international surveys, Facebook was able to narrow down the most utilized emotions to this list:

How Facebook’s ‘Reactions’ Will Change the Game – An Overview for Marketers | Social Media Today‘Confused’ never made it through to live testing, while ‘Yay’ was dropped after initial data from Spanish and Irish users showed its use-case wasn’t clear, leaving us with what, eventually, has become the final list of Reactions we now see.

The team then moved on to the look and feel of the process, how these new Reactions would actually work.

Animated Response

The Reactions design team went through various iterations of what the new response options would actually look like, from basic line drawings to animated faces.

How Facebook’s ‘Reactions’ Will Change the Game – An Overview for Marketers | Social Media TodayOnce they narrowed down the key image sources, the team experimented with animations and how they could help contextualize the purpose of each image – this, in itself, was complex given the varying interpretations of each image from nation to nation.

The team also had to determine how to display Reactions on each post (they called the listing of responses the ‘bling string’), examining various options which flowed through into live testing.

How Facebook’s ‘Reactions’ Will Change the Game – An Overview for Marketers | Social Media TodayEventually, they settled on showing the top three Reactions to any post, along with an indicator as to whether, and who of, your top friends had also engaged with that post.

How Facebook’s ‘Reactions’ Will Change the Game – An Overview for Marketers | Social Media Today

“You can see all the various reactions people have left by tapping on the bling string from an individual post.”

This process eventually lead to this week’s launch of Reactions, a tool which Facebook hopes will lead to “a more empathetic Facebook experience”.

Understandably, there’s a lot of research and testing that’s gone into the implementation of the new process, and while people are still calling for a ‘dislike’ option to be added, the reasoning behind what the Facebook design team have done makes perfect sense.

But then the next question is, what will Reactions mean for actual on-platform engagement? And then, what does that mean from a Facebook marketing standpoint?

Modes of Expression

In an interesting bit of connected research, Facebook has today released a study into how emotional content influences how people respond to posts on the platform. Facebook’s research team examined 14 million posts in which users expressed feelings (e.g. “feeling excited” or “feeling grumpy”) then another 18 million posts without feeling annotations (to serve as a baseline), in order to get an understanding of how, exactly, users react on the platform when different types of emotions are shared.

Their findings showed that when people expressed positive feelings and expressions of self-worth, they got more Likes, whereas when people expressed negative feelings, they got more comments.

How Facebook’s ‘Reactions’ Will Change the Game – An Overview for Marketers | Social Media TodayAnd while in itself that’s not overly surprising – it makes sense that if someone’s sad their friends would want to cheer them up, and when they’re happy people could just as easily click ‘Like’ - what’s of particular interest, in the context of Reactions, is what the ability to share a wider range of responses via Reactions might mean for interactions on the site.

This is a point that’s been raised by several commentators, that Reactions may actually reduce Facebook engagement or data context because people will now be able to just as easily press a button instead of actually explaining their reasoning with written statements. In a wider sense, that could be a negative for brands – if, in the past, people were leaving you comments about your brand's performance (or lack of), that additional information could prove extremely helpful for feedback purposes, as it’s actionable data that you can take in and pass on to the relevant team/s. If even a portion of that is replaced by a ‘Sad’ face or an ‘Angry’ emoji, that could actually mean less data – and logically, written responses provide more context than a ‘Like’ or a smiley face alone.

The findings of Facebook’s latest study actually go some way towards reinforcing that concern – as per the report:

“Posts with negative feelings (like feeling upset) get 36% more comments, and negative self-worth feelings (like feeling lonely) get 72% more comments.” 

That’s a significant variation, and you’d expect that the introduction of an easier way to provide similar response without having to actually comment will equalize that to some degree. And while the study looks, specifically, at personal negative emotions, you’d expect that those same qualifiers could be applied to brand posts, at least to some degree.

Will that then mean we see fewer comments, and thus, fewer actionable data points coming from Facebook? The only possible way to know is by examining responses over time – and like all things social, it’ll largely be a case-by-case proposition, different brands will experience different things. But it is an element that shouldn't be discounted – while we should, eventually, see more data coming in via Reactions, enabling us to correlate specific responses to specific outcomes, we may also see fewer writeen responses, particularly of the negative kind. And as Jay Baer says:

Haters are your most important customers because when they complain, they provide free market research about what you can improve.”

Reading Faces

It’ll be interesting to see how Reactions analytics evolve as businesses work to understand what each response actually means. One ad exec – quoted in a recent post on Wired - has already suggested that brands might be able to target users who’ve posted specific types of responses with ads:

“If an automobile [brand] puts out a post to affluent millennials, and half of them really ‘love’ the post, putting up the ‘wow’ emoji, and half put an ‘angry’ or ‘sad’ emoji, that’s really interesting,” says Matt Lang, a senior social media strategist at digital agency RAIN. The advertiser could then say to Facebook, ‘Let’s exclude those who used an ‘angry’ or ‘sad’ reaction and include those who used ‘love’ in the next ad campaign,’ Lang imagines.”

It’s possible that such capacity could outweigh any potential loss of context via fewer negative comments either way – but then, of course, it all depends on how Reactions perform in real application, how users look to utilize these new tools within their Facebook experience.

In regards to their impact on Facebook’s News Feed algorithm, which determines the reach and performance of your Facebook posts, The Social Network has re-iterated this week that Reactions, at least initially, will register the same if that person had pressed ‘Like’, with no variation in weighting for the different responses.


Over time we hope to learn how the different Reactions should be weighted differently by News Feed to do a better job of showing everyone the stories they most want to see.”

This applies to both Page posts and ads - so if someone clicks ‘Angry’ on your Facebook sponsored post, they’ll actually be more likely to see similar content in future, as that response will register as a 'Like'. Is that the right system? Facebook won’t know till they’ve had a chance to do some large scale testing, and response rates could vary nation-by-nation, even person-by-person. For example, it might make you angry to see posts about a terrorist attack because of the actions of the terrorists themselves – but does that mean you want to see more or less content about that subject?

Such variables add into the complexity of Reactions and what they actually mean. And the real answer is that no one knows, and we won’t have any complete answers on how we can use Reactions and their related data till they’ve been in use for some time.

That’ll be a big focus for social media marketers over the coming months, applying your analytical skills to Reactions and measuring their actual relevance.

It’s definitely an interesting development, and an interesting time for Facebook and Facebook marketing overall. And what’s more, increased emoji use and correlation may actually expand the legitimacy and application of similar analytics and tools across other platforms – Twitter’s already working on their own, similar emoji response tool.

Are you ready for emoji to play a bigger part in your marketing plan? Given the data, it’s likely you’re going to be seeing a lot more smiley faces beaming out from business charts in future.  


Oh, and one last note – if you’re looking to change things up, switch your Facebook language over to ‘English (Pirate)’ to get these, more colorful descriptions on each Reaction.

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