Last week, Facebook announced that its testing a new range of emoji-style response to give users more ways to interact with posts beyond the 'Like'. The new options, called 'Reactions', were developed in response to repeated calls from Facebook users to create a 'dislike' button, or something that enables them to respond to posts they may not necessarily 'Like', but that they still want to register some response to.
In order to ensure they get Reactions right, Facebook has started testing the new feature in only two markets - Spain and Ireland. Both were strategically chosen - Irish and Spanish Facebook users have fewer international connections, on average, giving Facebook a more contained test range, while Spain enables testing of how the feature might be used in a region where English is not the dominant language.
So how are the new Reactions being received? I reached out to a couple of connections in Spain and Ireland to get their initial views and thoughts on Reactions and how they work within the wider Facebook experience.
"When I first saw reactions appear, I was excited," Webb told me. "I'd read about them that morning, so I knew what to expect, but I really liked the added color in my News Feed."
"And I wasn't the only one either - friends all over my feed were using them and seemed excited and entertained by the new option."
One of the most interesting aspects of Reactions will be if/how the new response options influence user behavior - will seeing that a post has a heap of 'angry' reactions make you more or less likely to click? Will a mass of 'sad' responses flag it as something you want to avoid? I asked Webb whether she felt the presence of Reactions had had any influence, as yet, on the content she subsequently clicked on.
"Reactions haven't made me click links, or even click 'Like' where I wouldn't normally - but they have influenced how I react," Webb said. "Now, when I see a post, I spend more time deciding what reaction to choose," Webb noted. "Who'd use the boring like button?"
(Image via Mashable)
Another element of interest will be how people choose to respond, now that they're able to - will your reaction be dictated by what you think, or how that will be perceived by others? While that's probably a difficult question to answer, I asked Webb whether she'd had any hesitation when selecting an appropriate reaction to content.
"Yes, and this is going to be the biggest problem I think," Webb said. "The reactions are very limited, but if there were more there'd be too much choice. I figure when they stop being a novelty we'll only use them when we need to be more firm in our interactions."
"For example, when someone I don't know very well announces a bereavement on Facebook, I always feel that should comment with my sympathies. This is sometimes awkward, particularly when you don't know the person well enough. I like that I'll be able to click a button in such circumstances. I think they'll also be good for when we want to express something but don't want to comment because of the stream of follow up notifications we will get when others comment."
An aspect that's been much discussed is the limitations of the emoji available through Reactions and the constrained range of emotional responses they represent - Robbie Gonzalez, the design editor at Wired, wrote an interesting post yesterday looking at the psychological dilemmas Facebook's team was faced with when developing the range of emotions available, and why Facebook has opted for a mostly positive response set. Along this line of thought, I asked Webb whether she felt the current Reactions covered the breadth of responses she'd like.
"I really think there should be a hug," Webb responded. "The heart is a bit over the top, and sometimes you just want to express with a hug."
Such is the limitation of Reactions - even though Facebook is providing more options for response, it may still not be enough to cover all your ideal indicators.
Next, I spoke to James Clifton, the Social Media Manager at business app marketplace GetApp. Clifton's currently based in Barcelona and has had a good run through of Reactions, getting a handle on how the system works.
"My initial impression of Reactions is that it's a great new option for Facebook," Clifton said. "It'll make it easier for people to express how they really feel about a post - in my experience if the post was about bad news I've been more hesitant to put a 'Like' to it because I didn't actually like the content of the post. With the introduction of Reactions, we'll now see more interactions with posts because users will be better able to express a truer feeling other than just a simple Like."
As with Webb, I was interested to know if Clifton felt seeing the new listings of Reactions would make him more or less likely to click on a post based on how others had responded.
"I'd say probably not," Clifton told me. "What's interesting to see is the spread of different reactions to certain posts, it gives a little bit of an insight into how the post is being received and the overall feelings of those who've engaged with it."
"What it will do," Clifton added, "is it'll make it a lot easier for Facebook marketers to measure the success of a post and gain more valuable insights about the their audience."
In terms of selecting an appropriate reaction, Clifton said the process felt pretty intuitive and he'd had little trouble determining which emoji to select.
"I haven't had any trouble when it comes to choosing a reaction yet - though if I'm unable to find the right reaction to use I probably wouldn't use any." This is likely how most users will respond - clicking a Reaction is optional, if you don't see any that best capture your response, you don't have to click. But that, of course, leads into the question of whether the chosen responses cover enough emotions to be of most use, which Clifton suggests they don't - at least not yet.
"From the beginning I didn't think there were enough reactions," Clifton said. "I expect to see a lot more reactions introduced over time - I think they'll eventually introduce additional options to express stronger emotions, such as rage or disgust."
Such options could be risky to implement, and no doubt Facebook's gone to great lengths to cover as broad a spectrum of responses as they can without veering too much into the negative (which could lead to more bullying and anti-social behavior). It'll be interesting to see how users respond when a wider rollout of Reactions goes into effect, whether providing these new options will be seen as not enough and lead to people calling for more tools and more ways to express their feelings.
The responses from both Webb and Clifton support much of the chatter I'm seeing online about Reactions thus far - that they're interesting, something of a novelty at the moment, but it's too hard to say whether they'll provide any significant advancement to the Facebook user experience. There's a feeling too that they won't be enough - you give a little and users just ask for more, something that Facebook is no doubt aware of and is preparing to respond to at some stage in future. Will Zuck and Co. consider adding more Reactions? It'll depend on their adoption and whether the new tools are received positively by the wider Facebook community - if they're used by the majority and there's a way to introduce more options and encourage further use, no doubt Facebook will consider it. But one of the key drivers behind Reactions is also simplicity and it's hard to see Facebook adding more options, at least in the initial stages, as they want to make it a quick and simple way for people to respond, particularly via mobile.
Of course, the other consideration is data - how will Reactions insights benefit marketers and marketing decisions? How will Facebook use Reactions data to improve the News Feed algorithm and influence organic reach? All of these questions can only be answered over time, as Reactions is rolled out more widely and user responses give us more feedback as to how and why they're being used.