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Beyond the ‘Like’: The Impact of Facebook’s Potential New Emotive Buttons

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Facebook knows what you like, what you buy and where you are. Now, it wants to know how it makes you feel.

During a recent Town Hall, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company will start to test alternatives to the ‘Like’ button – allowing users the ability to express themselves in more ways than a ‘Thumbs Up’ when reacting to content in their News Feeds. The Internet was set ablaze with excitement over the potential fulfillment of the long awaited ‘Dislike’ button, but Zuckerberg emphasized that he has larger things in store for the platform – possibly the biggest update to the News Feed since Edge Rank itself.

What we know: Zuckerberg explicitly stated that this new feature is not intended to foster a reddit-type forum where people upvote/downvote posts by other users, but rather to more accurately indicate how users feel about a post. For example, if a user posts about a tragic event, like a family member passing away, their friends could use this new feature to express condolences rather than ‘Liking’ the post. It is important to note that there are still many unknowns about this feature and it’s possible that it may not come to fruition. However, if it does, this could open a whole new dimension to the Facebook experience.

Potential scenarios: Many publishers have suggested that users may have some control over the types of buttons that appear on their posts or that Facebook could suggest an empathy button based on what content is posted. This control would likely be a welcome feature for users who want to respond appropriately, and for brands to prevent spam-like responses to branded content.

Facebook may also release an assortment of buttons to express emotions such as “excitement” or “frustration.”

How this could impact the Facebook experience: Since the Facebook community has adopted ‘Liking’ to signify many different reactions such as support, congratulations, understanding and more, many see ‘Liking’ as a one-dimensional, passive action on Facebook. By fragmenting emotions, Facebook would change the spectrum of response options on users’ News Feeds giving users new opportunities to forge deeper connections and engage in more meaningful dialogue.

What Facebook will gain from this feature: Currently, the feedback that Facebook predominantly uses to serve and rank content in users’ News Feeds is a mix of positive and negative actions. If users ‘Like’, comment, share, click, or spend time viewing a piece of content, Facebook will serve similar content to the user. If a user hides a post, or has limited interactions with a content provider, the user will see fewer posts from that source. This also plays into the cost of targeting users with ads.

These new buttons could be another resource for Facebook to examine user behavior and optimize the content that users see in their Feeds. But, the company needs to be careful about how it weighs emotional feedback in their algorithm. Last year, Facebook received backlash for a test it ran in 2013 where it reduced the amount of posts with positive or negative content in users’ News Feeds. Results showed that in a News Feed where negative content was reduced, the user created fewer negative posts compared to positive ones. In News Feeds where positive content was reduced, the opposite happened. If unique buttons are weighed differently, Facebook could receive similar concerns about manipulating user behavior.

So what could Facebook potentially see by adding a few buttons? The company may be able to measure how a user subsequently interacts with a friend after reacting to their post. For example, if someone expresses sympathy to a friend on a post, do they increase their engagements with that person over a short period of time to continue expressing concern? If a user expresses frustration on a brand’s post, how long before they end up unfollowing the brand’s page? With this information, Facebook could adjust the way content is served to users by gauging predicted behaviors.

What this means for marketers: The introduction of new buttons could allow marketers to gauge public opinion on news, events, or their own products. In some cases it could even be used for flash polling. For example, news channels could prompt users to select certain buttons to express how they feel about a political candidate’s performance during a debate, or a restaurant could ask consumers to react to a new menu item.

If Facebook allows marketers to target people based on their emotive responses, we could see an increase in micro-campaigns focused on shifting consumer perception and enhancing relationships with users, or increased efforts in better mapping content to users to increase brand loyalty. As Facebook evolves to include more customer service features, brands may have the opportunity to connect with users who have expressed a particular sentiment one-on-one via Messenger.

Next steps: Until this feature is officially released, we can only speculate on its broader impact to marketers. In the meantime, brands will be able to continue to utilize Facebook’s insights and ad reporting tools to measure how its targeted audience is engaged and tailor messages accordingly.

Cover photo via Mashable.