Who cares how you feel?

The answer to this is actually, quite a few people. And we’re not just talking about your immediate digital social sphere. The advent of a range of ‘reactions’ on Facebook has long been in the offing, and now the redesigned ‘like’ buttons have finally been rolled out across the channel. The new reactions allow users to express feelings beyond the mere ‘liking’ of a post, which in theory should liberate users to be more expansive in how they communicate their feelings.
Until last Thursday if you declared yourself to be ill in bed, then any ‘likes’ garnered might have felt inappropriate, and yet a quick emotive response or expression of empathy is still sometimes required that doesn’t demand the typing of an entire message. Therefore the new ‘sad’ icon can instead be deployed to express the appropriate empathy. Similarly, users have struggled to express visual engagement for political or difficult newsworthy items relating to human tragedy for instance, but arguably a ‘sad’ or ‘angry’ face could be construed as a little facetious depending upon the content. That being said, overnight the scope for quick visual expression has increased options for users looking for a quick click.
The new icons are fitting for an age in which feelings are expressed concisely and visually, hence the rise of emojis, GIFs, and vines (in 2015, the Oxford English Dictionary even declared an emoji to be the ‘word’ of the year). You might say that we’ve communicatively come full circle having moved away from using lettering to convey our feelings, back to basic paralinguistic features, or at least signifiers of these in lieu being able to stand next to that person to communicate our feeling of support, anger, astonishment or amusement with a gesture or facial expression.

What do the new ‘reactions’ mean for marketers?

Although the ‘Like’ button will retain its strong position (it remains the icon that is privileged beneath a post), there will likely be a decrease in the comments users supply – perhaps a significant decrease.
The data Facebook can capture through users’ icon use will be valuable in assisting the channel with future algorithms. Certainly marketers will benefit from this data to target users based on the emotions they express. However, we do expect to see challenges in how reactions are measured. At the moment, new data is not available through APIs, so third party tools won’t be able to help. The goal is to get actionable insights that will have a positive effect on ROI, not merely allow the facility to languish like a novelty toy.

How can brands benefit from this change?

Given the competition from rival social channels, in part this move has been necessary to keep users engaged. The more Facebook can tailor content to the user, the more time the user will spend on that channel.
The major benefit of the new reactions for brands is that it provides deeper sentiment feedback on the content, which can be now be measured quantitatively and minus complex analyses. Brands can gain precise insight into their audiences and how to generate the response they require, which assists significantly with targeting content.
This change also presents an opportunity to incorporate the reactions feature into marketing messaging and visuals, as illustrated in these examples from Graze and Chevrolet. Campaigns can furthermore encourage people to express their love or fight negative sentiment by playing with the new icons.

What about negative sentiment?

Ordinarily, those who wish to express negative sentiment towards a brand would do so through the comments, which would probably be even more harshly expressed than by clicking on an angry emoticon.
However, the angry emoticon won’t always mean users hate the brand; they might simply be expressing that the content makes them angry, or that ad is not relevant to them and therefore an irritant, as illustrated by this Adobe stock post.
It’s doubtful whether a large number of angry faces will have a negative effect on a post’s reach, but its presence could influence other users. Angry faces may actually present an opportunity for leveling up the customer service on Facebook as brands can reach out to these people individually and try to generate positive and personalised engagement.

So has engagement increased or decreased post ‘reactions’?

Because Mashable has very high engagement (thanks to their high publishing content and general avoidance paid promotions), we analysed their Facebook page and discovered that the data did support our predictions. There was a 59.47% decrease in comments since the new reactions were rolled out, while, on average, reactions consists of 77.15% Likes. We anticipate a similar trend across Facebook. Perhaps this is because of the novelty of the mechanism, and the time-saving element which negates the requirement for articulation of feeling. We’ll soon find out.
Watch this space for further insight into the impact the reaction changes are having on brands and how these might assist you in your marketing campaigns. Let us know your thoughts on Twitter.