How brands should react to Facebook reactions


As you might be aware, Facebook finally rolled out its new reactions feature following months of testing. Users now have the option to do more than “Like” content on Facebook — they can also express "Love," "Haha," "Wow," "Sad" and "Angry."

The primary benefit of reactions is the ability to gather more qualitative data about user preferences. This new level of insight will help Facebook deliver more relevant content to users’ timelines (including advertising), and it will be folded in with all of the other signals Facebook watches to enhance its algorithms.

Companies and brands will also benefit from reactions, as they will now be able to understand why users engage with posts. Moreover, it may allow more of a brand’s content to be seen organically by that brand’s followers.

For years, the “Like” has fallen short in its ability to allow users to express themselves.

For example, if a friend posts a memorial for a beloved family pet that just died, every user is confronted with the dilemma of how to respond. Should they “Like” the post (implying a sympathetic and positive affirmation), or will that be misinterpreted as a literal “like” of the death of the pet?

The alternative is to take the time crafting a comment which, doubtless, many users don’t do because of the time commitment involved (time is especially of the essence on mobile devices — which account for the majority of Facebook traffic — where typing a response is a significant barrier to engagement).

In the above scenario, it’s likely some users skip engaging with the post altogether because there isn’t an easy way to register their sentiments. This is important to Facebook (and brands) because the opportunity to collect and understand those sentiments is missed. This is significant because if a user had engaged with the post, it would have potentially raised its EdgeRank score (the algorithm Facebook uses to determine whether content should be shown to other users, similar to Google’s PageRank).

Consider another example. Let’s say a news outlet publishes a story about a horrific mass shooting on its Facebook feed. Many readers who would otherwise have skipped the “Like” button may now use the “Sad,” or “Angry” buttons to engage with the post, resulting in a more accurate assessment of user interest in the story. This increased engagement will mean that the story is shown to more people.

For now, Facebook has stated that every reaction (regardless of type) will carry the same weight in its EdgeRank algorithm. But someday, a “Love” or “Wow” could be worth more than a “Like,” which would allow content to spread organically more quickly or broadly than it otherwise would have.

Facebook's reactions feature is not all positive, however, as brands will now have to wrestle with the dilemma of what to do if users register negative reactions to positive posts. Some scenarios to consider:

  • Does an “Angry” or “Sad” reaction from a user on a post merit a customer service response? (Or should those only be reserved for users who take the time to comment?)
  • If a post makes some users “angry,” should it be hidden? At present there is no option for brands to hide unwanted reactions.
  • Similarly, there’s no clear prescriptive action if activists, hostile to a brand, descend on its Facebook page to mark all of its posts with negative reactions.

On balance, the new feature will be highly beneficial to most companies and organizations by providing them with better insight into their target audiences. Users, too, will benefit from a more relevant Facebook experience. As a result, Facebook will continue to ensure its dominance of its peers in social media.

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