Facebook Reactions: Not Just Another Smiley Face

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 8.18.29 AMYesterday, Facebook started testing its answer to the “dislike button” in Spain and Ireland: a set of six animated emoji called “Reactions”–love, haha, yay, wow, sad, and angry. The emoji address a lot of what people have asked for on Facebook; specifically, a bit more nuance in how to respond to posts. Here’s what Chris Cox, Chief Product Officer at Facebook, had to say:

Today we’re launching a pilot test of Reactions — a more expressive Like button.

As you can see, it’s not a “dislike” button, though we hope it addresses the spirit of this request more broadly. We studied which comments and reactions are most commonly and universally expressed across Facebook, then worked to design an experience around them that was elegant and fun. Starting today Ireland and Spain can start loving, wow-ing, or expressing sympathy to posts on Facebook by hovering or long-pressing the Like button wherever they see it. We’ll use the feedback from this to improve the feature and hope to roll it out to everyone soon.

This is a much smarter move than the more obvious and problematic option of a “dislike” button, for several reasons. One is context; “dislike” can refer to a friend’s hard day, but is vulnerable to trolling or other (context-free) negativity. Another is range of expression. Even a set of six emoji can address a range of expressive options that a simple “like” or “share” couldn’t do. (For more on how Facebook arrived at these options, and a couple of other fun nuggets, see Casey Newton’s hilarious piece in The Verge.)

Of course, brands’ first question will be how “Reactions” will affect ranking, a hot-button issue for some time now. Chris Tosswill, Facebook Product Manager, says on the Facebook blog that:

We see this as an opportunity for businesses and publishers to better understand how people are responding to their content on Facebook. During this test, Page owners will be able to see Reactions to all of their posts on Page insights. Reactions will have the same impact on ad delivery as Likes do.

But one of  the more interesting aspects for me is what these six little guys mean from a brand strategy point of view. Here’s why I think this was a smart move on Facebook’s part:

  1. Universality. Pictorial language such as emoji don’t require translation and are (more) culturally universal than written language. That’s a cost and time saver for global organizations.
  2. Familiarity. Emoji are becoming more commonly used. In fact, a May 2015 article in the BBC cited a study that found that emoji is the United Kingdom’s fastest-growing language.
  3. Simplicity. From a data point of view, structured data is easier to process and analyze than unstructured data. At the same time, however, not everything will be black and white (or other colors); human beings are notoriously resourceful when it comes to applying sarcasm and other shades of gray.
  4. Succinctness. Emoji are fairly economical in terms of screen real estate, a boon to UX everywhere.
  5. Extensibility. You can always add more!

True to Facebook’s style, this is a test-and-learn process, as it should be (once they’re available) for brands too. This also means there are a lot of as-yet unanswered questions: will brands be able to use these emoji outside Facebook? If so, when? And, more importantly, should they? Will they have a range of options in terms of what emoji they can use, or will they have to offer all six? As you can imagine, this can get complex fairly quickly.

It’s also interesting to imagine our experience as consumers. For example, I could see using “angry” or “sad” emoji if a favorite item is out of stock, or “haha” for fashions I consider particularly ludicrous. Can I say “haha” if my flight is delayed? What does “wow” really mean? Six little faces can mean a lot of things, guys.

As a brand, I would be interested in benchmarking for a while to see what my “normal” looks like. Then I’d want to better understand cases where the emoji is actually being used in unexpected ways. And of course I’d want to compare “Reactions” to other signals. That’s going to require some upfront thinking and scenario planning.

Of course, there are some interesting analytics options, for media and other types of organizations. I can already see an “anger index” or even a “wow index” to compare reactions to news stories over time. I also have to wonder whether the team saw evidence for but sidelined the idea of a WTF emoji (or its more SFW cousin, WTH) because of its obvious trolling potential. But it sure would make for a great Buzzfeed-style roundup story at the end of 2016. So I hereby lobby for some kind of “disbelief” emoji come 2016. I think “wow” may be our only option for now.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, this looks to be a solid first step toward providing more expressive options for Facebook users. and more food for thought for brands as they plan their digital strategies.

Feel free to haha, yay, or wow in the comments.

About susanetlinger

Industry Analyst at Altimeter Group
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