The Benefits (and Pitfalls) behind Facebook's 'Reactions'

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Last week, Facebook unveiled new ways to respond to posts or comments with additional emoticons that allow users to express other emotions besides the generic "like" or thumbs-up button.

Last week, Facebook unveiled new ways to respond to posts or comments with additional emoticons that allow users to express other emotions besides the generic "like" or thumbs-up button. The new feature could potentially give marketers greater insight into consumer sentiments. Clicking the "like" button on a Facebook post can mean a number of things. It could be interpreted as a sign that you're happy, excited, or in agreement with the post's content. Or you might just want to bookmark the post and read it later. While brands and marketers have puzzled over the value of a "like," Facebook is making things more complicated or simple depending on your perspective.

Facebook is testing six emoticons that represent "love," "wow," "haha," "yay," "angry," and "sad." The new Reactions emoticons are based on the expressions that people frequently use on the social platform, but the company noticeably excluded a "dislike" button. "As you can see, it's not a "dislike" button, though we hope it addresses the spirit of this request more broadly," explains Chris Cox, Facebook's product chief, in a blog post.

Being able to tap into consumer emotions plays a critical role in helping brands engage customers, according to Forrester Research. In fact, emotional experience accounts for almost half of customer loyalty to a brand, while cognitive loyalty accounts for only about a third, reports the research firm.

Nearly every social network including LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest has the equivalent of a like button, but it's difficult to understand why someone liked that content or how they feel about it. For brands, Facebook's additional emoticons could make it easier for marketers to understand consumer sentiment and help them drive more relevant content. At the same time, it could also reduce the quality of user engagement, notes Bryan Kramer, president and CEO of demand gen agency PureMatter.

"Facebook is attempting to uncover the contextual emotion behind likes and that could be helpful because it allows us to segment what we really mean by liking something," Kramer says. "But it might also give us a way to not engage with the brand." In other words, instead of adding a comment to explain why you liked something when a thumbs up symbol isn't enough, users might take a short-cut and just use one of the "Reactions" emoticons.

It's too early to say how useful the new emoticons will be as a source of user insight, but Kramer is optimistic that it will ultimately lead to better targeted ads. "Nearly everything Facebook does is tied to paid media and serving you better ads," he maintains. "So the good news is that [the Reactions emoticons] could give brands more data that allows them to serve you a more relevant ad."

Facebook is testing the new emoticons in Ireland and Spain on iOS, Android, and desktops. According to Cox, based on the feedback it receives from the test, Facebook plans to roll out the feature to all of its 1.5 billion users soon.

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