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Will Facebook Reactions be a Turning Point for Social Research?

Facebook Like

Since Facebook’s ‘like’ button was introduced in 2009, it has not only become one of the platform’s best known features, it has also become a standard feature across nearly every website and app out there. It has become the easiest way to casually acknowledge something friends have posted, subscribe to updates from pages and feeds from brands and to demonstrate personal taste on top of showing appreciation for the latest video of a cat doing a back flip off a bird table. Just click the little blue ‘thumbs up’ and the job’s done.

Moreover, the ability for users to ‘like’ has provided essential data fuel for Facebook’s algorithms used in the targeting of content (whether purely social or paid advertising) in its News Feed.

Facebook Sad Emotion

But there are problems with likes. For example, in late 2015 my house was flooded and I posted pictures of the chaos wreaked by Storm Desmond. My brother clicked ‘like’ on the pictures and I nearly revoked his Christmas present entitlement; in reality (and in the interests of familial relations) I have to concede that this was an act of acknowledgement and possibly support rather than an indication he was glad we’d temporarily installed an indoor paddling pool.

Put mildly, ‘likes’ are a bit of a blunt implement. For as long as the feature has been around, there have been calls for a counterpart ‘dislike’ button. However, Facebook has shied away from implementing such a feature, likely fearing that individuals could be trolled and brands disappointed by malicious (or even genuine) ‘disliking’ of posts and pages. So what to do?

Facebook Wow

To this end, in 2015 Facebook announced not just one new way to show emotion to its repertoire but five. This meant that users – initially in trial areas of Ireland and Spain - could not only click ‘like’ but also ‘love’, ‘haha’, ‘wow’, ‘sad’ and ‘anger’ (a sixth emoticon, ‘yay’ was booted out as it did not translate well across tested markets). A set of shiny new buttons represents each of these reactions. For simplicity, users will still be presented with the ‘traditional’ thumbs up button but on hovering over it (when using a mouse) or pressing and holding using a touch screen device the user will be presented with the full emotional spectrum (well, those which can be expressed in 6 icons).

Marketers across the world rejoiced that rather than working with a binary like/no like, they would be able to track Reactions (for that is what Facebook has called them) in a much more ‘nuanced’ (Mark Zuckerberg’s word) way.

Facebook Angry

However, there are still some issues around the implementation of Reactions which may be of concern to marketers, market researchers and user experience professionals.

  1. That users are initially presented with the ‘like’ button and have to take further action to display other Reactions. This is a concern to the the researcher analysing data as users may have clicked ‘like’ because they feel it is the most relevant of the 6 Reactions or they may simply be unaware that the other reactions exist. Based on previous Facebook feature roll-outs, we can expect context-specific alerts and guidance for users on this feature which may alleviate these effects. But we still have to expect that just clicking ‘like’ might be the easiest option and consider weighting any analysis accordingly.
  2. How you subscribe to a page’s feed is less obvious than at present. This is already somewhat more complicated in Facebook than, for example, Twitter – in Facebook one can ‘friend’ or ‘follow’ users, like pages (to subscribe to them) and ‘like’ posts and content posted by friends and others. This is already a somewhat confusing mixture of affiliation, affirmation, acknowledgement and content management for the user. With the various options I’m saying something about who I am, what I like and what I see as well as interacting socially. How will someone use the new options to control what they see? I might click ‘angry’ on a page or post I strongly disagree with but will this mean that I see more of this page or type of content? I probably won’t want to if I’m angry, but then again, this could offer users a chance to receive updates from a page they find problematic in order to interact with them without having to ‘like’ the page when they manifestly don’t.
  3. The spread of the six Reactions is not scalar or evenly distributed. ‘Like’ and ‘love’ we can reasonably assume are positive. ‘Haha’ is more problematic – we may use it to express amusement and delight at that video of that cat doing the backflip; on the other hand, it may be used to mock our newly launched product or in a highly ironic way at someone’s post. ‘Wow’ is equally problematic: when we click ‘wow’ are we impressed, surprised, delighted, shocked or confused? Do we categorise these Reactions as positive or negative? Really, we can’t without context. Then there are two negative emotions: ‘Sad’ and ‘Angry’. These allow the more empathetic reactions that many users have been campaigning for when requesting a ‘Dislike’ button. But when using the ‘Angry’ reaction, are users expressing anger at the post or content itself or sharing the outrage of the individual or brand posting? This means that anyone carrying out an analysis of brand engagement, content performance and reaction to new features will need to do some careful thinking about user intention when trying to categorise responses as positive or negative.
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"Facebook Reactions lack the contextual depth needed for qualitative insight. but make a useful shorthand."

I have used ‘Anger’ to title this section. But am I really angry? I think that is may be a little strong. Facebook’s Reactions are likely to give more data for market researchers and social media marketers to work with, but consideration needs to be given to the challenges outlined before we can totally Facebook Love this.

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Annette Smith

Written by Annette Smith

Annette has worked on InsightHub for 11 years, nurturing it into the internationally-regarded platform it is today. She is a highly experienced researcher and her background in UI/UX has been imperative in making InsightHub the unique hybrid platform it is today. You can follow Annette on Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn.

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Topics: Website Development, Shopper Behaviour, Insight Innovation