Paul Hart Written by

Reactions Speak Louder Than Words

Posted on 29th February, 2016 in Social Media

Last week, Facebook released a set of Reactions to accompany the iconic ‘Like’ feature that has been a part of the Facebook experience since 2009.

There are now five new choices alongside the Like feature for users to react to content to. They are ‘Love’, ‘Haha’, ‘Wow’, ‘Sad’ and ‘Angry’. Overall the reaction from Facebook’s one billion plus users seem largely positive, and people have started using them in full force, which is impressive given the ages and cultures that Facebook users span. That is where the impressive simplicity of the Reactions largely lie - a 70 year old woman in Newcastle will use the feature in the same way a 15 year old in Japan would and the same way a 34 year old in South Africa would. It’s easy to forget how many diverse users Facebook has and how they need to introduce new features with everyone in mind.

Why Faces and Not Words?

The new Reactions take us closer to introducing non-verbal communication into a largely written and video media platform to try and move us towards the expressions when have when we naturally react if someone was telling you a story face to face.

While written communication is usually straightforward, there are still times when the tone and meaning of words are misconstrued. One of these examples is when people try to use sarcasm in the comments section on articles or content that has been posted. Often the commenter will have to later clarify that their comments were meant as sarcastic once someone else has misunderstood what was meant.

Verbal communication is not always perfect either. Sometimes when you speak to someone face to face or over the phone there is room for misinterpretation. There is not the need for clarification as often as there is for written communication, but I’m sure we’ve all left a conversation before scratching your head over a singular comment or phrase going “What did they actually mean by that?”

Facebook’s Reactions will also likely fall to misinterpretation as well. The ‘Wow’ button is one example that can have multiple meanings. It could be astonishment or admiration, or could be tinged with disbelief (‘Wow, I can’t believe that happened’) or even a sarcastic ‘Wow’. The same goes for the Reactions that have a more negative meaning attached to them.

‘Sad’ and ‘Angry’ aren’t necessarily negative but a way of showing empathy and motivation. This was one shortcoming of the original ‘Like’ button. If someone ‘Liked’ something that was sad, did they like it to express empathy or because they actually liked it. Brands could go astray if they interpret these emotions as users saying “I don’t want to see these types of content anymore”. ‘Sad’ and ‘Angry’ could both give people motivation if interpreted the right way.

Charities posting content about their cause would be a particular beneficiary of these Reactions. If people are sad or angry, it could be that seeing more of this content will help them realise the true extent of a situation and want to take positive action. Marketers and companies must not be too hasty to scrub content that garners an authentic reaction in favour of content that people will ‘Love’.

It’s easy to forget how many diverse users Facebook has and how they need to introduce new features with everyone in mind.


Has this been done before?
It’s not the first time a feature like this has been introduced to quantify content. BuzzFeed already uses something similar by allowing users to submit ‘reactions’ such as ‘cute’, ‘fail’, and ‘lol’. You could also react with an animal gif, which range from a penguin saying ‘fail’ to an elephant saying ‘lol’. It very much fits in with BuzzFeed’s target audience which is younger adults and teenagers, looking for popular culture content. At the end of content, there is a bar graph to show which the breakdown of reactions, which is a pretty convenient way to gauge the attitudes towards the content.

As many websites already allow people to submit comments on their content through users Facebook accounts, I’d be curious to see if Facebook will ever roll out a feature similar to this. It would be somewhat beneficial to users, writers, marketers and content sites if people were be allowed to submit reactions in addition to comments and have it be displayed in a graph format as a summary at the end of content, similar to how BuzzFeed does it.

Why does this matter to businesses?

This matters to your business and social media strategy because it is another tool to help you engage with your followers and to create and curate meaningful content. Facebook has given you a snapshot into how people are perceiving your content at face value you and you should pay attention. This will require a bit more time to interpret the data as Reactions gives more context to the content.

Likes has always been somewhat of a vanity metric, and Reactions could risk falling into the same category. Unlike Likes however, which was a binary option (users had the choice to either ‘Like’ something or not like it), users are now required to take the extra step of pressing on the ‘Like’ button, hovering and making a decision from the additional five choices meaning that selection will be taken with a few more seconds of extra thought. And when the human attention span may be as short as 8 seconds, that’s a lot of extra time. Of course, comments that your users leave are still important as they ever were and will be part of how to engage with you audience but now we have a snapshot into the overall sentiments of users’ reactions.

And Facebook, if you’re listening - another feature that would be helpful to businesses that hasn’t been rolled out would be to allow the managers of Business pages to select amongst the Reaction buttons to see what their followers ‘Love’ or think is ‘Haha’ from the content they have posted. It would be particularly useful for companies wanting to better engage with their audience to get quick insights into how their content is being perceived. Currently marketers can do this manually as Facebook does provide the raw data for the Reactions on individual posts. The option to collect and store the data in a spreadsheet is great, and so much more than what we had a week ago, but it be nice to have the value added option of having this collated into a dashboard where Reactions are separated out into their individual metrics.

Before we go - where’s the dislike button?

Almost since the introduction of the ‘Like’ button, people have been calling for an equal but opposite reaction - a ‘Dislike’ button. The subject of many conversation, users often called for a way to express their negative reaction or displeasure towards content. It has been conspicuously absent from this new feature introduction but there has been minimal complaints about this so far.

I think this quote from Geoff Teehan, Product Design Director at Facebook in his article on Medium ‘Reactions - Not everything in life is Likable’ best describes Facebook’s aversion to the ‘Dislike’ button. “People need a much higher degree of sophistication and richness in what choices we provide for their communications. Binary ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ doesn’t properly reflect how we react to the vast array of things we encounter in our real lives.” - Geoff Teehan, Product Design Director, Facebook

Looking for more articles about social media? Visit the Social Media section of our blog. 


Wired - Advertisers Don’t Like Facebook’s Reactions. They Love Them

Medium - Reactions - Not everything in life is Likable 

Business Insider - Here’s why Facebook didn't make a 'Dislike' button

Back to Blog