Should marketers take Facebook Reactions seriously?

Friday 26th, February 2016 , ,

The news that Facebook has rolled out a new set of emojis called Reactions has been avidly discussed over the last couple of days. Reactions is an expanded palette of emotions and enhances the range of possibilities that the classic ‘Like’ button could perhaps never achieve.

A tight-rope walk

Most of the news stories coming out paint a story of the extents to which Facebook seems to have gone to, in its quest to zero on an acceptable range of possibilities. The obvious question to ask is, why restrict the enhanced palette to just five emotions (Love, Wow, Haha, Sad and Angry).

There seem to be a number of considerations at work here. First, Facebook is now a global brand and anything that it does needs to work universally. There are the obvious pitfalls of symbols and what they mean across cultures and the semiotic minefield that needs to be negotiated. As somebody has pointed out, the original Like button showing an upraised thumb is a vulgar Middle Eastern visual epithet!

Secondly, there is the question of usability and how the expanded palette will play out on the user interface particularly on mobile devices. Too few emojis and there is a risk of not being adequately represent the range of emotions; too many and there is a very real possibility that the level of interaction will drop significantly.

I’m guessing that Facebook has had to make some very hard choices. Judging by the media analysis, everybody agrees that the new palette is an improvement on a single button – which was never appropriate in many situations. However, there is a feeling that a lot more choices could have been provided.

What’s in it for marketers

Facebook has a large, growing community of advertisers so the network made sure to keep their interests in mind. The Reactions palette is not only available on individual pages, but on brand and business pages as well.

For long, advertisers have depended upon the number of Likes as an indicator of the popularity of their marketing campaigns. Now, they get access to a bit more granular detail. The advertiser can get a quick glance at the number of Wows, Loves and Angry as well.

There has been some debate about whether this last emoji will appeal to advertisers. Facebook seems to have taken a conscious decision to go ahead with its use. The thinking seems to be that in this age of social media where opinions are freely expressed by millennials, it is better to provide an option so marketers can judge which way the wind is blowing.

Better that negative opinions, if any be expressed within the network rather than an outside one. That seems to be the thinking. Hopefully, advertisers will take such negative feedback in the right spirit and change the communication as needed.

Social media managers have over the years struggled to make any meaningful connection between the number of likes and results achieved in terms of sales. There is adequate realisation now that Facebook can possibly never be a channel to generate sales leads. If that is your primary expectation, you’re going to be very disappointed.

Smart businesses have already begun to use the platform to engage their customers, to open up a dialogue, to listen and respond to feedback and so on. The best conversations are rarely around a direct sales pitch for the product or service that the organisation offers.

If you’re already tracking shares, comments etc then Reactions is probably not going to make a big difference to your marketing efforts. Facebook has already indicated that irrespective of whether your customer chooses a Wow or a Love or Hate it is fundamentally not going to make a difference to the algorithm and how your posts show up organically.

If your goal is to enhance your reach or drive traffic to your website, continue to do what you have done but keep an eye open for announcements from Facebook.

For the moment, it seems quite clear that Reactions is merely a product enhancement aimed at Facebook users. Marketers and agencies are going to have to wait for the next big thing that will come their way.

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