Facebook Unveils 'Reactions,' Emoji Buttons That Go Beyond 'Like': What the Buttons Mean for Brands

Reactions Will Offer Brands New Sentiment Feedback, But Won't Impact Ad Distribution Yet

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Facebook will test 'Reactions' in Ireland and Spain before rolling them out globally.
Facebook will test 'Reactions' in Ireland and Spain before rolling them out globally.
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Facebook can be an emotional place. A friends might post about giving birth to her first child, being stressed about her jobs or that jerk that stole her phone at the bar last night. Sometimes "liking" those posts doesn't cut it.

After Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg teased the company's plans last month, on Thursday Facebook unveiled "Reactions," a set of emojis to convey feelings such as love, sad and angry. The company will test these new buttons, which augment the like button, in Ireland and Spain first before rolling them out globally.

Facebook conducted research on people's comments and organized focus groups to see what types of reactions people would want to use in addition to the like button. After determining that core set of reactions, the company opted to use emojis to represent these reactions "because we feel they convey the spirit or the meaning of the reactions at a glance and facial expressions are universal," said Facebook Product Manager Chris Tosswill.

The new reactions buttons will work the same way as the like button. To access them, a person would need to hold down on the like button, and then move their finger or mouse over the reaction they want to use to respond to someone's post. Counts for each reaction type will be shown towards the bottom of a post, next to where the like count has long appeared.

Better gauge for marketers?
For businesses, these reactions will offer a new, potentially more accurate way to measure sentiment. They could complement, if not improve upon, the sentiment analysis that brands usually conduct through third-party firms that scrutinize, among other things, the words people use in commenting on a brand's post to infer how those people feel about the post. Businesses will be able to see reaction counts within Facebook's page insights tool.

"Reactions gives businesses a really crisp way of understanding on a multi-dimensional level how people are feeling about the things that they're posting," said Richard Sim, Facebook's director of monetization product marketing.

Mr. Sim emphasized that businesses, however, should not try to orient their ads around generating certain types of reactions. That follows Facebook's move earlier this year to stop charging brands for each time people click to like or share their ads and its shift toward using product sales or app downloads as a way to evaluate ads' performance.

"At the end of the day, for a business we want you to post things that you know are going to drive business value for you, and optimizing for loves really isn't the right business value for you," Mr. Sim said.

Conceivably reactions would give Facebook a new signal to use when deciding which posts to show in people's news feeds, such as by showing posts that get more "angry" reactions to someone who clicks the "angry" reaction on a lot of posts. For now Facebook's news-feed ranking algorithm will count reactions as likes.

"Over time we do expect to have a better understanding of how these different reactions impact what people want to see in their news feed. So it's very possible that loves or hahas may be treated differently. We're going to learn this as we're going through testing," Mr. Sim said, citing Facebook's large team of data scientists that will look to get a better idea of how pulling different emotional levers impacts people's sentiment.

Facebook chose Ireland and Spain for the test because both countries's audiences tend to be more self-contained, minimizing the instances when users in other countries will see posts with reaction counts at the bottom but find themselves unable to "react" beyond a like.

There's no timeline yet for when reactions will roll out worldwide, Mr. Tosswill said.

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