The Problem With Facebook Reactions
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The Problem With Facebook Reactions

March 15, 2016

Brett Davis

Facebook’s five new Reactions now offer consumers a more varied palette of responses--but be wary when trying to leverage this data for analytical purposes.

Facebook users have long clamored for a ‘dislike’ button: the ‘likes’ sufficed for dancing cat videos and pictures of cute babies, but felt inappropriate for posts about wars, deaths and scary politicians. While there’s still no official ‘dislike’ button, Facebook’s five new Reactions now offer consumers a more varied palette of responses.

Facebook’s five new Reactions could help shed light on the chasm between a consumer’s declared point of view and his or her actual opinion.

Marketers and advertisers are eager to leverage this data to gain additional context around consumer preferences, but they should do so with an abundance of caution. The industry must first understand consumer behavior and decide how to interpret the resulting data before marketers rely too heavily on Reaction metrics.

New Feature, Old Challenges

Anyone who works around social media for a living will tell you that analyzing the resulting data is both an art and a science. The very nature of the industry creates substantial challenges: New platforms pop up frequently, each with varied data configurations. Internet trolls can distort statistics. And we still haven’t created an algorithm that can detect sarcasm (a recent study of 10,000 tweets discovered that some three to four percent were incorrectly analyzed as indicating positive sentiment). Irony is another tough sentiment to spot– a fact that could severely skew Reactions data. If hipsters start using the ‘Wow’ button tongue-in-cheek, how can marketers discern that intended use from those implying the literal meaning?

Emerging Social Norms

Measuring the amount of ‘Likes’ against a piece of content is one thing. Comparing a multitude of reactions expressed against that same piece of content is something entirely different. The social norms and behaviors around using Facebook Reactions are in the process of being constructed, which means that there’s a great deal of ambiguity in this early stage of use. Relying too heavily on brand-new data points to make strategic decisions could cause a company’s marketing strategy to flop. Instead, marketers should use this time as an observation phase, making an effort to understand and define behavioral patterns around the new feature before tapping the data.

Consumers aren’t the only ones crafting social norms around Reactions. The transition brings with it a lot of questions for brands: What does it mean to have 2 million “Hahas” expressed on a pharmaceutical company’s antidepressant Facebook page? If most of this pharma brand’s digital assets are relatively morose, will their 5 million ‘Likes’ turn into 4 million ‘Sads’ and 1 million ‘Angry’s’? How should brands adapt their content to earn positive Reactions versus negative? Companies should take the time to define what each of these new reactions mean in the context of their brand, to avoid focusing on the wrong metrics.

Revealed and Declared Perspectives

By far the biggest obstacle to incorporating Reactions insights is the idea of revealed versus declared perspectives. Put simply: We don’t always explicitly say exactly what we mean, need, or want, and our answers often change depending on our social context. A person might reveal genuine thoughts and feelings in a private interview that they would never announce publicly on social media. For example, someone might use an angry emoticon on Facebook for a post about a controversial product or slimy politician, but take a much milder (or even opposite) stance in a one-on-one conversation. Understanding the personas that people craft through social media profiles is of course incredibly useful for marketers, but it’s only part of the picture.

These obstacles reiterate the importance of placing social media data within a holistic context of quantitative and qualitative research. Used in this way, Facebook’s five new Reactions could help to shed light on the chasm between a consumer’s declared point of view and his or her actual opinion. It’s important that digital marketers not over-interpret this new data, the nuances of which are not yet fully discernable. Just as actions speak louder than words, revealed intent may very well speak louder than emoticons.

Brett Davis

Chief Operating Officer

Brett is responsible for Kelton’s long term business planning and resource allocation, and oversees Kelton’s Finance and HR operations. Brett has substantial experience scaling privately held...

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