Opinion

Facebook's new Reactions are for Wall Street, not advertisers

Facebook confirmed this week, alongside strong revenue figures, the expansion of its "Like" button into a new range of "Reactions" that will enable the user to consider new emojis alongside "Like", writes Tim Ocock, executive technical director, VML London.

Reactions: Facebook's updated 'likes' won't be subtle enough to be useful to advertisers
Reactions: Facebook's updated 'likes' won't be subtle enough to be useful to advertisers

This follows Twitter’s recent decision to transform its "Favorite" button to a heart-shaped "Like" button.

Within weeks, Facebook’s users will have the chance to react to a post with "Angry", "Love", "Sad" and "Wow".

If there's one constructive thing Facebook could do with this new data, it's applying the mathematics of collaborative filtering to better filter your feed's content

Now, while I’ve always craved a "Hell no! They’re not good at that!" button for LinkedIn’s incessant endorsement messages, it will be interesting to see what impact the introduction of Facebook Reactions has in terms of targeting and data provision for brands.

My first reaction, given my thoughts on LinkedIn, is that I'm disappointed that the much hoped for "Dislike" button hasn't made the cut.

Why has Facebook expanded the range of choices, yet added so little variety? While they can be tracked independently and provide social agencies with extra data points to report on, it’s not clear that the distinction between them really matters. The contrast between "Love", "Wow", and "Like" is so subtle that, in my view, there isn’t sufficient distinction here for advertisers to do useful things with the resulting data.

The "Sad" and "Angry" buttons make a bit more sense. After all, how often have you felt it to be inappropriate to press a "Like" button to react to news of a friend's breakup or death in the family?

It’s not clear that using the new options creates opportunities for radically varying the newsfeed experience.

Watching the evening news tells us that things that make us sad or angry constitute prime time viewing, so it's unlikely you'll see fewer "Sad" things if you mark them as such.

The thick layer of "sadvertising" at Christmas tells us no one cares what emotion you feel, as long as you feel something. I’m sure Facebook isn’t going to serve users with fewer "Sad" items of content just because they clicked "Sad" a few times.

The cynic in me says, it doesn't really matter to Facebook and its advertisers which emoji verb you choose. As long as it gets a Reaction(TM), Facebook and its partners can measure it, report on it, charge for it and claim that engagement continues to grow when doing the rounds in Wall Street.

If there's one constructive thing Facebook could do with this new data, it's applying the mathematics of collaborative filtering to better filter your feed's content - in the same way Amazon recommends "people who bought that also bought this".

But ask yourself - do you really want to see "people who were made sad by that were also sad at this" in your feed? Surely a "Like" button does the job sufficiently well.

All that's really changing with the launch of Reactions is that users will be able to react to something for which the "Like" reaction might have seemed insensitive. And that simply means more "Likes" – sorry "Reactions" - for Facebook, rather than more useful data for brands.