In February of 2016 Facebook expanded beyond its iconic thumbs-up Like button. After some painstaking market research, it added five more reaction choices; love, haha, wow, sad and angry. Needless to say, user response was strong and immediate. Since then, over 300 billion reactions have been logged on the platform, with love being the most popular. Facebook has since added the ability to react to comments, as well as posts.
Reactions resulted from the growing understanding that, as one Facebook designer put it, “not everything in life is likable”. The thumbs-up icon was perfect for weddings or sports triumphs, but an uncomfortable fit for a parent’s death or a natural disaster. Facebook got a lot of input from users who wanted more ways to express themselves and eventually they responded.
Not only did the addition of reaction icons solve the problem of how to respond to a post about your sister’s fender bender, but it gave social media marketers a whole new set of ways to get users engaged. It also gave marketers much more granular insight about how users are experiencing content. Win, win, win.
In March 2017, Facebook announced that it was changing its algorithm to give extra weight to reactions. Since it takes a little extra time to use reactions, Facebook considers them a higher form of user engagement than a simple like. It does not, however, give different weight to the various types of reactions. Angry gets the same number of points as haha.
Which brings us to the present day. As social media marketers, how do we make the most of this engaging and informative tool? To track reactions within Facebook you can work within Ads Manager or Insights to find a reactions breakdown for specific posts. There is also an API for third-party tracking and many companies have created tracking tools. However, the form resists easy metrics beyond the individual post level.
Perhaps most interesting aspect of reactions is the opportunity to create content that specifically invites a certain emotion and the ability for social media marketers to track the success of that “call-to-action”. Here are three ways to use reactions to expand your range.
1. Other emotions count
Some posts encourage people to feel angry, sad or awe-struck. Research has demonstrated that these posts can generate just as much engagement as posts that make us feel happy. Sometimes they can be even more effective. A study by Jonah Berger, author of “Contagious: Why Things Catch On,” shows content triggering an angry reaction in readers is 34% more likely to end upon the New York Times "Most Shared" page.
Facebook’s own research shows that prior to reactions, people used the comments section to reflect more complex emotion. This took time and effort, and happened less frequently. With reactions, we can capture a broader range of emotions in a more trackable form and users are more likely to express themselves. This has broad implications for content development.
2. Love still wins
Love has proven to be the most popular Facebook reaction and research shows that people are more likely to talk about subjects they “love”. You can use Insights to identify users who frequently love your posts and consider them as possible brand ambassadors.
3. Provoke a reaction
Be very deliberate and specific about crafting content that generates an emotion in your user. Reactions are engagement, that holy grail of social media engineering. Simple key words such as “wow” in a title or opening sentence can actually provoke the corresponding reaction.
Facebook reactions have given social media marketers a wonderful feedback loop that helps us craft our message and invite engagement in an almost infinite number of creative ways. They are a great reminder that beneath all the metrics, math and technology, our responsibility is to communicate and connect with people using that most human set of tools, the emotions.