Will you like Facebook's new Reactions?

  • 28 January 2016
  • From the section Technology
  • comments
Media captionSee the new Reaction options

Do you ever "like" something on Facebook? If so, life is about to get a bit more complex.

The social networking giant is about to roll out emoji-style Reactions, which will allow you to express your feelings in a more nuanced fashion.

In the conference call with analysts after Facebook's blockbuster financial results, Mark Zuckerberg confirmed that Reactions - which are being tested in Spain, Ireland and a few other places - would be shown everywhere "pretty soon".

The idea, the chief executive said, is to add "a little bit of complexity" to something that is very simple. "When you only have a like button, if you share a sad piece of content or something that makes you angry, people may not have the tool to react to it."

So now Facebook users are being given new tools in the form of emoticons labelled "love", "haha", "wow", "sad" and "angry" - or they can still just "like".

There was another button marked "yay" but that has been removed after pilot users apparently said: "Err….what??"

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Facebook has dropped plans to introduce a "yay" Reaction

For more than a billion people who visit Facebook every day there may now be a tricky period of adjustment. Do I just like that picture of your dog or do I love it? Should I go as far as telling you I'm "angry" about your views on the issues of the day - or is "haha" enough?

But it's advertisers who will be really going "wow" about this change to the way Facebook works. The latest results show just how much they have bought into the social network's message that it offers a unique way to connect with consumers and learn everything about them. Now they will have a far more complex set of data.

Simon Calvert, head of strategy at the marketing agency Lida, says if the new system accurately reflects human emotions then it will be very interesting.

"Emotions travel five times faster than rational thought," he said. "So the ability to build better emotional connections with consumers is something that advertisers really prize."

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption My VirtualBagel Facebook page currently has close to 4,600 likes

Facebook "likes" have become a somewhat devalued currency, as I found out when my Virtual Bagel imaginary business collected more than 4,000 likes from all over the world.

"They're devalued because brands collect them mindlessly," Mr Calvert explains. But he sees advertisers using Reactions in a far more sophisticated way to get insights into the emotions people feel about products.

Another social media marketing expert, Kristal Ireland of Twentysixdigital, says there is always great excitement when Facebook makes a change like this. She believes there is an opportunity to learn far more about what people think of marketing messages but says the real challenge will be to make sense of the flood of new data: "You might end up with such fragmented data that you can't make up your mind what your ad should look like."

But what should we as Facebook users think about laying out our emotions for all to see?

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Facebook published this graphic following its quarterly earnings to illustrate its size

Nick Oliver urges caution. His company People.io aims to help users take control over their social media data and realise its value to advertisers.

"From the consumer point of view they are now giving up their emotional data for advertisers to use and manipulate," he says. "People open themselves up on social media and the data is used in ways they never expect."

He argues that the rise in the use of ad blockers, which are largely ineffective on Facebook, makes this data even more valuable. "The demand for a price of people's attention is getting higher."

Of course, the big question for advertisers is just how honest people will be in expressing themselves via the Reactions buttons.

The social media era has seen millions sharing their feelings with the world - but we are quickly learning just how dangerous that can be.

Decoding the significance of Facebook love, laughter and tears will become an essential skill for anyone in the marketing industry.