Move over, like button – you’ve got company.
Facebook like icon
Back in October, Facebook announced it was pushing ahead with plans to release six emojis to complement the iconic like button. The proposed symbols – haha, wow, love, yay, angry and sad – would sit alongside the big thumb to give users more ways to express their feelings about posts, pictures and videos.
Officially named Reactions, Facebook said the emojis would undergo testing in Spain and Ireland. The trial period is nearing an end as CEO Mark Zuckerberg was recently overheard saying, in his most Starkian voice, “Get ready, Internet: Reactions are coming.” Okay, fine, what Zuckerberg actually said is the expressive emojis will receive a global rollout “pretty soon.” You know you miss Game of Thrones, too. Apparently the poor little yay icon proved too confusing for users, so word is it’s being scrapped, but we should soon have five new options for letting the world know how we feel.

What Do Reactions Mean For Facebook Users?

We wrote about how difficult change can be, so there will be some growing pains ahead for Facebook users. It doesn’t get much bigger than unveiling five new alternatives to the only expressive button users have ever known, so it makes sense for both Facebook and its users to allow for an adjustment period.
When you sit down and think about the history of Facebook and the like button, it seems unbelievable they’ve made it this long with a single expressive emoticon. There’s a great post over on Bloomberg Business that goes inside Facebook’s decision to blow up the like button. It’s as much about the story behind how Reactions came to be as it is the why and how of the change, and it’s a great, in-depth read.
Suffice to say, for Facebook users, Reactions represent a useful set of tools they’ve been missing. Sure, people will sometimes use emojis or words to comment on a post, but at over 4.5 billion per day, likes have always dominated Facebook engagement.
The problem is it’s become increasingly obvious the like button is lacking.
What do you do when your friend posts a picture of their sick dog on the day they have to take it in to the vet and say goodbye? You might write a word or two, but more than likely, you’ll hit the like button even though what you really mean – and what your friend understands – is “I’m sorry you are going through this today and I’m thinking about you and your dog.”
How about during the recent attacks in Paris, which the world watched unfold? What do you say to people who live in Paris, were travelling in Paris, or worse, lost somebody in Paris? If there’s any semblance of positivity, hope or unity, then maybe an “I support you” like makes sense, but you’re starting to see the problem.
The like button isn’t just insufficient for negative posts, either. Let’s say your friend wins the Stanley Cup and posts a picture hoisting it over his head; is this an image that makes you think, “Yep, I like that”? He probably knows you mean, “Holy $%^# , this is the best day of life!” but it just doesn’t seem right.
It’s incredible really, but these examples are exactly how we use Facebook. Now, with more options and big changes to the way we use Facebook looming, Reactions represent one thing to all of us: progress.

What Do Reactions Mean For Marketers?

At first, Reactions will be a headache for marketers. Don’t get me wrong, in the long run, Reactions are a good thing, and will be great for marketers. But initially, there’s going to be a whole ocean of new data, and nobody will be sure a) if it’s valid and b) how to use it if it’s valid.
For example, depending on your age, the people you’re friends with and the brands you follow, your Facebook timeline will be composed of posts from a few common themes. If you’re around 30, it’ll be lots of wedding pictures, babies and ads for brands and products you’ve shown an interest in. One day, after you’ve seen one too many wedding portraits (sorry, brides and grooms) or ads for TVs (because you’ve been research TVs) you might decide to hit the angry icon, and shut down and step away from the computer.
You hit the angry icon as a joke, but it would result in confused newlyweds and marketers. Does he not like this TV? Do we have any data on what TV he would like better? Is there something wrong with my dress? Do I have a stain on my tie? Guys, it was just a goof!
Eventually, the percentage of people who embrace Reactions and use them properly will become clear, even though you can expect some hijinks upon the initial release.
The real question for marketers will be how to best use the new data streams, and even whether to separate them at all. Are all Reactions just likes that have been sorted? Or should some of the Reactions be worth more than others (like loves vs. likes)? Personally, I think one of the most intriguing opportunities Reactions will present marketers is targeting specific emojis with their posts, and analyzing whether such attempts are successful. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait much longer to find out!
This post has been filled with more questions than answers but hey, we’re talking about something that hasn’t even been released yet! As both a user and/or a marketer, what are you first impressions of Facebook Reactions? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn!