Will Facebook’s “Empathy” Button Be Good News For Marketers?

Marketing experts weigh in possible impact of Facebook’s plan to test a way for people to express shorthand emotions other than Like.


Facebook’s Like button is about to have company. One question: Will marketers give it the thumbs up?

It almost certainly won’t be a “dislike” button, but it will give people a shorthand way to express other-than-positive emotions. That could mean an emoji-based interface, as some Facebook patents seem to indicate. Or it could be something else. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is looking to give people a way to express empathy for unfortunate news and events while avoiding the creation of a situation where people are seen to be down-voting others’ posts. Building a new system that finds that balance is “surprisingly complicated,” Zuckerberg said, but Facebook is close to releasing a test version.

Marketers will be closely watching what Facebook comes up with. Currently, businesses have to dig to see negative feedback about their posting activity on Facebook Pages. Within Insights, at the post level they can see how many people hide a post, hide all posts, report spam, or the dreaded unlike a page because of a post. That information isn’t public, but feedback from Facebook’s upcoming button could broadcast consumer reactions more widely.

So is that a good thing? It’s tough to say definitively yet. We asked a handful of marketing experts to weigh in about the potential impact. Here are their emailed responses:

Katy Keim, Lithium

Generally speaking, I’m concerned the new dislike concept will lead to more bad behavior than good — vitriol or bullying or worse. I don’t think everything needs to be rainbows and ponies, but the potential to so quickly express negative comments could bring out our worst selves. At Lithium, I view the thumbs up (and thumbs down) behaviors as online gamification principles — which means we should use these activities to motivate the right behaviors and while Facebook sees this as motivating “empathy,” unfortunately I don’t believe that will be the end result.

For brands, I think the button poses some risks. Yes, it provides another low barrier engagement option which will result in widespread participation. However, there has been a trend that consumers shame brands freely — sometimes not in the most productive ways. I think this will only increase this behavior. It will have the effect of reducing qualitative comments and more nuanced opinions. It’s a shortcut to sentiment and I think one where simplification results in less.

Ultimately this move benefits Facebook more than brands. They don’t own the experience, Facebook does. While brands may see number of likes vs. dislikes, Facebook will have access to a significant amount of more in-depth data about users as a result of this. How much they are willing to share with brands who manage pages on Facebook will be interesting.

Lynette Young, ClaimWizard

I don’t feel the “dislike” button affects (or SHOULD affect) marketers at all on Facebook because it is really being designed to show compassion and support for status updates such as illness or losing a family member. Of course if the Facebook API is opened up to disclose the dislike button a slew of marketers could target (prey?) on those in sad situations.

Nate Elliott, Forrester Research

If this new feature is just about expressing empathy and solidarity, as Zuckerberg indicated it might, then it likely won’t have much of an impact on people’s relationships with brands. (Do you know many cases where people feel motivated to express empathy for a brand?)

But if it allows people to express a broader range of emotions, that could be useful. For one thing, brands would be tempted to count the number of people who “like” and “love” and “respect” them and use that data as a success metric (though the data would likely be meaningless for measurement, in the same way social sentiment data has little correlation with brand satisfaction data).

More importantly, it could one day let marketers target fans based on those fans’ relationships with the brand. Today, most people’s Facebook interactions with brands are binary: you either like a company or you don’t. But what if Delta could deliver one message to flyers who genuinely love the company and a different message to people who may not love the brand but still fly regularly and need to stay up-to-date with the company? That could be powerful.

Jan Rezab, Socialbakers

First of all, it’s not a “dislike” button. I am sure you saw the original footage, where it’s more of just a different sympathetic emotion. Facebook still is a positive platform, and we don’t exactly know what it will shape like. Will it replace the like button for that particular post? Will it be extra? They probably won’t want to confuse the mobile experience. It might be different based on either TEXT or “FEELING” (the smiley face). We will see.

Kevan Lee, Buffer

More ways to engage with a post on Facebook feels like an exciting step for me. The more a marketer can know about how his/her messages are received on Facebook, the better those messages can become. Knowledge and data are hugely helpful in iterating on strategies — and this coming change feels like Facebook could be giving marketers more of both.

Emeric Ernoult, AgoraPulse

I think this is a very interesting move from Facebook as it will give users more ways to react to content. Users will definitely use this, no doubt, and Facebook will definitely leverage the data it gets back from those user actions. As far as marketers are concerned, if that is data they have access to in their metrics, especially the post performance metrics, I think it can be very useful.

As of today, the only way to see if users don’t respond positively to your content is the “negative feedback” metric. But that metric is flawed as it accounts for “hide post,” “unfollow page” and “report post” and actually, the “hide post” one is clicked the most, by far. And according to most users I’ve surveyed about that, users hide post because they feel their News Feed is cluttered, not necessarily because they “dislike” the post. Getting specific data about content that turned them off is actually more helpful than knowing that they want to see less posts from your brand. We all know that users prefer to see updates from their friends than from our business. But that doesn’t mean that they “dislike” the content itself.

Overall, I don’t think it’s a game changer for marketers, it will just give more accurate feedback about how their content is perceived.

(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)


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