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This week, Facebook rolled out to its 1.55 billion active users a mini-dashboard of new reaction icons designed to make it easier for people to express how they feel about a post in more situationally appropriate ways than a simple “like” could ever do.
Perhaps inevitably, the six options – including the original “like” icon but not “dislike” – have spawned a wide range of, yes, emotional reactions. In fact, for months, while the new reaction icons were being tested in a few territories, there were complaints about the company’s plans (and before that, its lack of plans).
The new options are excellent additions, but when it comes to social-media emotional reactions, more is better.
The challenge Facebook faced in trying to present even six options is a good example of a thorny problem: How do you visually and simply capture the wide range of emotions that people may feel (and express) to a wide range of events?
Human communication – and the emotions that animate that communication even in the narrow bandwidth that text-based online posts allow – is wildly, crazily nuanced. I know. My company, Canvs, built a system that teases out and categorizes 56 different kinds of emotions in social-media posts. For everyone in the online space, conveying and capturing those emotions is a challenge. It’s also a huge opportunity for brands, marketers, and others.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly told his product people that he wanted to give site users more nuanced ways to express themselves. The resulting interface resembles an approach first developed by mobile social-media site Path. It does a good job of tucking away the new options until a user explicitly hovers over the thumbs-up icon. That and other tricks keep the resulting additional information from making the screen too busy.
The hope is the additional options will encourage people to talk about the challenges in their lives and that friends and family will react in ways that don’t sound tone deaf. Both have been concerns for some critics, who said Facebook’s previous monochromatic approach often led posts, and friends’ responses, to either focus on positive news or say nothing.
Adding more emotion, and more ways to express that emotion, is a powerful idea, especially in social media, where billions of conversations are conducted every day between friends, family, and even strangers.
Emotions are really important. The research consistently suggests that emotional reactions inform people’s opinions, and ultimately, their behaviors, including what they’ll do and (for marketers) what they’ll buy.
Zuckerberg and the rest of Facebook know that, as they continue to fine-tune the user interface of their hugely successful platform. Going to six options starts to suggest ways we can better measure how people feel about their products, brands, and programming.
But six options, not including the “dislike” button that some have called for over the years, does seem inadequate to capture all the emotions we have out there.
We can name dozens of emotions and shades of emotion, and those differences can make a lot of difference in trying to evaluate someone’s feelings about an event or news that we share.
So, Facebook, great job rolling out the new reaction icons. It’s an excellent step in better communicating online how we feel. But think bigger. Can you feel what I’m saying?
Jared Feldman is CEO and founder of Canvs, a platform that measures and interprets emotions. He has grown Canvs from a small social media startup to a multimillion dollar company supporting clients like HBO, Viacom, Starcom MediaVest Group, NBC, CAA, and UTA.
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