The Value Of Facebook Reactions For Social Media Marketing

What does Facebook’s “Reactions” feature mean for social media marketers?

Recently, Facebook rolled out a new way for users to interact with social updates: Reactions. Now, instead of just Liking Facebook posts, users can choose any one of six ways of reacting: Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, and Angry.

The main purpose of these options is for users to be able to express a less ambiguous response to certain types of posts. For example, it feels weird to Like an update about losing a loved one (i.e. Sad), or a rant about how much someone hates their jobs (i.e. Angry). And it might be underwhelming to simply Like a post celebrating a birth (i.e. Love), a friend getting their dream job (i.e. Wow), or a gut-busting joke (i.e. Haha).

However, these Reactions can also provide useful data and insights for social media marketers. In fact, Facebook conveniently provides Reactions data through Page Insights and through their API, which are integrated into some 3rd party analytics tools. The latter are generally better ways to parse Reactions than in the Page Insights.

These are still relatively new ways for users to engage with the platform, and it may take some time before most users adapt (if most ever do) so the data set it provides may only be a snippet of your audience engagement.

However, we can still give some general advice for how (and why) to use Reactions data to improve your social media efforts.

1) Like Is Still The ‘Default’, But Can Be a Signal of Engagement Levels

Most users have not become habituated to using this feature, yet. Many may even be unaware that Reactions exist as they’re hidden behind a hover menu on the web and a long press on mobile.

Like is, therefore, the default reaction.

On the one hand, you probably can’t draw as many conclusions about an abundance of Likes as you can about other types of Reactions. However, one thing a preponderance of Likes does indicate is the engagement of your followers with Facebook’s feature set: users who always or almost always react with a Like are generally not as engaged with Facebook’s features as those who use other Reactions as well.

The mere fact of a user reacting any other way, therefore, suggests that the user is more engaged with the Facebook platform itself.

Whether that always makes them more valuable followers is hard to say without any hard data. It could suggest that they may use Facebook more and be more deeply invested in the ecosystem of Facebook features and products and that they probably share and engage heavily on the platform.

This may suggest they’ll be more engaged and perhaps more likely to share your updates or be converted to a client, a sale, or whatever your goals may be.

If, on the other hand, you are getting essentially zero Reactions beyond the Like, apart from suggesting your audience is less engaged with the platform, it may suggest your content is emotionally bland.

People Like it, but they don’t Love it. It doesn’t make them extremely happy, or sad, or angry, or amazed. If your goal for some reason is to not produce a deeper emotional reaction in your audience, then this can be taken as a good sign.

Otherwise, it may be a warning sign that your social strategy is getting underwhelming feedback.

2) Sad Should Never Be An Unexpected Reaction

In this life, there are unfortunately such things as bad news and sad stories. If you’re a news source, news of a celebrity death is expected to be sad.  If you’re an advocacy group for victims, stories of the ordeals of former victims are expected to be sad.  Even if you’re a Party Clown rental company, news that a founder or CEO is retiring and passing control of the company to new hands can be heart-rending.

In such cases, it is to be expected that some people will use the new Sad reaction.

However, if you don’t know why there are sad reactions and didn’t expect it, that should be a warning bell that you’ve probably done something wrong.

If your joke is greeted by Sad reactions, and you were expecting Haha reactions, maybe you told it poorly, or it was a bad joke. If you’re announcing some major product update, on the other hand, and you were expecting entirely positive reactions, Sad reactions could suggest dissatisfied users.

For example, maybe your new version dropped support for some old feature, in a note buried in the changelogs, and you thought no one would care, but some people really did.

Sad could mean several things depending on the user, but if it ever catches you off-guard that people are reacting that way, you should try to understand the source of the disconnect and, if necessary, correct the mistake. Reach out to those sad followers (and any others who simply failed to use the Reactions feature itself) and find out why they reacted as such.

3) Love Is (Usually) A Great Reaction

If your audience is Reacting to your updates with Love, that is almost unambiguously good. These are users who really enjoyed and felt good about your social update. Updates that get a lot of Love reactions are the very type to learn from and try to reproduce their success over and over again.

Except, of course, there are cases where this is untrue. For example, if your update is bad news, then a Love Reaction may indicate that you didn’t communicate correctly. Or, at a more malevolent extreme, that the person or people Reacting with Love are deliberately responding inappropriately, reacting joyously to a tragic death for example.

In some cases, other types of Reactions may be preferable: if your stuff is supposed to be bland, then you probably want to see many Likes and few Loves, or if you’re a comedian you may wish to see more Haha reactions than Love reactions. This could be tricky, though, because the user might choose Love as a way of Reacting especially positively, beyond a mere Haha.

In addition, depending on what people mean by Love, it may be an emotion that fails to motivate action. The love of a beautiful tree in a pristine forest will never get as many people to sign a petition to save the forests as the anger at greedy capitalists destroying the Earth for profit.

The old saying applies that too much of anything, even Love, isn’t a good thing, but there are few scenarios where getting a lot of Love reactions is anything but a good sign of strong engagement with and positive reaction to your social posts. It doesn’t always motivate the strongest response, however.

4) Anger Can Be A Double-Edged Sword

There are cases where Anger reactions can be a good thing. An activist group, for example, might want to provoke anger in their social audiences by highlighting things they consider to be injustices, betrayals, etc…  A ‘Fight For $15’ group, for example, might highlight overpaid CEO’s given “Golden Parachute” payments for wrecking companies and laying off workers. In this case, you might expect to get a lot of Anger reactions.

On the other hand, like Sad, it should never be an unexpected reaction and if it is, then it may point to errors of communication in your social strategy, to legitimate complaints (i.e. being angry that your company’s new product update discontinued valuable features).

In addition, fostering anger can blow up in your face if the anger either turns on you. If, for example, your company ends up in a scandal that outrageous customers and fans or if it is perceived as being turned against those who doesn’t deserve it (a lesson some Gamergaters learned).

5) Laughter Is The Best Medicine

Humor is extremely engaging and shareable, so Haha Reactions can be a sign that you’ve hit that funny bone.

The danger here, potentially, is being perceived as insensitive. A Funeral Home, for example, dare approach humor cautiously at best. You may also run the risk of not being taken seriously as a brand or business, but this really depends a lot on your specific business model and intended clientele.

It may be well worth the risk, though, since essentially everything is becoming entertainment, in a way.

6) It’s Usually Good To Wow Them

It’s almost hard to see any bad connotations to Wow reactions, even though they could mean a lot of different things in context.

Seeing a lot of Wow reactions should, generally speaking, be taken as a good sign, though it’s difficult to imagine it being a good thing if Wows are the only reactions you ever get. It would either mean it doesn’t provoke any more specific reactions in users, or that it was truly a resoundingly ‘Wow’ thing.

You might expect to get a lot of Wows for sharing stunning photos, artwork, or amazing human interest stories, but in general you shouldn’t be surprised to see the Wow reaction pop up somewhat infrequently.

Emotions are Socially ‘Contagious’

In light of this new feature, it should be understood by any marketer worth his salt that these Reactions can be a powerful source of insight into the performance of your strategy and of particular campaigns and shares.

The emotional impact of your social updates on your audience is, without exaggerating, the single most important factor in how they will act in response to your posts.

A study of emotions and social media virality by French and Italian researchers found that different types of emotions resulted in different types of user sharing and engagement.

Feelings of inspiration, happiness, and amusement, such as those best indicated by the Like, Love, Haha, and Wow reactions, resulted in users being more likely to broadcast the information that inspired the reaction through Facebook shares and Twitter (re)tweets.

On the other hand, sadness, anger, and fear, as best indicated by the Sad and Angry reactions (perhaps even the Wow reaction, in some cases), resulted in more ‘narrowcasting’, with users sharing to smaller groups or just engaging in the comments section rather than sharing.

That anger results in less broadcasting may seem surprising, in light of the power anger can have to motivate behaviors, but many social media users may hesitate to share things that make them angry for various reasons.

This can, therefore, be a tricky trade-off: framing your cause as “stopping capitalist fatcats from censoring the web” may drive more petition signatures, but “keeping the open web free and innovative” may generate wider and more open sharing and engagement around your cause.

With Reactions, Facebook marketers can finally begin to directly analyze the emotional impact of their shares and campaigns on their audience. To the extent that the same Reaction can mean different things to different people, or even to the same people in different contexts, and to the extent that the feature is used instead of the default Like reaction most users are still habituated towards, it is an incomplete and imperfect source of data by itself.

Combined, on the other hand, with additional social analytics from Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other networks, or as measured by third-party social analytic services and social referral analytics (e.g. as provided by Google Analytics, Google Search Console, or link shortening services like Bit.ly and Goo.gl or other types of URL tracking data), Reactions are an invaluable new tool in measuring and adjusting your social strategy.

So how are you ‘Liking’ Facebook reactions thus far? We’d love to get your “reaction” via the comments below. 

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