How should a business react to Facebook’s new ‘reactions’?

Written by on March 3, 2016 in Guest Blog with 2 Comments

DislikesBack in September, Mark Zuckerberg unveiled plans to create new reactions on Facebook. For years, they had been asked for a ‘dislike’ button – that is, a way to convey a negative emotion towards a blog post. You may want this if someone had failed their driving test for example.

It was clear Facebook had no intention of doing this. Will Oremus argued adding a ‘dislike’ button is a barrier to engagement. It may encourage people to think about what they’re posting, and would be a barrier to Facebook’s growth as it’s users start to prioritise ‘truth’ over a ‘nice fuzzy feeling’.

“Its algorithms optimize for “engagement,” which includes posts, likes, clicks, shares, and comments. Among the metrics Facebook does not optimize for: honesty, exchange of ideas, critical thinking, or objective truth.”

So why did Facebook choose to roll out these new ‘reactions’?

For ages Facebook has been using the ‘like’ button and other engagement metrics to prioritise individual newsfeeds with status updates, photos and articles. The express aim being to keep-em-coming-back.

By enabling six new emotions or ‘reactions’ to attach to a post, Facebook has a way of expanding their algorithm to engage their users even more. The more data you have on a person’s behaviour, the more you can engage that user, and also (potentially) pass the information onto advertisers – driving up prices and providing massive advantage over the competition.

It is no secret Facebook has used this type of data to manipulate users news feeds in the past. They have conducted experiments to see if they can make their users happy or sad using their algorithm as well as creating ‘echo-chambers’ where users are inundated with information about the Ice Bucket Challenge, when the Ferguson riots were hardly mentioned at all on the platform.

But Facebook is a consumer platform – why does this matter for business?

This may seem irrelevant to a business audience, nobody really relies on a Facebook newsfeed for content related to their business goals. However, this attitude is wrong. It’s becoming more and more commonplace for you to be served content based on your reactions. Twitter made a similar move recently, and Linkedin and Google adapts content feeds with similar algorithms.

This ultimately means an engineer who has no idea what your needs are, creates algorithms which will decide upon whether you will see a particular piece of information or not. Your access to knowledge is blocked. As we know from political history, as soon as access to information is controlled by someone other than ‘the people’, then opinions can be completely controlled.

This is an extreme way of looking at algorithms. To look at a more practical example; in business and at work, you win or lose based on your knowledge. If you are relying on algorithms which serve you content based on what you’ve liked or disliked before, or worse, on what is trending right now – then you have no way of differentiating what you know from the competition. You have no way of predicting what might happen in the future, and have the grounds for true research.

For reactions to work you need context

There is a fundamental problem with using ‘reactions’ for workplace activity – it is way too simplistic. Your reaction to something depends entirely on the context. Say an article is written about ‘social media marketing’. An in-house social media manager will ‘like’ the article because it gives them information to do their job, a social media agency will ‘love’ the article because they have been featured, it will make their competitors ‘angry’, messaging apps may find the article ‘haha’ because social media has way less engagement than their medium. It all depends on your perspective.

As my colleague pointed out; he doesn’t know what he is telling Facebook when he says a post makes him ‘angry’. Facebook will never understand the context. Emily Dreyfuss points out something similar in an article for Wired:

“Maybe a status update about, for instance, the right-to-die debate would have once made you feel “ambivalent,” but perhaps now you’ll just feel “Sad,” and move right along.”

My point is reactions need to have context to be useful for business. You need to understand the reactions of a small group of like-minded people in order to understand the usefulness and correct interpretation of the article. You don’t want the reactions of a small group of people who have completely different motives, nor the wide range of reactions from a large community.

The battle for content engagement is being fought by Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn and other tech giants. It’s important for businesses to remain vigilant over what is happening in their content discovery, as well as how they should react to it, in order to maintain their competitive advantage when it comes to knowledge.

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Alice Thwaite

About the Author

About the Author: Alice is Head of Commercial at Cronycle - a platform for content discovery, creation and curation. She is interested in future of communication and the way technology can be used for sharing and creating knowledge. She can be contacted via alice@cronycle.com. .

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  1. Dean Bubley Dean Bubley says:

    This isn’t just about businesses. It’s also about people’s pages, performers, public bodies etc.

    For example, to comment or “engage” with a political party’s page, you need to “like” it, which is anathema for anyone who has a different point of view. This should potentially enable more engagement – albeit not all of it positive.

    • Alice Thwaite Alice Thwaite says:

      Hi Dean,
      Thanks for your comment!
      Unsure what you mean by it though.
      My point is that news feeds are being controlled by inputs – like reactions – and we have no idea what the algorithm is that is behind our inputs that will then serve us content in the future.

      On a personal level, this may not matter so much. But for businesses who depend on what they know to survive, it is incredibly important to understand the prohibitions in place that enables you to access content. Because so many popular content providers are moving towards an non-transparent algorithmic filtering model – this is something ‘knowledge workers’ should be aware of.

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