What does a Facebook ‘dislike’ button mean for brands?

GeorgePappasFacebook is set to introduce buttons to allow people to express emotions other than ‘like’, but George Pappas asks what this might mean for brands on the social network.   

“Not every moment is a good moment”, said Mark Zuckerberg, as the Facebook CEO announced it is looking to introduce a ‘dislike’ button. The core intention of this move is to allow people to express emotions that aren’t necessarily positive, such as empathy. Some commentators are guessing that it may actually be an “empathise” or “sorry” button, not necessarily a ‘dislike’ one.

But what does this mean for brands?

Zuckerberg has stated publicly that Facebook will deliberately avoid negativity. With that in mind, one would automatically be encouraged by a new form of engagement. Commonly, brands are looking at core engagement metrics on Facebook such as clicks, likes, comments and shares. This new button – whether it’s an ‘empathise’ or a ‘dislike’ – excitingly adds a new engagement type. It is now easier for users to express sympathy – before this new addition, users would have to comment and share their own thoughts to express anything along these lines.

This also highlights an inherent danger of this new feature. Often, users would feel inclined to comment on content pieces to share their sympathy and show empathy – particularly on content produced by brands.  Now, users will simply click a button to register their feelings instead of the deeper and richer engagement that comments afford.

Another potential danger posed by this new button is content hijacking. Brands, particularly in the last 12 months, have gone to great lengths to achieve organic cut-through on Facebook and have allocated more time and resources into producing relatable and engaging content. By creating a new button that shows dissatisfaction, sympathy or empathy, brands are now exposed to an even easier way of hijacking content pieces and ultimately pushing them out of feeds.

Even if Facebook prompts users to use this new button to express sympathy, do not be surprised if users don’t adhere to these guidelines. Reddit, for instance, expressly specifies that you should only downvote comments that don’t contribute to the conversation. However, users have increasingly been using this button to show disapproval and disagreement (or to just bury something they don’t like).

The area of this debate that is most intriguing at this early stage is how engagement with the dislike button will be dealt with algorithmically. Will it be seen as a negative engagement type (such as hiding posts from a page), or will it boost overall engagement and thus be seen positively by Facebook’s algorithm? This is the most crucial component for brands, as they determine whether or not to shy away from producing content that could provoke use of this new engagement type.

I’m sceptical that disliking will be shorthand for empathy as it’s an easy conduit for negativity, but only time will tell. Brands, that have invested heavily in engaging audiences on Facebook, may well be the guinea pigs on just how successfully or not its hundreds of millions of users abide by its stated intentions.

  • George Pappas is the co-founder of digital agency, G Squared

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