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Do brands need to care about Facebook Reactions? Absolutely not

By Dan Hocking, director of integrated operations

March 2, 2016 | 3 min read

Amid much fanfare, including a major advertising campaign to support it, Facebook rolled out its new Reactions buttons globally last week. Now, instead of just giving a status a thumbs-up in the form of a “like”, you can respond in five new ways, including “sadness” or “anger” through the use of cute little emoticons.

Facebook users have taken to trialling this out, with many of my Facebook friends – some, on the platform for more than 10 years – posting just to see which reaction they would receive. However, the important issue is whether brands should care about Reactions.

And, I would say, absolutely not. The pitch from Facebook seems to revolve around the argument that we, as marketers, will possess more data and insight on the performance of our content, and that, because we will be able to tell how people are feeling, we will receive payback to us in terms of actual performance. And, that’s got to lead to better things for brands, right?

However, research from Ehrenberg-Bass Institute among others, has shown that the propensity of likes has little direct correlation to business metrics. Facebook itself has already said that engagement metrics aren’t a reliable indicator of whether social marketing has improved or benefited your business. Adding a few more ways of doing this won’t change the fact that a reaction is a throwaway, quick moment carrying no lasting impact; it’s as much an acknowledgement of the content rather than an endorsement or a clear measure. By its name, it’s reactionary, and not thought out in any deep way.

So if it doesn’t mean anything for business performance, will it tell us anything about our content performance? Well, maybe – but probably not in any of the ways we’d actually find useful. By focusing on reactions as a data point, the worry is that we will be driven down the path of content that just gets one of those reactions. Want to find a surefire way to get more reactions? Post more cute animal videos. You’ll definitely get a response – but it’s nearly certainly of little benefit to the building of the brand itself.

I worry about our future if the industry is in such a place where we depend on tallying the number of ‘crying face’ emojis as a measure of emotional response to our content.

So, Facebook Reactions. It’s good for consumers and takes advantage of the current emoji fixation. But, it’s likely to be worthless for brands. Instead, advertisers should focus on what still matters – targeting relevant audiences, frequency, and strong creative. This approach will not only work for your brand, you may even get a few smiley-faces to boot.

Dan Hocking is director of integrated operations at Leo Burnett London


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