Facebook is to be commended for making changes – most importantly, for recognizing the diversity and richness of human emotions, and reflecting these emotions in social interactions. But this is just a start. Given the number of Facebook users and inertia in changing user habits, this process of adding emotions is likely to continue into the future.

Facebook has started offering other choices behind their Like button – they call it Reactions. Instead of simply offering Like as a response to a post, now users can react by saying Love, Haha, Wow, Sad or Angry.

These are the new reactions introduced by Facebook

The new Reactions introduced by Facebook

Facebook has historically been open to changing aspects of its site, e.g, changing the News Feed, or introducing the Like button. Generally, Facebook has pushed through user resistance to these changes. Reactions is a change that seems long overdue and one that has been requested by users for a long time. However, I argue below that the implementation of Reactions leaves much to be desired, and that user uptake and adoption could have been better if done differently. Expect to see Reactions being fine tuned and changed over the coming weeks and months.

Inertia of Like

The Like button has historical inertia for Facebook, users and advertisers. Like is a blunt form of engagement, meaning one of many different emotions or reactions. Fundamentally though, Like is not an emotion. Like signifies enjoyment or approval, not emotions. Adding emotions to Like is grafting two different plants together – they may eventually merge, but on the surface, they look completely different. As a result, I anticipate that users will continue to use Like for the majority (80% or higher) of their reactions, since it is familiar and other reactions are unrelated to Like.

A Motley Mix of Reactions

There are three issues here which are likely to inhibit usage and adoption:

  1. Mix of meanings: While Love, Sad or Angry are emotions, Haha and Wow are not emotions. Haha is an expression of laughter, amusement or entertainment, and a proxy for emotion of Happiness or Joy. All of us have seen the more common LOL, but perhaps Facebook felt LOL was too casual or dated. Wow is a proxy for the emotion of Surprise.
  2. Mix of design: Four of the five emotions are represented by an animated face emoji, but Love is represented by the heart. While different variations of emoji were covered in development, none surprisingly show the animated face with heart for eyes.
  3. Mixed meanings across social media: Facebook chose the emoji of heart to show Love, but just a few months ago, Twitter changed its symbol for favorites from Star to Heart. Twitter calls their heart symbol a Like. Confusion between Like (thumbs up – Facebook), Love (heart – Facebook) and Like (heart – Twitter) across different social networks will inhibit usage, since users need to process and recall different meanings for the same icon.

No Negative Emotions

Facebook had the opportunity to introduce emotions like Disgust, Disappointment or Contempt, but chose not to do so. Human beings are not one dimensional – they want to interact online with the same richness and complexity of emotions they feel in the real world. Limiting reaction choices to only positive emotions directly leads to limiting user engagement and the reinforcing the use of blunt Like button.

No Change in Status

Reactions allow users a simple way to provide feedback to a post. However, a user cannot signify their emotion/feeling when creating that post in an easy or simple manner. The process involves several layers of embedded menus to get to feelings like Happy, Loved, Blessed, Crazy, etc. Facebook had an opportunity to simplify the Status posting process. By doing so, the user could specify their emotion when creating that post. This would probably have led to greater clarity and consistency in feedback from friends. For example, if you state that you are feeling Sad when you post, chances are that your friends are not going to respond with Love, Haha or Wow – more likely with Sad or Angry. Now when you post, and your friends respond with Love, Sad and Angry (for example), what are you supposed to make of it?

Look for additional changes in Reactions. I believe this is a good start, but just the beginning of a journey for Facebook.