Zuckerberg describes the intention behind the new button as creating an appropriate but positive response when the concept of Liking doesn’t fit or is too superficial or flippant. In other words, we don’t want to Like a post about loss or hardship, but we might want to express concern and support. To date, this has been done the ‘old-fashioned way’ in comments, not with a button.
The implications of a Dislike button (or whatever it is ultimately called) are layered. How will Facebook users react and click? Is this the type of emotion they want to express or are people just aching to actively Dislike annoying posts? On the advertising side, how will the marketers figure out what the consumers are actually doing — what users really MEAN by their choice of buttons — so they know how to adjust their ad strategies?
What’s In It for Users?
The ability to express emotions to other people matters to users. The new button gives people an additional way of expressing empathy for others — this makes them feel more connected. Expressing connection — whether liking or solidarity — is an exchange of social capital that creates a psychological bond.
Expressing emotional experiences and getting feedback from others can be validating. In the case of grieving, it can help someone make sense out of hardship and to begin to frame it in a way that facilitates grieving and meaning. Having support from friends can turn challenges into positive growth opportunities because even the simple click by others demonstrates social capital that exists in spite of whatever is going on. In the case of a cause or belief, social validation and affiliation normalizes and strengthens commitment.
The introduction of another emotion button may add to existing concerns held by many that we’ve turned into a society of superficial clickers suffering from relational slactivism. I don’t worry about this. Humans are social animals, driven to connect. They will choose the best way to achieve that connection. Facebook works for covering distance and bridging gaps; it provides the touch points between face-to-face encounters that enhance relationships. It does not leave people alone together.
The ability to respond with a simple click that is more socially appropriate extends the networks to those who are less closely connected to the person who posted. People who don’t know you are unlikely to post a comment and, if they do, comments from strangers feel awkward. However, having people acknowledge a loss, hardship or difficulty at a respectful distance is in keeping with offline social norms while still registering an act of caring.. People who are close — by traditional relational definitions — will still respond with a message that is more personal, just as they would offline.
What Could Go Wrong?
There is always the chance in this environment that the button is culturally appropriated and, no matter what it says on its label, is used as a sign of rejection or ‘dislike’ rather than a ‘support in bad times’ message. Therefore, designing and naming the button is important, i.e. whether it says something like “I hear you” or the more negative “. While I’m sure this challenge is on Facebook’s radar, they have an opportunity (or moral obligation?) to figure out how to manage the release and model its intended use. Releasing features and hoping for the best is very ‘social media’ but not very prudent where emotions are concerned. There are lots of ways social media advocates can be recruited and put to work to establish the common usage ahead of the trolls and haters.
The actual (rather than intended) use is a crucial factor as people are biologically responsive to being liked or disliked in the non-Facebook sense. Being disliked is more impactful because, from an evolutionary perspective, it raises our concerns of attack and abandonment — both threaten our physical and psychic survival.
Where receiving social support in times of trouble can be a positive and uplifting experience, it’s possible that receiving validation for negative emotions could negatively impact someone with depressive tendencies or someone who relies excessively on external validation. In these albeit atypical cases, an individual might ruminate rather than move forward.
What Does It Mean for Marketers?
Even the simple act of clicking increases engagement. If we’re thinking about it, we’re in the game. People do not thoughtlessly or routinely like (nor will they dislike) every post. But now it’s more complicated. It’s no longer a binary “to click or not to click” action? But now they have to think in a more nuanced way than just Like or nothing. The new button makes it a question of “what kind of emotion do I feel?” along with “what does this button actual mean I’m saying?” The human brain is lazy. This is starting to become work. For issues with marginal personal relevance, the increased cognitive burden of deciding may eliminate a click altogether. This doesn’t matter for most of us, but might be a problem for monetization formulas.
The big opportunities are for nonprofits and social causes looking for support for serious issues. They will benefit from the ability to Like without sounding too happy about it, since things like water pollution, domestic violence, drug abuse or sex trafficking, are important but Liking can be either inappropriate or subject to tacky and antisocial interpretation. People have been expressing support for these causes by Liking, but this nuance will open the door for much wider support. Visible support increases opportunities for fundraising and advertising by extending audience reach and increasing audience commitment through the validation of affiliation.
Marketers will be faced with yet another psychological conundrum: How will the introduction of the Dislike button impact the use of the Like button? There is an unspoken assumption that the new button will open the floodgates to new opinion-sharers. But the new button may turn some Likers to Dislikers. This puts a new subjective spin on data gathering. A Dislike might be a Like or it might not. Advertisers must now establish the relative value of a Like vs. Dislikeby evaluating the subjective context. Given the ‘halo effect’ of emotions on brands, it’s important to know what you’re measuring