Emotional issues: do Facebook’s emoticons pose a risk to brands?

At the end of last year, the marketing world was abuzz with the news that the Zuck and his team at Facebook had revealed the evolution of the like button as series of emotional ‘reactions’, which are still being tested. There’s been a lot of talk about what this could mean for brands and whether it might further enable anonymous keyboard warriors and cyber bullying.

Zuckerberg has positioned the move as a commercial decision to give users further ability to express empathy. Certainly, not every moment is a good moment. Liking posts about large-scale disasters like the Syrian refugee crisis has never felt right, nor has liking a neighbour’s post about the death of her dog. 

Of course, there will be those who embrace reactions as an additional channel to spread negativity. But what could this mean for brands?
On the surface we’re entering uncharted territory and giving consumers even more power to express brand love or the polar opposite, but could the addition of buttons on one social channel really change things? 

Brands are held to account more than ever by consumers. You must be relevant, you must be useful and you must be authentic or you’ll be called out quickly and publicly. London job site City Calling learnt this the hard way recently with a particularly awful idea to use the plight of the homeless to promote their brand.

At the other end of the spectrum sits the response to the official Volkswagen apology for violation of emissions standards. A scan of the comments on its US Facebook page makes for interesting reading. It’s been authentic and honest in its positioning and the social response seems universally supportive.

To help keep our customers informed with the latest information, we encourage owners of affected 2.0L TDI vehicles to sign up to receive communications and updates. Visit vwdieselinfo.com to sign up.

Posted by Volkswagen on Wednesday, 28 October 2015

You only need to look at digitally native brands like Uber, Airbnb and Trip Advisor, which have successfully disrupted the market with genuinely useful services, to see that authentic brands don’t need to desperately seek brand love on social.

Likes in isolation are a very poor measure of brand engagement and additional quick-touch reaction buttons will be too. It’s been a long time since the heady days where organic reach was a magic Facebook gift for brands and as Zuckerberg continues to harness the power of his advertising channel this will only continue. Just as likes in isolation are a poor engagement measure, Facebook in isolation is a poor marketing choice. 

Brands need to be where their customers are to be able to engage in authentic and relevant conversations with them, no matter what channel they’re on.

There are so many unknowns. Will reactions get out of the test phase? Will they run on brand pages? Will there ever be a dislike button? The digital world is ever changing and we’ll continue to be faced with new challenges. Do brands need to continue to take their social responsibility seriously? Yes. Should marketers be shaking in their boots with the prospect of a new way for consumers to express emotions? No. 

Brands need to be real, meaningful and helpful in a digital world to succeed. Continuing to focus on this with or without Facebook buttons in our lives will reap far more rewards than counting the number of thumbs up, down or sideways on your social posts.

  • Jacqui Copas is a business director at Chemistry Interaction. [email protected]
  • This coulmn originally appeared in the November/December edition of NZ Marketing.

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