Facebook Reactions debuted as the ad tech industry looks more seriously at emotional analysis. Eventually, consumers will only see the ads they want to see when and where they want to see them.
But for Facebook specifically and ad tech broadly, it’s early days in emotion. Facebook still has to figure out how to get more users to react with its nuanced responses while the ad tech industry grapples with creating more sophisticated behavior modeling to help improve programmatic marketing.
A Brief History of Reactions
For Mother’s Day, Facebook tested out a temporary flower-shaped Reaction meant to express gratitude. It marked the first adjustment to its Reactions since Facebook’s February announcement that it was extending the Like button to include a broader range of emotions, such as Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, and Angry. In a press release, Facebook said the change was the culmination of more than a year of global research into user preferences and behavior.
And, by some accounts, it is also an effort to appeal to mobile users who don’t want to type out more nuanced responses – and it further parallels the rise of emoji in an increasingly chat-based culture.
By giving users more options, Facebook Reactions enhance the user experience and, per initial research, they are indeed doing just that. (Even if the vast majority of users are still just “Liking” content.)
But, naturally, this isn’t an entirely benevolent move from Facebook. In fact, as Wired noted, it’s likely also an effort to increase engagement and to make its News Feed – and ads – more personalized.
Here’s a closer look at how Facebook can potentially use data from its Reaction buttons beyond simply better targeting.
I.e., with insight from Reactions, Facebook can:
1. Collect More Emotional Data
Reactions are an extension of what Lauren Moores, vice president of strategy at digital intelligence firm Dstillery, called emotional data, which she said is part of a broader trend in which ad tech is gathering emotional signals from sources like facial expressions and emoticons, which will ultimately be used for better targeting. In other words, Facebook, too, is seeking a more qualified examination of how its users react to advertising, which could eventually be used to better pinpoint the right consumer, device, and moment for ad content.
“It’s a very savvy way to test out whether there’s any value to the classification of content this way,” Moores said. “It’s a start. Others are trying to do it, but I don’t think any of us know where it goes. Think of what’s happening with wearables and the ability to understand where I am and where you are regarding emotions. It’s not only the right ad at the right time, but it’s also the right context. It’s getting me when I want to receive that message.”
Similarly, Bryan Segal, CEO of social technology firm Engagement Labs, said the integration of these emoji-like buttons provides more qualitative emotional intelligence from Facebook rather than simply quantitative, such as the number of Likes.
2. Adjust its Algorithm so Sentiment is a Ranking Factor
Oren Greenberg, the founder of digital marketing consultancy Kurve, agreed Reactions are an easy way for Facebook to dip its toe into sentiment analysis and said he expects Facebook will add Reactions to its algorithm as a ranking factor, which, in turn, will impact the posts users see.
Lux Narayan, CEO of social media analytics firm Unmetric, too, said Facebook could provide a better user experience by including Reactions in its News Feed algorithm.
“Separating out likes [versus] loves [versus] the negative response gives a much clearer view of consumer response, and we can only assume that Facebook will follow by adding to the scoring [of its algorithm],” said Mike Jacobs, managing partner of media at boutique ad agency Proper Villains.
In other words, a more detailed view of user responses could allow for better post optimization, as well as better data on what content is most popular by consumer. And that, in turn, could yield better content and more visibility, Jacobs said.
3. Better Segment Users
Further, by classifying emotions, Facebook will better know users’ moods and preferences and should be able to segment users based on these reactions, Moores said. That means Facebook can then deliver the ideal content to each of these user types in future moments.
Jitesh Keswani, co-founder of content and digital marketing agency e-Intelligence, agreed that by using insights into users’ emotional states, Facebook could decide what types of posts and ads to show in their respective News Feeds.
4. Offer Emotional Targeting
The social network could also take it a step further and eventually use this emotional data for ad targeting, which would allow advertisers to zero in on users based on the specific reactions they had to a type of content, said David Erickson, vice president of online marketing for public relations firm Karwoski & Courage.
“Conservative political campaigns, for instance, could target Facebook users who reacted angrily to articles about Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders or President Obama and vice versa for liberal candidates,” he added.
5. Better Serve More Relevant Content in News Feeds
Also, data from Reactions could simply be used to fine-tune the content users see in their News Feeds.
According to Adam Binder, founder of digital marketing agency Creative Click Media, the ulterior motive behind the Like button was to help Facebook collect data about the types of content a user is interested in and continue to show them similar posts.
“Having six options with these new Reactions allows Facebook to collect even more nuanced data, and eventually, we can expect Facebook to tailor a user’s News Feed to only display content relevant to the types of Reactions they use most,” Binder said. “For example, if a user is frequently using the Haha reaction and Facebook’s data takes notice of this trend, they can eventually expect their News Feed to be predominantly filled with humorous posts and advertisements for comedic movies.”
Jamie Hill, CEO of search advertising marketplace adMarketplace, agreed that Facebook’s algorithm will better know users’ tastes and moods and can theoretically adjust their News Feeds accordingly.
Mike Coughlin, founder of advertising agency Digital Blue Creative, too, said the ability to leverage data to better customize what’s delivered in the News Feed yields a better user experience, which, in turn, means users may spend more time on Facebook.
6. Adjust Which Brands and Ads Users See
What’s more, per Narayan, factoring in emotional data could mean the Facebook ads that receive positive reactions surface most frequently.
Further, Justin Emig, director of search marketing at Web Talent Marketing, noted potential in adjusting the advertisers that appear in the News Feed to reflect users’ moods and interests.
“If someone has an extremely positive reaction to a particular user or brand’s post, Facebook could use this data to artificially elevate that brand in the eyes of the consumer, providing better-personalized content,” Emig said. “If someone has an angry emotion, based upon the context of the actual post they are angry about, this could either provide Facebook with information to suppress this brand/user’s posts moving forward, or keep them ranking high on the News Feed, because it is a topic the user is interested in.”
7. Offer Ads Served Next to Posts That Elicit Positive Responses
Furthermore, Reactions give Facebook the potential to offer its advertisers the ability to serve ads next to the posts that have generated positive reactions.
“Even if unrelated in content, an ad served next to a post that makes people mad or sad could make them psychologically less open to the ad,” Narayan added.
8. Encourage Brands to Boost Posts That Get Loves or Wows
Facebook could also encourage advertisers to boost their own well-liked posts to ensure the content users like most is seen by the widest possible audience.
“Facebook could even potentially allow for auto-boost options down the line,” Narayan said. “So when an organic post gets relatively more Loves and Wows, paid promotion will automatically kick in after a certain threshold of positive Reactions is reached.”
9. Make More Money
And, as ads become more targeted and optimized, Narayan said Facebook could even charge more for inventory and increase revenue through promoted posts while allowing brands to experiment with promoting posts based on audience reactions.
10. Demonstrate Value to Advertisers
Per Samantha Kretmar, social research analyst at intent-based digital marketing firm Acronym Media, the Reaction buttons are simply another way for Facebook to try to demonstrate engagement value to advertisers.
“As the value of a Facebook post Like or new account follower has come under question, I think Facebook views the Reaction buttons as a way to try to demonstrate a more valuable form of user engagement, meaning brands have the opportunity to better understand exactly how their customers are reacting to their content with something as clear as a happy or sad face,” she said. “In reality, I don’t think the click of a Reaction button represents a type of engagement that presents any more value for marketers nor does it solve the issues marketers grapple with frequently, which returns to the question of value of engagements in the first place.”
Further, Kretmar said this type of interaction might ultimately give brands less information about users because the latter simply react with the push of a button rather than explaining their responses in comments.
“Additionally, with the dramatic advances in machine learning and the ability for social listening software to measure things like sentiment, written responses and user engagements prove highly valuable and the written content offers a robust source for analysis,” Kretmar said. “I find it difficult to imagine grasping the same depth of insight or understanding from Reactions, and I don’t see them offering a robust source of data to measure when it comes to sentiment analysis.”
Indeed, Sam Williamson, SEO executive at digital media agency Aims Media, said Reactions have presented some difficulties for his clients, who find it increasingly challenging to interact with disgruntled customers on social media because many are choosing to simply leave a Reaction rather than a comment.
“Not only does this make it much harder for our clients to identify why the customer is disgruntled, but it also makes it harder to get in touch with them to resolve the issue, as you cannot reply to a Reaction as easily as you can reply to a comment,” he added.
11. Position Itself as an Ad Exchange
Kretmar also said she suspects Facebook will continue to offer innovations like Reactions in attempts to further entice advertisers as it positions itself as more of an ad exchange than a social network.
Indeed, Thomas Mathew, chief product officer at social analytics platform Zoomph, said the Reaction buttons open opportunities for sophisticated behavior modeling.
“Understanding engagement drivers, and pairing that with advanced text analytics, can drive programmatic marketing in a very radical direction,” he added.
12. Inform Platform Updates
But beyond using emotional data to determine what content to deliver, Garrett Mehrguth, CEO of digital agency Directive Consulting, said Facebook could also use data from its Reaction buttons to inform future platform updates.
“Facebook can look at whether videos, images, or regular statuses generate the most diverse Reactions, and improve or update those platforms accordingly,” he said. “If they find that videos are generating a lot of Love or Wow reactions, they can plan new updates or features to that platform and see if it generates even more diverse reactions. In other words, they can improve the overall platform by looking at what types of content create what reactions and then optimize the ratio of content their users are consuming.”
What’s your take on the marketing potential for emotional data? Is this the future of targeting? Or is this reading too much into a heart, a smiley face, and a tear?