Face­book users now have the capa­bility to do more than just “like” a pic­ture of their friend’s baby or a new recipe posted by their favorite food blog.

Last week, the social media plat­form launched five ani­mated emojis—love, haha, wow, sad, and angry—giving users more choices to react to posts on their news­feed beyond the tra­di­tional thumbs up.

We asked Yakov Bart, assis­tant pro­fessor of mar­keting in the D’Amore-McKim School of Busi­ness, to explain how these “reac­tions” rep­re­sent the evolving social media sphere as well as how busi­nesses can leverage the emojis in their online campaigns.

On the evo­lu­tion of social media

Face­book claims the new set of reac­tions emerged from its com­pre­hen­sive research on what emo­tions users most often would like to express in response to Face­book posts. In terms of timing, this change fol­lows a recent trend of users shifting their inter­ac­tions with Face­book to their mobile devices, where writing com­ments is rel­a­tively more effortful and time-​​consuming.”

On the ben­e­fits for businesses

Face­book, along with busi­ness page owners and pub­lishers, is likely to ben­efit from get­ting access to more gran­ular mea­sure­ment data when it comes to assessing how people react to posted con­tent and adver­tising. This improved under­standing of con­sumer sen­ti­ment may help with gen­er­ating and deliv­ering more rel­e­vant con­tent to users.”

On the poten­tial down­side for businesses

One of the biggest poten­tial down­sides that firms faced until today when posting con­tent or paying for Face­book adver­tising is simply that they could get ignored—that is, receive a low number of ‘likes’ and shares.

How­ever, con­sider now the risks that may arise when con­sumers are looking to express neg­a­tive emo­tions with the new emojis in response to branded con­tent. Just like we’ve seen Face­book con­tent go ‘viral’ and gain mil­lions of ‘likes’ in the past, it is easy to imagine how sim­ilar dynamics can lead to an oppo­site effect. Some branded adver­tising or spon­sored con­tent could become asso­ci­ated with large num­bers of much less favor­able but highly vis­ible con­sumer opin­ions, with an excess of ‘sad’ or even ‘angry’ emojis.

Con­se­quently, busi­nesses may become con­cerned with car­rying such high risk of a sub­stan­tial brand damage from the new but­tons and adopt a much more cau­tious approach when it comes to their con­tent dis­sem­i­na­tion strategy on Facebook.

In par­tic­ular, today the worst pos­sible damage from paying Face­book to ‘boost’ your con­tent reach is that your invest­ment will be wasted. In the new reality, how­ever, reaching con­sumers who are not core brand fans through boosting can actu­ally back­fire and gen­erate a highly vis­ible neg­a­tive con­sumer reac­tion that could be detri­mental to brand reputation.”

In terms of timing, this change fol­lows a recent trend of users shifting their inter­ac­tions with Face­book to their mobile devices, where writing com­ments is rel­a­tively more effortful and time-​​consuming.”
— Yakov Bart, assis­tant pro­fessor of marketing

On how this will affect con­sumer content

Indeed, users may have sim­ilar con­cerns when thinking about cre­ating and sharing their own con­tent under this new regime. Just like with brand-​​related con­tent, a typ­ical risk used to be that a user-​​generated post could get ignored or receive some neg­a­tive com­ments. How­ever, knowing how easy it might be for others to express neg­a­tive emo­tions in response to a post, users may also become more cau­tious and selec­tive in gen­er­ating and sharing content.

More­over, while many users may appre­ciate having a wide range of poten­tial emo­tional reac­tions to choose from in response to a Face­book post, some may feel over­whelmed when trying to decide whether recent pos­i­tive news from a friend deserves a ‘like,’ ‘love,’ or ‘wow,’ and may decide at the end to abstain from expressing any reac­tion at all. Both such trends—reduced con­tent gen­er­a­tion and reduced like­li­hood of reacting to con­tent gen­er­ated by others—could con­tribute to reducing user engage­ment with Face­book in the long term.”