Word first came a few months back that Facebook would introduce reaction buttons in the form of emoji, to give users the chance to express a range of emotions apart from like.
The new reaction buttons Facebook rolled out last week include "haha," "wow," angry," "love," and "sad." To use one of them, a user hover over or hold down (on mobile) the like button to pull up the list of animated emoji.
For Facebook users, this means there's a slightly more nuanced way to react to posts while still barely exerting the minimum effort involved with hitting a button.
For marketers, Facebook Reaction buttons might just be another vanity metric poised to distract from real engagement.
"What these Facebook Reactions are going to do is diversify the vanity metrics system, and it's going to facilitate a new type of marketing approach that's going to then try to trigger different types of reaction," said Altimeter analyst Brian Solis. The problem, though, is that while likes or wows can activate an engagement, they aren't engagements themselves.
Similarly, Gartner analyst Jay Wilson, doesn't see much gain for marketers in getting to distinguish between a wow and a haha, especially at a time when they should be more focused on real social KPIs tied to business objectives, rather than vanity metrics.
He did say there may be some value in knowing how many people a brand has angered with a post, but, it's the internet—a brand would probably would find that out anyway. One theory Wilson heard involves the idea that the angry button could stave off comments about why the person is angry, saving brands some embarrassment.
"But that's where the value is, it's in the why. If you're going to make it easy for people to indicate they're mad at a brand, you at least want the opportunity to address it and that requires context," he said.
Solis has a bit of optimism for Facebook Reaction buttons, as long as marketers can use them to design for what he called the art of engagement, art being actions, reactions, and transactions. The wow isn't the end goal, but a moment leading to it.
"I like to think about these reactions as humanizing this engagement where I have your attention, you have my attention, and now we do something with that, so it's almost like marketing has an opportunity to convert impressions to expressions," he said.
Brands are already trying to figure out what to do with these reaction buttons.
Alayna Frankenberry is a staff writer and social media and digital PR manager for digital marketing firm The Content Factory. The Content Factory represents brands like Fairtrade America and Astroglide.
She said the buttons could provide the opportunity for users to start interacting with posts they might not have been comfortable liking in the past. For example, Frankenberry manages Astroglide's account.
"I sometimes share information on HIV, violence affecting the transgender community, and discrimination against LGBTQ individuals. These are topics Astroglide's followers want to talk about, but they don't necessarily want to say they like the news being shared. Facebook reactions could be extremely valuable for encouraging engagement on posts like these," she said.
That could be a great thing for users, but still complicate the lives of those brandside. Facebook has already rolled out updates to its Facebook Insights to show the breakdown of reactions, but it's another layer to be deciphered and presented to those receiving the reports—and not always easily. Frankenberry gave another example of interpreting negative reactions and whether they're negative toward the brand or not.
"If Astroglide posts about the growing rate of HIV in a specific community and many users react with a sad or angry reaction, they are agreeing with Astroglide that this is an upsetting development, not voicing their sadness or anger with the brand itself," she said.
Erin Carson has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Erin Carson is a Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.