18.09.2015 The new Facebook dislike button: Should brands fear getting the ‘thumbs down’?

Six years after the introduction of the ‘Like’ button, Facebook announced this week that it is finally offering its users a new way to respond to content by introducing a “dislike” button.

 Just a year ago, Facebook’s former CTO explained that the social network had rejected the idea of introducing such a button, explaining:

 “[The dislike button] came up a lot. In fact even the language of the word like was something we discussed a lot as well. But regarding the dislike button, the main reason is that in the context of the social network, the negativity of that button has a lot of unfortunate consequences.”

 Yet at a Q&A session held at the company’s headquarters on Tuesday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that a ‘liking’ alternative would enable users to respond empathetically to sad posts shared online. Zuckerberg told CNBC that the lengthy development process will ensure Facebook won’t be turned “into a forum where people are voting up or down on people’s posts”.

 Facebook’s rationale is that users share bad news as well as good on the social network, with Zuckerberg citing the example of sharing news stories on the current refugee crisis in Syria or posting about losing loved ones. The team behind the social network believes a new button would offer a way for users to express empathy or disapproval where a ‘like’ would be inappropriate. They hope it will expand the ways in which people interact online.

 However, with over 1.23 billion active monthly users on Facebook, what will the prospect of a ‘dislike’ button mean for brands? With many details still to be finalised, here are our initial thoughts on the implications of an alternative response button for brands.

 What will the button be called?

 A timescale for the introduction and the name of the new button has not yet been announced, but it’s very possible it won’t actually be called a ‘dislike’ button.

 What will a ‘dislike’ response option mean for sponsored content?

 There was no mention of how the button might affect branded content, especially sponsored Facebook posts.

 Are there any advantages to a ‘dislike’ button for brands?

 We believe that the function will aid the gathering of honest consumer feedback. Rather than having to sift through comments, brands will be able to gather data insights just by looking at the amount of ‘dislikes’ they might have. Not all consumers are emboldened enough to leave comments on posts they disagree with, but a ‘dislike’ tool could lead to a more realistic picture of engagement with content. Brands that act on their statistics could produce higher quality content relevant to their target audience.

 What will a thumbs down button mean for social media marketing strategies?

 Soon there will effectively be a ‘like’ versus ‘dislike’ polling system on posts, with users possibly being put off brand content if they can see that several of their friends have disliked it. One industry leader has suggested that this could effectively kill off Facebook’s Suggested Post business.

But this doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and should be seen as a positive challenge. Being able to measure both positive and negative sentiment means that marketers will be able to fine tune and improve their social marketing over time, provided they are willing to listen to their audience’s feedback and absorb a few digital punches, especially in the early stages.

 Paul Mottram, Managing director, Asia-Pacific at Text100, makes a great point about how marketers often obsess too much about likes and don’t ask why people AREN’T engaging with their brand:

 “As a discipline, we spend most of our time analysing and celebrating the usually small percentage of the audience that looks at, engages with, or responds to our marketing. Consequently, our marketing models are flawed because we deal only with the small proportion of the audience on which we have data.

 “We tend to ignore the bigger addressable audience that has not yet been impacted. Pretty much every concept of the buyer journey, from the old sales funnel to today’s more sophisticated, circular models, begins with people who don’t yet know, think, or feel anything about a brand. It follows that understanding more about this group and communicating with them more effectively will lead disproportionate gains further along the journey.”

 This is an important point. When planning social campaigns, the new thumbs down function will force marketers to ask “how many people might dislike my campaign and why?” for the first time. While this is to be welcomed, because it means considering the needs of a wider audience, there is a risk that brands could shy away from experimenting with content that is too “outside the box”.

 Could this stifle creativity and lead to more bland content? This is after all the last thing brands need in a crowded, competitive social marketplace.

 Will the button, whatever it ends up being called, drive more genuine brand engagement or put too much of a filter on brand content?

 We’d love to hear what you think. Tweet us @brightercomms #FBdislike.