Facebook Inc.FB +0.83% is expanding its emotional range.
The social-networking company said it is finally letting users do more than “like” what they see in their news feed, a move that businesses may favor with a thumbs up.
Facebook users can hold down the “like” button of a post to express emotions captured by seven different emojis:
angry, sad, wow, yay, haha, love, and the traditional like.
“It’s not a ‘dislike’ button, though we hope it addresses the spirit of this request most broadly,” Facebook chief
product officer Chris Cox wrote in a post on Facebook.
“We studied which comments and reactions are most commonly and universally expressed across Facebook,
then worked to design an experience around them that was elegant and fun.”
Called Reactions, the feature is initially available in Ireland and Spain. Facebook product manager Chris Tosswill said
in a blog post that the company will learn from this initial rollout what works and what doesn’t before making the
change for all users.
There’s a business side to the new feature. Half of Facebook’s blog post about Reactions is aimed at what
the change means for businesses. “We see this as an opportunity for businesses and publishers to better understand how people are responding to their content
on Facebook,” wrote Mr. Tosswill. During the test, Page owners will be able to see Reactions to all of their posts on Page insights.
Facebook had previously indicated that this was in the works. At a live-streamed Q&A session at the Facebook headquarters in September, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said for the first time that the social network
was working on something akin to a “dislike” button. Mr. Zuckerberg said then that Facebook wanted to limit the
use of the button to expressing sympathy when someone posts something sad or upsetting.
He clarified at that time that Facebook has found that users don’t want to vote down others, but instead would like to express support when someone shares something sad.
“What they really want is an ability to express sympathy,” Mr. Zuckerberg said.
“If you’re expressing something sad…it may not feel comfortable to ‘like’ that post, but your friends and people want to be able to express that they understand.”
Bret Taylor, Facebook’s former chief technology officer who is widely credited with inventing the “like” button, said the original “like” was conceived as a way to
acknowledge a post, much in the way people nod during conversations with friends. Under Mr. Taylor, Facebook
expanded the “like” button beyond its site and built the plugin that people use to share content to Facebook.
Some experts say a wider range of emotional options would give Facebook more insight into what interests its
users. “It’s a win for Facebook as a data-driven company,” said Andrea Forte, assistant professor of social computing at Drexel University. “It creates a more
controlled vocabulary that Facebook can use to understand what people’s responses are to items in their news feed.”
But Mr. Taylor said adding features is tricky because it doesn’t necessarily lead to more engagement. He added that the “like” button’s power comes from its simplicity and adding options to the screen would be “an additional cognitive load” for users.