Recently news broke that had social media watchers first briefly celebrating and then nervously reflecting.
Facebook was considering introducing a ‘dislike’ button to rest alongside its ‘like’ button.
Long a requested feature for the planet’s dominant social network, Mark Zuckerberg’s teasing of the very idea of the chance to dislike a post on the platform lit up news wires worldwide.
Time magazine explained exactly why Facebook might be interested in the things that its user base doesn’t like:
Facebook can’t read minds (yet), so the company can only guess as to which posts each user will care the most about…But clicking Like is different. It’s binary and unequivocal. You either Like something or you don’t. Therefore, it’s one of the biggest factors in News Feed’s secret sauce. Posts that attract lots of Likes from some users are placed higher up in other users’ feeds because it’s assumed they’ll attract even more engagement and Likes.
That works to some degree, but it doesn’t necessarily help Facebook meet its stated goal of “connecting the world.” After all, the 1.5 billion human beings using Facebook experience a variety of emotions besides “Like.” As the social network increasingly positions itself as a destination for news and thought-provoking conversations, “Like” grows ever more restrictive… So “Dislike,” or whatever it winds up being called, could provide a counterbalance to that phenomenon, making it easier for users to signal interest in a post or story that would be awkward to “Like.”
On the surface, a dislike button seems like a smart move for Facebook.
For one thing it will provide the company with an incredible new stream of data from their users. Clicks on a dislike button will help Facebook craft a better News Feed for each user, tailoring the content even more precisely than the existing interactions allow.
For another, when it comes to advertising, it will be useful for Facebook to know that of the ten people who have ‘liked’ a certain movie some four also dislike the lead actor. For a marketer this is useful information and will allow for even more precisely targeted advertising on the platform, and might also allow Facebook to demand even higher advertising premiums.
For the user base, too, any additional opportunity to interact with posts, photos, and news other than a simple click of the like button, a share, or a comment will be welcome. For the user who wants to highlight the civil war in Syria but understands the disconnect clicking ‘like’ on a story of human tragedy, the dislike button might be perfect.
And that’s all without even getting to the dislikes that users are ready to expend on the status updates on their twice-removed relations who never quite got over the fact that elections have both winners and losers.
But what seems to make sense for Facebook and for Facebook users might actually undermine the long term prospects of both.
Imagine, if you will, a major corporation that takes to Facebook to advertise its wares.
It invests thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on Facebook advertising, targeting those advertisements to its niche market, and building a fan base on the world’s biggest social network.
It gathers likes, shares, positive comments, and its branded Facebook page expands its reach.
Now imagine that same brand in the era of the dislike button.
With the arrival of a dislike button a small group of activist Facebook users can quickly ‘dislike’ a post or advertisement, rendering the efforts of the brand to reach out to fans and future customers ineffective. Assuming that dislikes work similarly to likes, they will be a permanent commentary on the brand and its message, one that costs the user disliking the post relatively little but could potentially cost the brand significantly.
Would a brand be willing to invest in Facebook advertising with the specter of hundreds or even thousands of dislikes hanging over their investment?
While Facebook could potentially allow advertising, brands, or business pages to exist without a dislike button, a brand that does not allow a user to dislike their posts would have trouble presenting itself as a reputable and ‘real’ brand on the platform: if you can dislike Aunt Patty’s photos but you cannot dislike Wal-Mart’s wall post, users will react, and not positively.
Expert Opinion on the Facebook Dislike Button
We reached out to social media experts to find out how they see the Facebook dislike button affecting the social media platform generally and the experience of brands on the platform specifically.
Adam Lasky, Head of D2C Marketing for Spreadshirt in North America, can see the dislike button and the combined likes/dislikes emerging as a proxy for brand trust. “I can see the proposed Facebook dislike button eventually becoming a visibility factor or part of a “brand score” that effects brand reputation on Facebook, either when posting organically (less people see it) or an ad (people see your “score”),” he says. “Almost like a trust rating. Brands have to watch what they post and be mindful of their overall “dislike” score especially as compared to their direct competitors.”
Ratko Ivanović is a Project Manager at EnCoCreative and doesn’t necessarily see the dislike button as damaging for brands. “It won’t change that much for brands who are focused on providing value to their audience,” he says. “It will change the game for brands who have been more aggressive in their posts. And they’ll get punished for slip ups, and will need more PR knowledge.”
Adam Lawrence, CEO at Strolling Wild in San Francisco, is bullish about the potential of the dislike button. “At first glance, it seems as though a Facebook dislike button will be bad for brands. After all, consumers inherently detest ads, especially those which appear on their Facebook feed, and by this logic, we could expect that Facebook users will dislike a majority of sponsored content, making advertising on Facebook less appealing for many brands.” He continues, “While this may very well happen, we need to take into consideration the benefits such a strategy could have for Facebook, forcing brands into niche markets to better curate sponsored content to deliver to users. Hence, great content tailored to the wrong market will now result in a penalty (dislikes), whereas great content tailored to the right market will result in even greater success.”
Mike Scanlin, CEO at Born To Sell, on the other hand, sees the potential for abuse. “The problem with any social scoring system is that it can be gamed. If a motivated bad actor (or unhappy customer) wants to tarnish your brand, he will be able to order 10,000 dislikes for a very small amount of cash from China or India,” he says. “The brand’s only response will be to go purchase 10,000 (or 100,000) ‘likes’. It will become a never ending war to manipulate the ranking system.”
Brock Murray, Director of Web Marketing at seoplus+ in Canada, also sees a downside. “It’s hard enough for small business to get a single “like” on Facebook, especially with the pervasive negative culture of social media. In having the option to “dislike” something, it becomes even easier for the negative voices to drown out the positive (and helpful) comments and viewpoints.” He concludes, “I’m sure brands and agencies will come up with creative ways to spin the “dislike” button for their interests, but as proposed I don’t have a good feeling about it.”
The last word goes to Bill Fish of ReputationManagement.com who explains the significant downside of the dislike button for brands. “Studies have shown that people are four times more likely take the time to leave a negative review than they are to leave a positive one. Obviously one click isn’t that much effort, but businesses are going to be very leery about a paid ad campaign with Facebook if they feel the dislike button is hurting their reputation. Facebook obviously has a stranglehold on social media and has done a phenomenal job of monetizing the site, but if they are turning away advertisers because they are nervous of too many people utilizing this ‘dislike’ button, it may not last too long.”
Facebook has long resisted calls to introduce a dislike button and may well not introduce something as binary as a like/dislike system when it eventually emerges. Instead, Facebook’s stated goal of introducing more empathy on the site could see an emoji-based system or even a ‘Sorry About That’ button – the options for the social giant are effectively limitless, despite the media narrative that has settled on ‘dislike’ as the sole real alternative to ‘like’.
For brands, a dislike button is going to change the way that they advertise, interact, engage, and share content on Facebook. For the better or for the worse? Well, that depends on implementation and, for the moment, Mr. Zuckerberg is keeping the world waiting on that count.
What do you think about the introduction of a Facebook dislike button? Will it hurt or hinder your branding efforts? Or will it help you break through? Let us know in comments below or on Twitter!
Image by Sean ManEntee.