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What will the Facebook dislike button really mean for brands?

Media commentators have this week been offering their varied opinions on the announcement by Mark Zuckerberg that Facebook are working on a ‘dislike’ button. The often requested feature, it seems, has been in the works at Facebook HQ for some time now and is “very close” to being ready to roll out for testing. 

"People have asked about the 'dislike' button for many years. Probably hundreds of people have asked about this, and today is a special day because today is the day that I actually get to say we are working on it, and are very close to shipping a test of it." Zuckerberg announced on Tuesday. 

Media commentary on the announcement has been mixed, from people expressing their concerns that it is a horrible idea, to those who’ve welcomed the opportunity to express emotions that aren’t necessarily positive. 

In our industry however, the biggest question the announcement poses is what will the “dislike” button really mean for brands?

The truth is that nobody outside of Facebook HQ really knows what the feature will be. We could spend hours trying to guess Facebook’s strategy and reading opinion pieces from key media outlets, but no one really knows for sure what this new feature is or exactly how it will work. We can however give our view on what we think will work and why. 

Facebook has always been a platform that has focussed on its consumers, the people who use it everyday for the sole purpose it was created – connecting with their friends, but Facebook is ultimately a money making organisation, built around the millions of brands that use it and fund it. 

They are certainly aware that their power in the world of advertising is key, and they won’t want to do anything to threaten that. If they simply added the “dislike” button and gave users the opportunity to express their displeasure at any post, brand pages (especially those who deal highly with customer complaints on their pages) would be inundated with “dislikes” overnight. That’s not going to please those companies with a massive presence on Facebook, who are spending significant amounts of money with them. We can make an educated guess, that there is no way Facebook, or their investors, would allow this to happen. 

Zuckerberg clearly expressed during the announcement that the button was for use when ‘liking’ doesn’t seem like an appropriate response, like communicating empathy about negative news. 

It is much more likely that the button will be introduced as an option to those posting to Facebook, so that they can choose to have people ‘dislike’ their post rather than “like” it, so that their friends don’t have to “like” their bad news, but instead show solidarity through disliking it. It’s worth noting that Zuckerberg didn’t mention the feature could be used to show displeasure or anger, just sympathy, so this model would fit that goal, by putting the choice in the hands of the original poster.

Facebook has had its fair share of controversy, and in the age of the “media troll” it will not want to open more avenues to be seen as advocating trolling. It’s clear the feature will not be a down-vote system, which is a feature used on Reddit where though specified as a tool to down-vote comments that don’t contribute to conversation, users have increasingly used it to show disapproval and disagreement. 

Of course this, as all other commentary on the topic, is just a guess and Facebook could simply add a dislike button, alongside the present ‘like’ button, but even this would be a benefit to brands. 

The feature would provide huge insight for brands, providing useful data and understanding around their content. Allowing consumers to dislike content will help brands understand what their customers want from their content and what they’re connecting with on a daily basis. Which, in turn would be beneficial to consumers. 

Brands being able to clearly listen to what their audience like and don’t like on their channel, being able to define the type of content their key consumer wants to see, would help come full circle when it comes to advertising on the platform. More insights on audiences would be readily available to them, for example Facebook algorithms would be able to define who ‘dislikes’ pizza, so brands can avoid spending money on advertising to that person. It adds another layer of clever filtering and targeting, something that brands still crave.  

Ultimately, only time will tell us what the new Facebook feature will provide, but whatever it is, it will be beneficial to brands. They can’t afford it not to be.