Facebook Reactions and Facebook Algorithms – What You Need to Know

Written by Laura Roeder

On March 1, 2016

In case you were getting worried that Facebook’s algorithms are just way too easy to understand, have no fear – they’re about to get a lot more complicated.

Facebook just introduced an earth-shattering change to the way users Like updates, and it’s opening the door for huge algorithm changes in the future. They didn’t get rid of the Like button – but the Like button ain’t the only game in town anymore.

Now, Facebook offers Reactions – a way to engage with posts other than Liking them.

It’s a change they’ve been testing out in different parts of the globe since last year, and on February 24, they rolled it out worldwide – it’s available now to every single user on the network.

So – what do you REALLY need to know about this change?

How does it work, exactly? How does it affect your updates’ statistics? And maybe most importantly, what’s it mean for the Facebook algorithms that determine who sees your posts? You can check out Facebook’s official announcement of the new feature here, but here’s a quick breakdown of what matters most.

How Reactions Work

We’ve all been there.

You’re cruising your News Feed. Your old college roommate has posted a status update about the death of his beloved Cocker Spaniel, Sgt. Pepper.

Sgt Pepper

You want to show your support, but Liking the post sends kind of the wrong message, right? You don’t like that Sgt. Pepper has shuffled off this mortal coil, but short of leaving a comment, the best you can do is slap a big ol’ thumbs up on that post.

Now, Facebook is giving you a lot more options.

Hover your mouse over the Like button, and you can add a reaction to a post conveying a wider variety of emotions – happy, sad, stunned, and so on.

Here’s an example of how they look in the feed, as seen on actor Vin Diesel’s Facebook page:

Vin Diesel Update

Click on the reactions, and you’ll see a breakdown of how other users have responded:

Vin Diesel Reactions

(Side note: Why is someone sad that Vin is making a third xXx movie?)

This interface will be familiar to anyone who uses programs like Slack, which also allow users to react to messages with a wide variety of emoticons:

Slack Reaction

This non thumb-based way of reacting to posts has been showing up on other popular networks, so it’s not entirely surprising that Facebook’s adopted it, too.

But while reactions seem simple for the average user, they’re actually a lot more complex – especially if you manage a Facebook Page.

And that’s where the algorithm comes in.

How Reactions Will Affect Your Facebook Marketing

Reactions aren’t necessarily impacting your Facebook marketing just yet – but they’re going to, and in a big way.

First of all, you’ll notice that they’ve already impacted your statistics. Check out your Page’s Insights tab, and you can see that “Likes” has been replaced:

Facebook Insights Comparison

Right now, every type of reaction is lumped together, and they all have the same value as a Like.

Whether someone responds to your update with a sad face, a heart, the traditional thumbs-up, or something else, Facebook’s algorithm will interpret it simply as a reaction – it doesn’t matter what type of reaction it is.

But that’s all going to change.

According to Facebook, their algorithm is going to change in the future so that different types of reactions are weighted differently, and influence the type of content you see in different ways.

They’re still figuring out how this should work, so for now, this isn’t something you need to worry about. In the future, though, clicking the sad face may have different consequences for what someone sees in their News Feed than if they had clicked a happy face. Clicking a heart for Love may have different consequences than clicking a thumbs-up for Like.

This also means that Facebook could start making judgement calls about how emotional responses reflect what people want to see online, and how they behave. A few years ago, for example, they earned some harsh criticism for conducting an informal experiment along these lines, intentionally showing users emotionally negative content to see if it altered their behavior. It did.

While Facebook’s new reactions feature isn’t affecting the algorithm (or the content people see in their News Feeds) just yet, it does grant the network unprecedented insight into the emotions experienced by its users, how those emotions influence behavior, and what patterns of influence emerge based on the content people see, engage with, and post.

Facebook is now getting unprecedented insight into the emotional states of its users. Click to Tweet

Just to be clear, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Facebook’s plan, as they describe it, is to figure out a way to interpret reactions so that users are seeing more of the types of content they want to see.

How they’re going to accomplish this remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: this method of measuring engagement and relevance is going to be a lot more sophisticated – and a lot more complex – than anything we’ve seen before.

So don’t panic…

Facebook looks (and acts) a lot differently from how it used to, and it’s going to be a lot more different in the future.

For now, though, reactions aren’t something you need to worry about – just something to be aware of. They may not be a huge influence on the type of content you post just yet, but as time goes on, they probably will – so get used to ‘em.

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