PRs mostly like Facebook's new 'dislike' button but still waiting for details

PR and marketers appear interested in the possible implications of Facebook's potential new 'dislike' button, after the social media giant's CEO announced that the firm was "working on" the new feature.

Asked in a Q&A yesterday about the prospect of adding to the existing 'like' feature on Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg said: "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."

Despite being widely reported as a done deal, there is no guarantee that a dislike button will actually ever be released. And, as Robin Grant, global MD of the agency We Are Social says, it might be that it is not relevant to companies own Facebook pages.

Grant said: "Mark Zuckerberg has been explicit that he doesn't want Facebook to turn into a platform for voting on posts, so a 'dislike' button may not appear on every post. It seems to be primarily intended for people to express empathy for a 'sad' post where a 'like' would not be not appropriate - it's too early to see how it'll impact brands' use of the platform."

While also acknowledging that the dislike button plans are still be finalised, Nev Ridley - MD at Manifest Communications in the UK - said that the prospect "does create some pretty interesting opportunities" for brands and PR professionals.

He said: "For example, it opens up the possibility of marketing and PR campaigns getting net-negative reactions or interactions, and the question of how that is interpreted in terms of brand awareness. It could even be that more aggressive, challenger brands might actually court genuinely negative ‘dislikes’ as a part of their campaign strategies."

Inna Semenyuk, digital director at MHP Communications in London, said that a dislike button had "useful potential" to give brands an idea of consumer sentiment, saying: "Sentiment measurement is a big challenge in PR and digital. Computers still have to learn a lot about human thought processes, sense of humour and contextual aspects of written speech.

"We will only be able to truly access the impact of dislike button on marcoms once the button is tried and tested by users. Both the use of the button and Facebook’s plan for it is likely to evolve very quickly."

PRWeek Asia also spoke to a number practitioners in the region about the potential new button, who said the data it provides should benefit brands. However, some suggested that it would lead to more caution from Asian brands were it to be installed. Angelina Ong, Asia president at Cohn & Wolfe, said: "From a cultural perspective in Asia, where ‘face’ is important, there may be an initial dip in terms of content postings as Asian users in certain markets may be concerned about receiving ‘dislikes’ to their postings, thereby causing embarrassment," she added.

However, another marketer in Hong Kong told PRWeek Asia that enlightened marketers "should see Facebook's 'dislike' button as a positive challenge".

Finally, another commentator suggested there would be appetite for more than just a 'dislike' button. Richard Jones, co-founder and CEO of digital engagement platform EngageSciences, said: "Social networks are platforms for expression, and permitting users to only interact with brands in such a binary way impedes this. The next logical step would be to introduce an emoji-based system where opinion is respected and celebrated so users can express a true range of emotions."

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