The complexity of Facebook’s “dislike” button – a social junkie’s perspective

facebook-dislike- button

We’ve all been there. A friend posts a tale of woe on Facebook. Their cat has passed away. Their flight was cancelled. They didn’t get the job of their dreams. 

And what can we do? We want to show we have seen it, absorbed it, that we care. So do we press ‘Like’? Just to say “I hear you” – I empathise. 

The problem is, how can we ‘Like’ that our friend’s moggy has died or they are still stuck working for a boss they detest? There is the option to comment, but that exposes us a little more. We don’t necessarily have the right words for the moment. Or perhaps we really can’t be bothered to find them. So we are stuck. 


As social media has become the default form of “being in touch”, this issue has created some moral complexity for us Facebook junkies. And although we could just pick up the phone and say “sorry to hear your news…” we tend to need a shortcut – a holding position until we next see our friend. And finally it seems Mark Zuckerberg has acknowledged the problem with his announcement of a pending Dislike button. 

This is potentially exciting news as it will allow us to express appropriate empathy, albeit at a superficial level. 

However, the word Facebook chooses to describe the button when it goes live will be interesting. Choose the wrong word and it could be seen as the “Hate” button. Careful thought needs to be given to ensure it doesn’t become a new tool for bullying in the hands of the troll community.

And what about brands? Us marketers have been able to get away with a lot on Facebook up until now. Poorly executed content, random posts, experimental campaigns under the guise of “test and learn”. Sure, there are comments, and we can measure shares and compare post performance. But there’s nothing quite like seeing a number of Dislikes piling up on a post or ad you thought was really cool. It’s a new KPI waiting to happen. 

However, this is where the Dislike button will also bring opportunity. We will have to be on our game, ensuring the right content gets to the right audience. And the Dislike button could actually help us understand instantly when we’ve got it wrong.

On the flipside, no doubt some brands will actively court Dislikes if they want to be regarded as edgy, controversial or see it as a route to publicity. You can see the Buzzfeed headline now, “10 most Disliked adverts this week.” Or perhaps more realistically, “10 most hated cat videos”. 

Facebook will have an interesting balance to strike in order to not bite the hand that feeds them. They need to grow ad spend, but will advertisers get nervous that their content it be judged negatively as well as positively?

I believe this is a challenge brands and marketers should embrace. It will make us better. In the meantime? I’m off to go and Like friends’ baby photos.

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