When Facebook makes a change, people listen. And one of its most alluded updates may accelerate the evolution of analytics to improve understanding customer sentiment.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook, announced during an open Q&A town hall that an empathy or “dislike” button is being considered. The intention behind the button is for expressing feelings towards difficult life moments, such as the content of a sad news story or an announcement of a change in one’s personal life.

The addition of a dislike button had been widely debated within Facebook. Zuckerberg mentioned during a previous Q&A town hall in late 2014, and the idea gained traction among users of the social network.

But there’s been no hard turn to implement the concept, which as recently as 2013 a prominent Facebook engineer categorically concluded in a Reddit post was not likely to happen.

(Editor's Note: Pierre DeBois will be speaking at CMSWire's DX Summit 2015 on Nov. 3 in Chicago.)

Looking on the Bright Side

So what would a Facebook world look like with a “dislike” button? Facebook users have grown accustomed to scrolling past posts that they do not like, or simply commenting when a like is inappropriate.

A straightforward dislike button, Zuckerberg claimed, could introduce an awkward polling environment — “down voting” a post.

Liking or disliking your friend’s new outfit would be an innocent vote. But what if people dislike someone’s engagement announcement? That would be problematic, especially because Zuckerberg said he doesn’t want Facebook to be a negative experience.

Bring on those rainbows and unicorns!

Changing Behaviors

But introducing a dislike button option may change the current behavior to one exhibited on other social media platforms.

Twitter, through its constant highlights of various news issues ranging from social unrest to celebrity commentary, has introduced debates with a rapid response not always seen on Facebook.

Talk of the dislike button highlights how behavior on one social media platform can influence strategic principles for another.

When it comes to expression, social media has matured into an essential utility for people’s daily lives. In that time people have adopted behavioral norms for expressing their approval or disapproval of events, statements or actions.

One consequence of digital behavior is expressing love or dislike of a brand online. The trend will certainly not abate. Oracle noted in a study (registration required) that 65 percent of millennial respondents “like being able to flag issues or complaints to a business via a mobile app.”

So is there real justification for Facebook to come up with a new response activity?

Zuckerberg’s comments and trending online behavior not only implies “yes.” It suggests that a slightly more elaborate response is necessary for Facebook to meet a new analytic need — a need that may be essential to stay competitive.

Measuring Happiness ... Or Sadness

Over time the expressions of social media users have morphed into formats difficult to assess through measurement solutions.

Social media analytics once consisted mainly of practices associated with content marketing. This meant adding tag extensions to the URLs of content so that analysts can understand how articles, images, and videos are shared online.

But the popularity of peer-to-peer (P2P) social networks such as Snapchat increased real time expression on platforms such as Periscope, and the social political content shared on Twitter altered how people express themselves online.

This means social media analytics must begin to account for social expressions in ways other than through tagged content.

The Sentiment on a Dislike Button

What will be issued from Facebook? A likely scenario is Facebook ultimately deploying a button in which the response to content is more nuanced.

A button could be labeled with an empathic phrase rather than the word “dislike” or be part of another set of emoji choices to broaden the response selection.

Such changes would do more than alter the behavior of how Facebook users consider a post.

Any change will strengthen Facebook’s position for advanced sentiment analysis. The wider response selection would add context to comments or why a post would be shared.

Facebook is the largest data set online, attractive to developers to model sentiment analysis tools.

However, there are already concerns about offering developers too much access to data. And those concerns will probably continue regardless of the selection introduced.

According to Wall Street Journal, Facebook has restricted data access to developers just as it has been encouraging development around the API. Likes are among the data available in the Social Graph, so any addition would most likely fall under such developer administration.

Raising sentiment analysis has been a holy grail for social media platforms. More tools and studies on sentiment analysis are being developed as API access of popular social media platforms increases.

Twitter, for example, has attracted a number of high profile sentiment development projects, such as IBM Watson’s sentiment analysis on tweet comments. Opportunities like these draw developers, who can in turn provide solutions that can enhance the customer experience for services and products dependent on a social media platform.

As social media matures and contents with the popularity of recent platforms such as Pinterest and even Facebook’s own Instagram, Facebook will be under pressure to identify and optimize new opportunities that deliver unprecedented results.

Nuanced sentiment analysis on how Facebook users feel would be unprecedented. A new button, no matter what Facebook chooses to name it, will likely make a lot of people take notice, regardless of how they may feel.

If you'd like to hear more about analytics, Pierre DeBois will be speaking at the DX Summit in Chicago on November 3. Find out more here.

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Title image by Alex Harvey.