With more than 6 billion uses a day, the “like” button on Facebook is an institution. But a recent announcement from Facebook indicates that “like” is about to get some competition – from emoticons.  It’s about time. Every one of us has run into that awkward situation where we want to show support for a friend’s post on a death, a struggle or a bad day, but the “like” button just feels wrong. Facebook finally has a solution and will introduce five new faces meant to convey five new sentiments they are calling “Reactions:” angry, sad, wow, haha and love.

Facebook spent a lot of time analyzing posts to hone in on these five feelings which at first glance seem to capture much of what is missing from the “like” button. This update, eventually rolling out in the US, may seem trivial, but giving people more tools to quickly click and engage will change the way that people interact with each other and brands online, increasing the volume of sentiments shared daily. For Facebook users that don’t have the time or energy to comment on an experience with a brand/product they can now simply click an emoticon to sum up their experience. For branded pharmaceutical product pages which are often monitored extremely closely for AE’s this increase in interactions may require additional attention and oversight to ensure “Reactions” are being flagged and addressed as needed.

Language agnostic emoticons may make the perfect communications tool for the global audiences that Facebook reaches, but they pose unique issues for healthcare communications. Pharmaceutical companies will have to interpret and define this new language of emoticons. Currently negative sentiments come in the form of comments on Facebook and can be easily understood and handled. But without words things are about to get a bit harder. Is a sad or angry “Reaction” considered an adverse event? Is wow a positive or a negative emotion?

As with any new social/digital tool, companies will likely wait for final rulings from authorities to guide their policies and procedures. But before these rules are handed down pharmaceutical companies have a unique opportunity to work with patients and patient advocacy communities to define a new language and establish brand or company-specific guidelines for navigating these online sentiments. Since patients and caregivers are often the ones sharing on Facebook, it will be important to collaborate with them and get their perspectives in deciphering the meaning and implications of each emoticon. Building this new dictionary with the community will provide invaluable insights into the patient and community psyche and build a significant amount of good will which will be even more important when a negative “Reaction” is only a click away.




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