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Facebook Reactions: Impact of Introducing New Features of SNS on Social Capital



Receiving feedback from connections is an important aspect of Social Network Sites (SNS). ‘Likes’ in Facebook (FB) is one such feature which allows users to receive feedback for their posts. However, due to likes restrictive ability in expressing feedback, FB released a new feature called ‘Reactions’. In this paper, we conducted a between-subjects experimental study (N = 44) that compares the effects of Facebook likes and reactions on perceived social capital. The results suggest that users who received reactions on their posts perceived higher levels of bridging and bonding social capital. Additionally, the effect of novelty was shown to be a mediator of these effects on social capital. These results help us understand the relationship maintenance, group cohesions, and user benefits of introducing a new feature into an SNS ecosystem.
Facebook Reactions: Impact of introducing new
features of SNS on Social Capital
Rama Adithya Varanasi.?, Elaine Dicicco, and Andrew Gambino
1Department of Information Science, Cornell University
2Department of Psychology, Pennsylvania State University.
3College of communications, Pennsylvania State University
Abstract. Receiving feedback from connections is an important aspect
of Social Network Sites (SNS). ‘Likes’ in Facebook (FB) is one such fea-
ture which allows users to receive feedback for their posts. However, due
to likes restrictive ability in expressing feedback, FB released a new fea-
ture called ‘Reactions’. In this paper, we conducted a between-subjects
experimental study (N = 44) that compares the effects of Facebook likes
and reactions on perceived social capital. The results suggest that users
who received reactions on their posts perceived higher levels of bridging
and bonding social capital. Additionally, the effect of novelty was shown
to be a mediator of these effects on social capital. These results help
us understand the relationship maintenance, group cohesions, and user
benefits of introducing a new feature into an SNS ecosystem.
Keywords: Social networking sites; Facebook groups; Reactions and
likes; Social capital; Novelty
1 Introduction
The Social Networking Sites (SNS) arms race has seen constant evolution, with
individual features being consistently introduced that engage users and aid them
in maintaining online relationships. SNS is a homogeneous system composed of
many features which allow users to interact with each other. One such feature
is FB ‘likes’ which allow users to express and receive positive feedback on their
content. Recently, Facebook has released a new feature in Facebook called ‘reac-
tions.’ The reactions feature affords a more varied reaction to posts than likes-
users can select “love”, “haha”, “wow”, “sad”, and“angry” in addition to the like
in response to another user’s post. Previous studies have shown that receiving
likes leads to positive relational outcomes [1]. In this paper, we build upon those
studies by exploring the effects of FB reactions. In a between-subjects exper-
iment, we show that users who received feedback in the form of reactions (as
opposed to likes) showed a significant difference in their perceived bridging and
bonding social capital. Furthermore, we find that novelty is a key mediator in
the relationship between feedback and perceived social capital.
2 Rama Adithya Varanasi., Elaine Dicicco, and Andrew Gambino
2 Background
2.1 Facebook Likes and Reactions
SNS use has been extensively studied to understand how users in the online
ecosystem maintain relationships. However, studying use or a cluster of vari-
ables together makes it difficult to discern individual effects of specific tech-
nological features. Recently, research in the SNS domain has shifted to effects
of more specific features like comments, likes and wall posts [9]. As [9] noted,
studying SNS at the feature level allows researchers to capture granular diversity
among users which is obscured at the SNS level. The feature of Facebook likes
has been studied prevalently in the context of providing support and increas-
ing online relationship maintenance. For example, [1] found that receiving direct
communication such as FB likes increases user’s perceived bridging social cap-
ital, thereby improving relationship maintenance. Additionally, [4] argued that
engaging with one’s Facebook connections using activities such as ‘likes’ builds
trust among relationships and hence social capital [4]. Facebook reactions, on
the other hand, are new Facebook features which can be used to provide more
diverse emotional feedback towards the posts. They provide users with an oppor-
tunity to leave the additional feedback of love’, ‘haha’, wow’, ‘angry’ and ‘sad’.
Given this added functionality, it behooves researchers to study the independent
effect that Facebook reactions may have on users.
2.2 Novelty
Considering the dynamic nature of current information systems, the effects of the
general newness of features is a bit understudied. As [12] noted, a perception that
a feature is novel can in and of itself have effects on user experience. Given that
this study took place very soon after the introduction of Facebook reactions
(introduced February 24th, data collected April 12th 2016), it allowed us to
capture the effects of a novel feature, which is assumed to decrease over time
[7]. Given the sparse amount of research on novelty, we are left to wonder about
their effects and direction. However, given user’s propensity for new products, we
do posit perceived novelty as a mediating link between the technological feature
and the perceived effects. [12, 13]
2.3 Social Capital
Social capital can be defined as benefits derived and accumulated from rela-
tionship existing between different people in various social scenarios [2]. In the
context of social networks, social capital is considered a process of forming posi-
tive bonds and trust in relationships amongst people in online spaces [3]. Social
capital generally takes two forms, bridging and bonding. Bridging social capital
refers to external relations formed between individual of different backgrounds,
whereas bonding social capital refers to close relations and usually exist between
strongly knit communities[15]. Additionally, bridging social capital help users in
FB Reactions: Introducing new features in SNS 3
feeling part of bigger community while bonding social capital involves strong
ties and emotional support. SNSs also afford users the opportunity to expand
and improve their social networks, by enabling socially relevant interactions.
Thus, the study of social capital in SNS is quite prevalent and extends to a
diverse range of topics [10]. Facebook usage, cultural background, and various
affordance provided by Facebook [11] have been found to be related to bridging
social capital.First, very few studies have found a positive relationship between
an SNS variable and bonding social capital [8]. Second, there is a need for ad-
ditional research on the individual features of SNS like Facebook reactions and
their associated effect on social capital.This study reveals the specific impact of
likes and reactions on a user’s perceived social capital. Based on the literature
reviewed above, we present two research questions for our study.
RQ1 - What are the effects of FB reactions on the perceived bonding and bridging
social capital?
RQ2 - Does novelty mediate the relationship between Facebook reactions and
bridging & bonding social capital?
To answer the aforementioned research questions, we conducted a between-
subjects experiment. Exposure to feedback in the form of likes and reactions
came within a controlled Facebook group. A total of 44 participants were re-
cruited from a large east-coast university for this study. The participants con-
stituted both undergraduate and graduate students from two separate classes.
The average age of the participants was 26.5 years old. Participants identified
as 71% White, 14% Asian or Asian American, 9% Latino, 4.5% Black, and 2.3%
Middle Eastern. Additionally, a group of students (13) was recruited to serve
as ‘confederates’ in the study. Confederate students were recruited from a dif-
ferent department to reduce the chance of prior interaction or familiarity with
the experimental participants. All participants were given extra credit for their
participation. In addition, they were also provided with a 50$ gift card in the
form of lucky draw.
3.1 Procedure
Two FB groups were created called Social Proceedings for (a) Likes and (b) Re-
actions respectively. The 44 participants were randomly assigned to either the
‘likes’ group or ‘reactions’ group regardless of the class from which they were
recruited. From here on we refer to these groups as likes/reaction group. The
participants in the likes group received only likes whereas the participants in
the reaction group only received reactions (wow, love and sad). Each Facebook
group was strictly visible to only participants assigned to that respective group.
Participants were tasked with posting status updates three times per day in
4 Rama Adithya Varanasi., Elaine Dicicco, and Andrew Gambino
their respective Facebook groups. Their interaction with other group members
was structured and controlled by fixing the amount of posting they could do
in one day and interacting with other group members by observing how many
likes/reaction they got in their posts. Aside from these instructions, participants
were free to use Facebook functionalities such as notifications, chat etc.
The following rules were given to participants regarding their individual posts:
1. The post must be about one of the following topics - Music, Movies or
2. The post needs to contain a personal opinion and be longer than nine words.
3. The post could also be a shared link as long as it satisfied condition number
Specific topics mentioned in point 1 were chosen as they are topics which
students are interested in and post about frequently. The confederate teams
used the whole day to like or react to the posts. Confederates had the strict
instructions to not to communicate with participants in their group in any form
apart from liking or reacting. Confederates were provided with the actual mo-
tivation of the study to make the idea more concrete. The amount of feedback
given to each post was controlled and documented (Refer to appendix). As a
participant posted, the confederates gave a specific amount of predetermined
feedback. The amount of feedback given was randomly determined. This process
of experiment participants posting in their appropriate groups and confederate
group responding with likes or reactions to the posts lasted for two days. The
study spanned across two days. At the end of each day the participants were
tasked with observing the Facebook group.
As instructed, participants interacted with the others posts by the notifi-
cations they received (a) when other participants posted on the group or (b)
when they received likes/reactions. The participants were told that the study’s
goal was to understand how new users of Facebook interact with the posts in a
Facebook group.At the end of the second day the participants completed a post
study questionnaire, which lasted approximately 15 minutes.
3.2 Social Capital
Social capital was measured using an adapted version of Williams’s Internet
social capital scale. The instrument is a 10-item, five-point, likert-type scale
that measures (a) bridging and (b) bonding social capital. The items were
slightly altered, by adding words such as “in the FB group” to correctly identify
the network. Bridging social capital example items include: Interacting in FB
group...made me want to try new things. Participants were asked to rate their
agreement with the statement from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).
The bridging sub-scale showed high reliability (α= 0.86). Example items for
the bonding social capital include: When I feel lonely, there are several people
on the Facebook group that I could talk to; The people I interacted within the
Facebook group would put their reputation on the line for me. The bonding
social capital sub-scale showed high reliability. (α= 0.91).
FB Reactions: Introducing new features in SNS 5
3.3 Novelty
Novelty was measured using a 10-item, five point, adjective based, and semantic-
differential measure adapted from [12]. The instrument contains questions such
as: Facebook reactions/ Facebook likes are distinct; Facebook reactions/ Face-
book likes are unique; Facebook reactions / Facebook likes are new. The relia-
bility for this instrument was high (α= 0.90).
3.4 FB use, FB friends, and FB attitudes
Prior to participation in the experiment, a pre-test questionnaire was distributed
to measure Facebook use, Facebook friends, and Facebook attitude. FB use was
measured with the question: In the past week, on average, approximately how
many minutes per day have you spent on Facebook? Number of Facebook friends
was measured as: How many total Facebook friends do you currently have? The
participants were allowed to check Facebook if they wanted to in order to get
the details. The FB attitudes measure contained 11 five-point, likert-type scale
questions. The scale was adapted from the standardized questions provided by
[8]. It included questions such as: I feel I am part of Facebook and I feel out of
touch when I haven’t logged into Facebook for a while. The users could answer
on a five point scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).
In order to test RQ1, a series of ANCOVAs were conducted, controlling for
FB use, FB friends, and FB attitudes, on the dependent variables of bridging
and bonding social capital. The ANCOVA for bridging social capital showed
that participants in the reactions condition (M = 3.18, SD = 0.56) showed
significantly higher bridging social capital than those in the like condition (M =
2.71, SD = 0.74), F (1, 39) = 7.72, p = .008, p2 = .17. Additionally, participants
in the reaction group (M = 2.06, SD = 0.76) perceived higher bonding social
capital as well (Likes, M = 1.56, SD = 0.65), F (1, 39) = 4.27, p = .045, ηp2
= .10. Overall, we can conclude that receiving Facebook reactions engendered
higher levels of both bridging and bonding social capital.
In order to test RQ2, a product of coefficients approach to mediation was
adopted [6]. Using model 4 of Hayes PROCESS Macros in SPSS, two models
were tested with novelty as the mediating variable between 1) bridging and 2)
bonding social capital. For bridging social capital, the indirect effect (reactions
novelty bridging) was found to be significant at the 95% CI level (5,000 boot-
strapped samples) b = .22, SE = .12, 95% CI = .030, .514. For the relationship
between reactions and bonding social capital (reactions novelty bonding), we
found the indirect effect to be not significant, 95% CI = -.289, .747.Therefore,
the effect of novelty mediates the relationship between reactions and bridging
social capital, but not bonding social capital. In summary, we found that the
Facebook reactions had positive effects on both bridging and bonding social cap-
ital, and furthermore, it appears that feature novelty is a key mediator of the
relationship to bridging social capital.
6 Rama Adithya Varanasi., Elaine Dicicco, and Andrew Gambino
5 Discussion
The present study focused on the affordances of FB reactions compared to those
of FB likes. In particular, we examined how the reception of different feedback
variants influences social capital in the Facebook group settings.Based on our
results it may be said that FB reactions provide a wider set of affordance due
to the presence of options like ‘wow’, ‘sad’, etc. as well as their novelty. We also
found that receiving FB reactions resulted in greater bridging social capital than
FB likes, which was mediated by perceptions of the feature as new. Interestingly,
we found that FB reactions even led to greater bonding social capital compared
to FB likes. This finding is significant because little existing literature on SNS
has found a relationship between features/uses and bonding social capital. Fur-
thermore, our work shows that merely receiving reactions can increase feelings
of connection with others (i.e., social capital), and that the effect of novelty may
lead to feelings of connection.
5.1 Theoretical Implications
The existing literature has established a strong relationship between FB features
(e.g., likes, messages) to bridging social capital, but less of a connection has
been made to bonding social capital [1, 3]. This may be because most FB users’
friends consist of more weak ties (friends of friends) than strong ties (family and
close friends) [22]. Given that the participants in the present study were not
likely to be close friends with the confederates, they were likely interacting with
weak ties. Weak ties are typically associated with providing new information to
others and as sources of bridging social capital[5]. However, [14], suggest that
weak ties may provide more support than solely new information - for instance,
comments on a post from weak ties provided support to FB users interviewed
in Vitak and Ellison’s study. They argued that FB lowers barriers to showing
support. Given that content posted in the present study was not personal and
did not appear to differ between FB reactions or likes groups, we conclude that
it is the FB reaction feature itself that allowed users to feel increased trust and
support from those who left reactions to their posts. This supports the idea
that weak ties can also be sources of bonding social capital, particularly when
these weak ties use a new feature to respond to a post. Because novelty did not
mediate the relationship between receiving reactions and bonding social capital,
there are likely other unmeasured variables that account for this relationship. [4]
argued that likes can be thought of as a social grooming activity in that it is a
metric of a user’s attention to another’s post, and that these signals of attention
communicate trust. FB reactions appear to be a social grooming practice that
can be distinguished from FB likes in the effects they produce for receivers
of the reactions or likes. Perhaps positive feelings about users who reacted to
participants’ posts created perceptions of trust and social support and therefore
explain the increased reported bonding social capital of those in the reactions
group. Additionally, positive feelings about the self, or feeling validated that the
content of their posts garnered a more varied response than a like may also be
FB Reactions: Introducing new features in SNS 7
a potential mediator for bonding social capital. [4] suggested that likes signal
the norm of reciprocity. Users may feel more reciprocal attention when they
receive reactions compared to receiving likes. Thus, positive feelings about the
other users reacting to their posts, positive feelings about the self, or increased
attention may be mediators that could explain the relationship between receiving
reactions and bonding social capital.
6 Limitations and Future Directions
There were numerous limitations within this study. First, we could not control
for any pre-existing relationships that participants may have had with one an-
other before the experiment took place. All participants were from two classes.
Although the reactions and likes were from strangers, it is possible that the ex-
tent to which participants felt connected to others in the group (bridging social
capital) or felt they could trust others in the group (bonding social capital) was
affected by their pre-existing relationship that had been created in the classroom
context. However, the fact that participants felt any increase in social capital
when given reactions compared to likes suggests that the social capital effects
with users that participants do know may have been even stronger. One possible
explanation could be content of the posts. If the effects of novelty wear down as
the time progresses, it is unclear how for long a period of time a feature such as
FB reactions would be perceived as novel. A longitudinal study would increase
this study’s ecological validity as well as further explicate the effect of novelty
(and its likely dissipation). However, the benefit of an experimental study is that
it provides a stronger case for the reactions feature as causing increases in social
capital compared to the likes feature.
7 Conclusion
This study is one of the first to understand the effects of receiving an SNS feature,
particularly the FB reactions feature, on the social psychological elements of
users. Our study revealed that a novel feature introduced in SNS had a direct
effect on bridging and bonding social capital. We also showed that the effects
of novelty significantly mediated the relationship between receiving reactions on
bridging social capital.
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These days, when we float an idea for an interface or demo a prototype, the compliment that we crave for is “This is Cool!” Coolness has become a major design goal for HCI professionals. If we are serious about building Cool into our products, we should also be serious about measuring it. With this in mind, we performed a scientific explication of the concept in order to capture the psychological essence of “coolness,” covering a number of characteristics such as trendiness, uniqueness, rebelliousness, genuineness and utility. Based on the discourse in the literature, we arrived at a series of questionnaire measures, which we subjected to an exploratory factor analysis in Study 1 (N=315). The factor structure that emerged was tested through a confirmatory factor analysis in Study 2 (N=835), in which American and Korean respondents rated their perceptions of a variety of old and new technologies. Converging evidence suggests that in order for an interface to be rated as cool, it should not only be attractive and original, but also help the user assert his/her uniqueness or subcultural identity. Study 3 (N=317) tested the content validity of our factors by comparing them with a holistic evaluation of coolness and arrived at a parsimonious three-factor solution for conceptualizing it in terms of originality, attractiveness and subcultural appeal. Together, these constitute tangible user criteria that designers can strategically address and researchers can systematically measure.
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A longitudinal analysis of panel data from users of a popular online social network site, Facebook, investigated the relationship between intensity of Facebook use, measures of psychological well-being, and bridging social capital. Two surveys conducted a year apart at a large U.S. university, complemented with in-depth interviews with 18 Facebook users, provide the study data. Intensity of Facebook use in year one strongly predicted bridging social capital outcomes in year two, even after controlling for measures of self-esteem and satisfaction with life. These latter psychological variables were also strongly associated with social capital outcomes. Self-esteem served to moderate the relationship between Facebook usage intensity and bridging social capital: those with lower self-esteem gained more from their use of Facebook in terms of bridging social capital than higher self-esteem participants. We suggest that Facebook affordances help reduce barriers that lower self-esteem students might experience in forming the kinds of large, heterogeneous networks that are sources of bridging social capital.