via Memebase
via Memebase

You don’t really “Like” everything your friends post on Facebook. Whether it’s a commemoration of a recently deceased pet, a “_____ is now single” relationship update, or something that enrages your inner activist, there’s plenty of potential interaction on social networks that isn’t built into the native application.

You might have heard the rumor that Facebook may be adding a “sympathize” button for these sorts of situations. I’m here to tell you that, while weirder things have certainly happened, I wouldn’t hold my breath for this new feature anytime soon. Why?

Simple. Companies can’t use it.

Facebook’s long-term strategy has always been to prove that it is essential. It’s done that socially. As long as you know more people with Facebook accounts than without, it’s a vital part of modern life. Even if you’re a bigger fan of Twitter or Tumblr, you probably still keep that Facebook account around just as a way to stay connected.

But Facebook hasn’t yet 100% proved its value to companies, and companies give Facebook money. Sure, Facebook has ads and promoted posts. (Bookbyte runs a few.) It gives companies access to user data and a platform to reach them. But many companies are still wary about the effectiveness of these ads. Ads on Google are designed to lead people right to what they’re looking for. Ads on Facebook are designed to make somebody Like something they haven’t yet. There’s a lot of value in that, but it’s harder to explain.

A “sympathize” button, which I guess would look like two people hugging or something, doesn’t really connect with company goals. It’s too nuanced, and companies aren’t looking for nuanced reactions. They just want people to Like what they’re doing.

I really have no idea what the "Sympathize" icon would be. A sympathetic flower, or something?
I really have no idea what the “Sympathize” icon would be. A sympathetic flower, or something?

If you remember the old days of Facebook, you used to have a number of fields where you were free to enter whatever information you want. Your profile might have looked something like this:

  • Movies: Either horror or romantic comedies
  • TV Shows: The Sopranos, telenovelas, some reality shows when I’m bored
  • Music: Pretty much anything I can dance to

With the introduction of fan pages, all of this information was wiped clean if it couldn’t be categorized and linked directly to a page. The above information then looked like:

  • Movies: 
  • TV Shows: The Sopranos
  • Music:

The nuance was removed. You simply Liked a page, or you had nothing to say about the topic. “Sympathize” would add a new interaction but not add any way to quantify it.

Liking on the other hand, provides a glimpse into how a person might want to spend money, even in ways Facebook has yet to do. Imagine if companies could target you based on the content of the posts you Liked. Did you Like that video of a 90-yard punt return touchdown? Maybe you’d be interested in buying the team jersey. “Sympathize,” on the other hand, there’s simply no way to monetize it.

Honestly, I don’t mean any of the above as a knock on Facebook. Companies are always going to try to make money, no reason to hate them for it.

And to tell the truth, I’m not crazy about the “Sympathize” button idea either. If you really sympathize with someone who’s going through something tough, you can take the time to write them a comment telling them so.