The Psychology of the Want Button

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Following in the footsteps of social commerce software pioneers – Payvment, 8thBridge and others – Facebook has launched a native Want button.

The potential commercial appeal to businesses of the Want button is clear – it’s a clear “sell to me” invitation – if you’re selling what’s wanted.

But from a user perspective the value of the Want button is less clear and there is good reason to believe that Facebook users will not want the Want button (a Dislike button to dislike the Want would have been a far better idea, opening the doors to lucrative sentiment and reputation analysis opportunities (Facebook what are you thinking????)).

As Jim Stoneham, ex-Yahoo and now CEO of Payvment (sponsor of SCT) noted yesterday in a thoughtful post, the Want button is less easy to click that the Like button – since it implies intentionality – it implies a future commitment to saying yes if the product is offered.

As basic psychology shows, we feel a psychological pressure to conform to public commitments (such as saying we want something), so we avoid making them.  The Like button, on the other hand, implies no personal commitment. The Like button is about now, and the Want button is about the future; or more graphically, the Like button is like a one night stand, and the Want button is like a long term relationship. Combine this with the “target me with ads and marketing” implied message of the Want button, users may not want the Want button.

Psychology also reveals what’s wanting with the Want button

  • Wanting implies you are unfulfilled, incompetent or impotent. Publicly, clicking the want button demonstrates to others that your current state is not where or what you want to be, and that you’re powerless to do anything about it.  Good luck with that in social media which is all about signalling
  • We know what we Like, we only think we know what we Want. When users click the Like button, it means they have experienced pleasure from contact with stimuli.  Wanting something however is about a desire for a future reward (or a stimulus associated with a reward) from a future possible experience. Easier to click the Like button.
  • Wanting is scary; wanting something can appear irrational to ourselves and others – so we tend to keep our wants private.  Indeed the Want circuit of our brain appears to be very different to the Like circuit. Wanting is powered by the circuitry active in addiction – using dopamine (the craving neuromediator) in a primitive and largely automatic mesolimbic reward system.  We love our likes but are wary of our wants. So we’re less likely to share them.

So from a psychological perspective, we’d predict the Want button will have only limited success.  And initial evidence from Payvment seems to back this up (Payvment is rolling out emoticon smileys as an alternative/supplement to the standard thumbs up/thumbs down/meh trinity).

Now Facebook, where is my dislike button?

About the author

Paul Marsden

Chartered psychologist specialising in consumer behaviour and technology. Certified CX professional experienced in Design Thinking. A researcher, writer and speaker, Paul is head of Digital Insight at SYZYGY.

5 comments

  • There are a number of valid points in Paul’s review of the Facebook Want button. However I think it is important to remember these are in relationship to my Facebook life. At least through my lens of developing a Want based marketplace we have found that Facebook users, for the most part, have not been receptive to Ecommerce. Facebook is a Social experience dedicated to family, friends and activities.

    Facebook’s Ecommerce strategy has been provide comprehensive demographic information on it’s users such that advertisers can target their message. Facebook’s Want button is really an attempt to provide advertisers a more definitive potential buyer. This is really an endorsement of the Want button since it enables the individual to express a specific interest.

    When people want to research, locate and purchase a product or service they will move to networks dedicated to this experience. Furthermore when we pursue purchasing something we want to make an informed decision. Therefore we will not seek Social networks, rather Interest based networks that enhance our buying experience.

    It is these Interest based networks that provide the most value for the Want model. I am comfortable expressing my Want because this group is familiar to me and are the best source for locating exactly what I Want. How else is someone going to know exactly what I am looking for if I don’t tell them?

  • […] Ojo, el fin nunca justifica los medios y la consecución de nuestros objetivos de negocio nunca debe anteponerse ni erosionar nuestro mayor activo empresarial: la marca. Así, como marcas, hemos de encontrar -y/o crear- nuestro espacio natural dentro de las comunidades que conforman nuestra audiencia y a partir de ahí, comenzar a construir sin caer en la metonimia fácil de pensar que todo lo social es Facebook y que todo el e-commerce es f-commerce, craso error y nada más lejos de la realidad; y, por ahora, también de la efectividad (tendremos que ver cómo evoluciona el ‘Want’ button). […]

By Paul Marsden

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Consumer psychology insights and news for digital professionals brought to you by WPP agency SYZYGY and Dr Paul Marsden (@marsattacks)

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Paul Marsden

Chartered psychologist specialising in consumer behaviour and technology. Certified CX professional experienced in Design Thinking. A researcher, writer and speaker, Paul is head of Digital Insight at SYZYGY.