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?