Instagram is now hiding the number of ‘likes’ on images posted on the network from Australian users. According to Facebook this move is an attempt to ‘depressurise’ the platform and improve the overall experience.
The ‘like economy’ has always held sway for brands and users. For example, when deciding to collaborate with a brand or an influencer, marketers often defer to measuring how many likes or comments are received on posts in contrast to follows — as these are often easily bought.
Likes for posts can be purchased too, so will the removal of this metric take the pressure off, or will our lack of visibility in liking result in less engagement overall?
How will engagement be affected?
Why do consumers ‘like’? At the advent of social networks, this was a pressing question. To earn a like (as a brand), you had to figure out why people would engage and what their motivation was. Jonathan Dykstra of agency Strength Doctors wrote;
“Today, a product or service is powerful because of how it connects people to something — or someone — else.”
In other words, appearing to like or follow allows a user to embody a brand’s virtues and further define their online identity. Now that likes won’t be as visible, will there still be a motivation to like?
The algorithm is still at play
Over the last few years we’ve seen this motivation change too. Influencers and the power of their far reaching networks serve as proof that being active online helps to grow a digital footprint and therefore an opportunity to engage brands or socially leverage.
To grow a substantial fanbase users are incentivised to engage, so that their own content is more likely to be seen and interacted with. Because of this, responses on social media can feel contrived; do we genuinely ‘like’ anything anymore?
We live in a paradigm where our behaviour online determines the algorithm; when we’re genuinely engaging our behaviour can be predicted so we may be served advertising and content that is relevant — or in the worst case, tracked and profiled. Has our attempt to beat the algorithm by being overly engaged contributed to Facebook’s decision to trial hiding likes?
Anticipating the change
Over the last year or so there have been new comers to the social sphere to counteract this; focusing on niche community building without the metric of likes, such as Relevant.
This platform is a response to the Facebook algorithm as the aim is to build trust through quality content. Users can vote and establish reputation through having a say and engaging. Still, engagement is incentivised; Reputation has a rewards system. This could be because the network is still growing or is it a sign that users need to be encouraged to leave an opinion and that we’re perhaps out of practice of going beyond a simple ‘like’?
The search for ‘authenticity’
We live in a post-authentic world where consumers anticipate the sell and question the motives of giving information. Users know that by following or engaging with a brand in the digital sphere that they will be receiving updates, news and content with the aim to convert.
What we’re seeing now, is an attempt to rejig the algorithm for more authentic results from consumers. Not necessarily a move to help brands reach their goals, as there’s still a reliance on advertising spend for content to be seen.
What does this mean for brands
Facebook seems to be the real beneficiary of this move; brands will have to continue to pay for advertising to be seen in the feed and it will be harder to check for genuine engagement when considering influencers as part of a strategy.
We can also note another trend; long form content. Search results show us that substantial and considered content is favoured by the Google algorithm; the average first result on Google is 1890 words long! This is telling that users are looking for content that is more informed, considered and researched.
I expect that this trend is going to affect social media, in that, the top line effusive content we’re used will be replaced with more thoughtful content and longer captions, to engage users past the ‘like’. This will also encourage legitimate commentary which will act as a way to confirm social proof.
It will be interesting to note the response and whether the shift to longer form content will see social networks such as Relevant and Arena pick up in active accounts; potentially encouraging more considered and curated communities.
Hiding likes may be just a small functionality change to Instagram, but it likely will herald a change in consumer behaviour and how brands will join the conversation in this new era.