Social media juggernauts Instagram and Facebook recently rolled out an update to their platforms that gives users the choice to hide the number of public “likes” received on their posts, other people’s posts, and posts appearing on their newsfeed. Users will still be able to “like” content, but now they are able to choose whether or not they want to view the number of “likes” a post receives once it has been shared.
The decision has the power to completely alter the way in which brands and influencers interact with users and naturally has been met with a certain amount of uproar from entities that leverage these platforms to drive revenue and funnel audience engagement.
However, Instagram and Facebook have assured brands, influencers, and regular users that the algorithms will still support popular posts by showing them hierarchical order on newsfeeds, which means that the underlying system remains in place.
Brands and influencers who have a financial interest in the popularity of each post have long since used the number of “likes” a post receives as a metric for success. The more “likes” a post receives the more engagement the brand or influencer enjoys, ensuring a higher chance of product purchases (short-term) and brand loyalty (long-term).
The concept of “likes” is highly beneficial for brands and influencers looking to hook users and funnel them into making a purchase. The more popular a post, the stronger the link to the brand itself and the association of popularity. And brands leverage popularity to increase sales.
It’s basic psychology: as social creatures, humans tend to follow leaders en masse as we assume it’s the right thing to do — if everyone is doing it it must be good, right? Much like when an engaged crowd forms a circle around a street performer, many passersby will come closer to see what all the fuss is about. The concept of hype is powerful and when leveraged correctly, can lead to profit.
The number of “likes” a post received is the binary equivalent of the street performer analogy: if a post has many likes then it must be good enough to view. And numbers matter. For example, when searching for a recipe on YouTube, people will most often select the video with the most views, despite having thousands to choose from.
Thus, brands and influencers are fearing this move by Instagram and Facebook will dilute the hype that has been shown to lead to more views and likes. In their view, it is a threat to their social media stature, reach, and influence over their existing and potential audience.
Yes, users are able to choose to view the “like” count for each post, and brands and creators can access data metrics related to performance, but that is not the point. The fact that the number of likes received is not clearly visible will no doubt negatively impact brands leveraging popularity to drive revenue.
According to Instagram boss Adam Mosseri, the move aims to “depressurise people’s experience on the platform” in the hopes of giving users more control over their social media experience.
The update is seen as a way to help combat the negative mental health effects linked to social media use, and according to Mosseri it “gives users a choice” to shape the platform according to their best interests.
According to Carolyn Merrell, Instagram’s Head of Global Policy Programmes, the platform worked closely with certain brands to see how the change will impact the brand-creator relationship. They found that brands don’t only look at “like” count as a definitive metric to gauge audience impact when looking for brand deals with creators. The number of followers and post-shares are just as valuable. But again, numbers matter here.
If a creator decides to hide the number of “likes” it might negatively impact potential brand deals, according to Mae Karwowski, CEO and founder of influencer marketing agency Obviously. “If an influencer decides to not disclose that information, it will be harder for brands who are newer to working with influencers”, she says. She adds that there might have to be new areas to display this information to make the brand-creator connection easier in the future.
Like it or not, people compare themselves or their situations to that of others. We tend to formulate our opinions, styles, and characters based on the people we surround ourselves with, the media we consume, and the brands we engage with. So, when we see a post has received a high number of “likes” it immediately holds more gravitas to us than a similar post with fewer likes.
For brands and creators that use social media as a tool to engage, charm, entice and entertain audiences, the additional influence of “like” count is a major loss. But new challenges bring new solutions, and no doubt we will continue to see new ways for brands to engage with audiences that depend less on the number of “likes” and perhaps leverage quality over the quantity of “likes”.
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