23rd July, 2019

Why Instagram’s gambit to hide the ‘likes’ is too one-dimensional

Globally adored social media giant Instagram has kicked-off a new trial, preventing users from seeing ‘likes’ on the posts of others in a move to enhance authenticity – but will that help businesses in any way?

As a result of the carefully crafted user experience of most social media platforms, people have become dependent on the social validation they receive from numbers surrounding the content that’s being shared.

In the case of Instagram, this phenomenon has grown to the point that concerns have been raised about the mental health implications for users, causing the company to trial a major change it its user interface, and potentially making life harder for business owners as a result.

Now, I’m not saying that social media is evil. The opportunities that these platforms have created and the way they have changed the gears of communication have brought plenty of positivity to the table.

But, make no mistake about it, their intentions are far from altruistic because, as for-profit businesses, they are ultimately driven by dollar signs.

Social media may be free to use, but what people don’t realise is that instead of cash, it’s their behaviours and actions that are being commoditised. Every action is being recorded, analysed and tested – all with the intention of deriving the monetary value that lies within those actions.

The slippery slope of social

Between 2007 and 2010, the number of friends someone had on Facebook was almost viewed as a measure of social status. Then, as Instagram’s popularity spread like wildfire, it became about how many followers users had, and how many likes, views or comments a particular post received.

Eventually it began to spiral out of control. People started deleting posts that didn’t receive enough ‘traction’ and would deliberately ignore posts as a social statement.

Quality of content has suffered tremendously as a result of this dependency. ‘Growth hackers’ have found ways to boost views and purchase likes (or content engagement), making people and businesses alike choose popularity over excellence.

The issue surrounding the false sense of validation that likes or views bring spreads far beyond the poor quality of content. This dependency can and has driven people to the darkest of places – causing significant increases in mental illness and anxiety across all demographics.

There’s nothing to ‘like’ about that, is there?

What has Instagram changed exactly?

In an attempt to change the direction of this negative trend, Instagram decided to pilot its very first ‘invisible like campaign’ last week.

This campaign, which involves the simple removal of the number of likes attached to a post, has been designed to impact the force that drives the platform’s use.

From a quality of social interaction perspective, it’s an instant game changer. The ability to share content is as easy as ever, but validation is far harder to earn.

Straight away, Instagram has shifted from a vanity platform where gratification has little to no value, to a place where content and sentiment can be shared genuinely.

The downside for small business advertisers

While the changes that Instagram are trialling seem to have impacted people positively from a social interaction standpoint, the benefits to the commercial world are less clear.

The unfortunate reality is that the dependency on the numbers surrounding social media content has become the source of livelihood for many individuals and businesses across the world.

For example: the ‘influencer’ industry.

Influencers are people who have thousands of followers on social media and have leveraged their following to commoditise the concept of popularity. Some sell products of their own, while some have made fortunes by promoting other people’s products.

READ: Getting the most from your social game

If you take away the ‘like’ from an influencer, you are essentially taking away their livelihood.

Influencers aren’t the only ones who stand to lose from Instagram’s new philosophy. Many other SMEs use validation through social media popularity as their primary source of lead generation.

This change might not impact the broader SME space as quickly as it has for influencers, but it will almost certainly start impacting their bottom line in a pretty big way.

Instagram has barely scratched the surface

On the whole, while I like the direction that Instagram is taking, I think that they’ve arrived late to the party and barely touched the tip of this very cold iceberg.

There’s so much more that needs to be done to stamp out the vanity, dependency and insecurity that social media causes people to have.

That said, I also think that Instagram’s cold turkey approach in rolling out this trial across all business accounts shows how one-dimensional their strategy actually is.

For personal use, showing people what life is like without the futile ‘like’ competition is a very positive step and I think the other platforms should follow suit.

But for business, Instagram needs to pull out the whiteboard and brainstorm ways to transition the commercial sector into an era of higher quality social media use – without stripping so many of them of the livelihood in the meantime.