Starting this week, Facebook and Instagram will now allow users to hide ‘Likes’ on posts across both of the most ‘Like’ driven platforms in the social media constellation. The initiative, which puts the decision about Likes in the hands of the company’s global user base, had apparently been in development for years but was accelerated due to concerns about how the reputation and impact of social media, for example Instagram and Facebook. Opening the door for a fundamental shift in how these networks are used, we’re taking a quick look at why the decision was made and the broader implications it could have down the line.
More freedom and user control
As anyone who has even posted on either platform is well aware, there is a certain amount of pressure that comes with the process. With this new option, the script is flipped, and users no longer have to be overly concerned about how the audience will receive their content. It is well documented that users face anxiety and embarrassment around their posts if they don’t receive enough Likes to be considered ‘popular.’ This problem is compounded for younger users who highly value what peers think of them — so much so that they even delete content that didn’t perform as they’d hope it world.
Less incentive to be provocative
A similar phenomenon of Like-chasing behavior on Instagram, especially, also helped create an environment where people posted to gain clout and notoriety, which can be a less authentic experience. Depending on the user’s motivation, it also became clear that polarizing content was being presented, notably on Facebook, simply to garner attention and reaction (positive or negative).
Instagram Likes no longer a popularity contest
The appetite of many users to interact in a less pressurized, ‘Like-free’ space has been clear for a while. Although attracting substantially fewer users, there was still space for social networking and photo-sharing apps such as Minutiae, Vero, Dayflash, Oggl, and, Poparazzi to arise to fill that need. In these cases, users were drawn in because they could engage with friends or the wider public without feeling like their popularity was being evaluated.
Impact on influencers
Of course, for influencers, their whole livelihood depends on the fact that they happen to be winning said popularity contest — and so far, that won’t necessarily change. Though Facebook and Instagram could have chosen to remove Likes entirely, it has been determined that the metric was too deeply integrated into the product experience to be wholly removed.
Instagram realized that it would anger one side or the other if it decided for its users — even if the move in either direction didn’t really impact other core metrics, like app usage. So for the time being, it’s rolling out the no Likes option as a user-controlled setting on both platforms.
Both content consumers and content producers can turn on or off Like and View counts on posts — which means you can choose not to see these metrics when scrolling your own Feed, and you can choose whether to allow Likes to be viewed by others when you’re posting.
The changing role of social media
In making this decision, it seems as though Facebook and Instagram have taken user feedback seriously. They acknowledge that there is substantial social peer pressure, and they had to act.
One of the more negative side effects is that this will create less transparency, though. It will be less apparent to the user what content is enjoyed by others and considered good. Hence, this opens up the possibility for Instagram and Facebook to promote content to their users that might not be perceived as high quality by everyone.
Impact on user behavior
I believe this will impact both the posting and engagement behavior of users and content creators alike. A lower amount of peer pressure could mean that fans/followers will begin to like the content that they deem most ‘Like worthy.’ As a result, we will likely start to see a drop in content engagement.
Followers can start to like content that they genuinely appreciate, too. Until now, it was fully apparent to the public, and their friends/family, who engaged with what. Removing the Like numbers from posts could lead to a more honest interaction between the content producer and their followers.
Consequences for marketeers
User engagement and community building remain at the heart of any social media account. With Likes ‘out of the way,’ comments and DMs will become even more critical measures of success to both influencers and companies. Whereas generally there is a correlation between likes and comments, not all content provokes the same reaction from users.
I personally think that influencers will have to work harder to create traction on their posts as it will become less transparent to users which posts have received a lot of love.
Similarly, companies and brands who have been focusing their attention on Likes, instead of true user interactions, will have to adjust their way of thinking. With these changes, we will get one step closer to making social media social again. The most important thing is that conversations drive and define communities, not the number of Likes, per se.
Ultimately, we will have to wait and see if the type of content that we are presented with changes over time due to these alterations. There will undoubtedly be some unintended consequences, and we will be keeping on a close eye as they emerge.