Instagram has been dabbling in the waters of hiding likes, but with the news last week that the US was being tested the company jumped right in – and certainly made a splash in the process.
Speaking at the Wired 25 event in San Francisco, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri confirmed the rollout. The system, which has seen test initiatives take place in seven countries this year including Australia, Canada and Ireland, will mean some users, while being able to still personally see how many likes a particular post gets, but the information will not be transmitted to their followers.
Mosseri asked attendees straight off the bat what they thought of the idea, to what may be politely termed as a golfing ripple of applause. Various well-known names criticised the decision. Nicki Minaj, for instance, threatened to stop posting on the platform. Yet this is not especially new. As the BBC reported in August, some prominent Australian influencers, with millions of followers apiece, also called for concern.
Instagram’s chief executive noted that the move was less about the established names. “It’s about young people,” he said. “The idea is to try and depressurise Instagram, make it less of a competition, give people more space to focus on connecting with people that they love, things that inspire them.”
The question however remains around influencers: what does this mean in the nascent world of influencer marketing and ROI? And if you’re aspiring to become an Instagram ‘name’, has the ladder been pulled from under you?
Takumi, a UK-based marketing software provider, aims to be the bridging point between brands and influencers. Describing Instagram as ‘today’s cultural engine’, the company’s platform promises a conveyer belt of top-class influencers married to only the most authentic brand messages. “There are a ton of ways to do things the wrong way in influencer marketing,” Takumi notes as part of its mission statement. “We are advocating for the right way.”
The company is by no means the only one. Take SocialPubli as another example; MarketingTech profiled the company in September and, in the words of CEO Ismael El-Qudsi, the goal was to ‘diversify’ influencer marketing and maintain the authenticity. When it comes to ROI, the general rule is that likes are not a major factor because they are too superficial.
This is something with which Adam Williams, CEO of Takumi, affirmed. The company had been exploring ‘alternative performance metrics’, such as a focus on guaranteed impressions generated by content, helping mitigate any issues of false reach. “As a business, we don’t believe hiding likes will affect us as we work closely with influencers to collect lots of extra insights and don’t rely solely on the platform,” said Williams.
Brian Solis, formerly principal at Altimeter and now an independent analyst, said he understood the reason why influencers were ‘freaking out’ about the change. Have the goalposts been moved? “Influencers after all, are individuals who built engaged communities around their personal brands and have learned how to land lucrative endorsements with advertisers to feature products in paid posts,” he wrote on LinkedIn. “Likes, to influencers and marketers, are also a form of currency, along with followers. The more social capital one has and demonstrates, the more brands can plug into network effects that extend the brand’s reach among desired audiences.”
For those who argue Instagram may be harming creators by cutting off a vital source of revenue, Williams had his doubts. “It would seem unlikely [Instagram] would introduce an update that would harm their own business model long term,” said Williams. “Responsible advertisers should already be employing strategies that focus attention away from vanity metrics such as ‘likes’ and instead towards measuring ROI through relevancy of audience and more meaningful engagement, such as click-throughs.”
So what could this mean for future usage of Instagram, and other social media platforms?
The behaviour which has been conditioned into all of us thanks to social media and smartphones – the endless scrolling for content, the phantom phone vibrating in one’s pocket, the anxiety when a post goes like-free – is a topic which Solis has worked on for some time. His recently published book, Lifescale, aims to take the reader on a journey to declutter their mind and, in some cases, heal; as he told this publication, the digital wounds these effects cause “are deep, and we’re treating them like minor cuts.”
Make no mistake, Solis argued at the time; these are deliberate psychological and social engineering tactics from big tech. A study from Kahlua in August found more than one third of 1,000 US millennials polled checked for likes within a minute of posting on social media. Coincidentally, the company’s campaign around the study, an art installation around celebrating posts with no Instagram likes, dovetailed with the initial plans to hide likes from the social giant.
Solis reaffirmed this belief in the wake of Mosseri’s announcement. “Social media, online gaming, and apps are real-time examples of worldwide social engineering. The goal of these apps is to psuh you outside of your existing norms and values,” he wrote. “Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and the like reward users with fleeting social validation and variable intermittent rewards.
“This is really about attention economics,” he added. “Our attention is a currency. We earn and spent it. The more of it we give to any one platform, the more it can monetise.”
Facebook, the owner of Instagram, confirmed plans last month to trial hiding likes on its platform in certain geographies. While noting the difference between the two platforms, the company again cited quality over quantity, as well as positive reports from mental health professionals. Business users would still receive the same metrics.
With the expansion on Instagram, as well as noises from Facebook, the tide does appear to be turning. Williams noted his support of the wider initiative, as well as an added bonus on user behaviour. “We think it’s crucial that Instagram is taking this issue seriously and hiding likes on posts could go some way to understanding and reducing any negative impacts caused by peer pressure on social media channels,” said Williams.
“As a result of Instagram hiding likes, consumers may be more likely to interact with a wider range of brands and creators they have a genuine connection with and passion for, rather than simply liking the most popular ones or trying to ‘keep up’,” added Williams. “Having likes hidden on Instagram could also result in more authentic individualism and creativity in influencer content, improving the experience for consumers.”
While we must go no further than ‘coulds’ or ‘maybes’ right now, it is certainly the vision of Mosseri – and for influencers and brands, not to mention users and analysts, a healthier platform would be a tonic all round.
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