It’s no secret that for most, the appeal of social media is the gratification they receive from the reactions of others. But what if that factor was eliminated altogether? Recently, Facebook and Instagram introduced the idea of hiding likes on social media. This concept is currently being tested on Instagram among random sets of users—which expanded to the U.S. last week. Why hide our source of gratification? How will this impact social media as we know it? Let us weigh in.
What’s happening right now?
Facebook announced earlier this year that it could soon start hiding the “like counter” on news feed posts. This is the place where you see how many “likes” a post has earned. Users would still be able to see how many likes their own posts earned, but not how many likes other users’ posts earned. Earlier this year, Instagram was already testing it in seven countries including Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand.
Starting the week of Nov. 11, 2019, Instagram announced that it would be expanding the test to Instagram users in the United States. Instagram did not release information on how users would be selected for the test; however, these users should receive a notification about it at the top of their news feeds. (At the time this was written, no one in our office had been included in the test.)
Social media is a source of information—a way to feel connected with the people, places and things in the world around us. Some people solely use it as that. For others, however, everything from once-in-a-lifetime events like weddings and newborns to the sandwiches they had for lunch and the cocktails they had for happy hour get shared on these public platforms.
One might argue that this sharing of life details serves simply to document and keep record of events (admittedly another legitimate use of the platform). Think about it–we are not too far off from a time when people will have Facebook timelines that feature 50-plus years of life content!
But on top of it being a source of information, and on top of it being a record keeper, social media plays another role: a source of peer affirmation and gratification. And where there is gratification, there is also room for disappointment.
According to Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri, hiding likes on social media could benefit users by making the experience “less of a competition.” Rather than spending their time worrying about how many likes (i.e. positive affirmation) they got on a post, they could spend more time “connecting with people or things that inspire [them],” Mosseri stated.
But here’s the kicker
Because social media users still get to see how many likes they got on their own posts, that gratification still exists. In other words, Facebook and Instagram wouldn’t be taking away the role that social media plays in terms of positive affirmation. Rather, they would be eliminating the pressure to compare oneself to others.
Let’s consider an example. If Jane Doe got 202 likes on her graduation post, and Suzie Q got just 21 on hers, she might compare herself to Jane and feel inadequate. She might even delete her post because she felt so inadequate. With those numbers taken out of the equation, each person can see that the other one got likes on her respective post, but not the exact number. It puts everyone on a level playing field.
Side note: If you haven’t watched Netflix’s Black Mirror episode, “Nosedive” starring Bryce Dallas Howard, it’s an interesting story on the direction that social media is heading in terms of peer affirmation.
Noting the potential negative effects on business pages
Sure, eliminating the impulse for people to have to attach their self-esteem to their personal social media posts sounds great. But here at McNutt & Partners, we’re in the business of, well, businesses. We thought about how this potential change could affect our clients’ business pages. Thus far, we haven’t seen anything to indicate that this new feature wouldn’t affect all users.
On the one hand, hiding likes on social media could negatively affect business pages based on the fact that businesses inherently thrive on competition. You see your competitor swimming in post likes. In theory, it gives you motivation to step up your game to match or exceed them. In addition, post engagement can be a good bargaining chip for smaller businesses wanting to appeal to larger distributors for their products.
It could also hurt social media collaborations and influencers. Brands looking for an influencer to promote their products currently scope out influencers whose posts get high engagement (in other words, high numbers of likes). Without the “like counter” present, brands would see that an influencer has post likes, but not how many. (Though it is our understanding that page likes would still be visible).
While social media likes do have the power to incite forward momentum for businesses, they are not directly correlated to a brand’s success.
The concept of buying likes, for example, has diminished the value of them. Having a high number of followers might look great on the surface, but what does it matter if they are not quality consumer leads? The success of a business comes down to dollars and cents. You may have hundreds of people liking a product post. However, if no one is buying the product, then ultimately your social media engagement is not affecting your business’ success.
Competition is what drives our free market economy, but unabashedly competing for post likes may not be what we need to focus our energies on. In fact, eliminating competition in terms of hiding likes on social media means brands would have to be judged on the quality of their products, not the number of likes they have on a product post.
If Instagram and Facebook want to experiment with hiding likes, we say bring it on. Time will tell how it works or doesn’t work, and while it could present some hiccups for businesses, we ultimately don’t think social media likes are the end-all be-all for entrepreneurial triumph.
McNutt & Partners is a full-service advertising and digital marketing agency. Contact us today for your marketing needs! Call 334-521-1010, or visit our contact page.