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Can We Live in a World Without Instagram Likes?

The true reason behind the removal of everyone’s favorite metric


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Janya Sindhu

3 years ago | 6 min read

“If you focus on producing a great experience for anyone, that’s how you get big.”

That is exactly the story of Instagram. In fact, this quote is by Kevin Systrom, one of the founders of Instagram. From wanting to see people’s photos in albums, wanting to see updates of their lives, and being forced to see pictures of EVERYTHING they eat, it gives us the biggest digital experience possible.

Instagram has had a meteoric rise from a million users in the first 3 months of their launch to becoming one of the biggest apps in the world, with 1 billion monthly active users.

Did you know that 63% of Instagram users log in at least once per day? Please notice the “at least”.

But this article isn’t about the success of Instagram. It’s about what Instagram let into our lives: LIKES. You know, that annoying metric many people see as their self worth? It’s taken over our worlds — whether it’s as a user, an influencer, or a marketer.

In a way, the value of all these three parties is measured through likes. Which leads us to the question — can we live in a world without likes?

Oh, why are we asking this question? Because Instagram, in April, announced that they were going to soon start hiding likes — at least on an experimental basis. It started in Canada and has expanded to seven more countries recently. Why is the social media platform testing this out?

“The idea is to try to depressurize Instagram, make it less of a competition,” said Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri. This thought comes from many research papers that show the effects of likes, mainly on self-esteem and self-worth.

A research paper from 2019 shows that many teenagers believe likes as a sign of social inclusion. Likes act as a rewarding action toward self-esteem.

With the concept of “aesthetic,” it seems like every post is specially edited and made to follow a certain theme one has created for their own profile. Yes, children these days are putting in more effort into these things than reading a book, I guess.

But what this leads to is a situation where your social media life is completely fabricated just for likes. “Finsta” is another concept which is a profile you keep super-private, only showing your closest friends what you are actually like — a profile where you don’t care about the likes and just about sharing experiences.

Every time you get a like, your brain releases dopamine, which is a chemical related to pleasure. Any time you post something, you eagerly wait for likes to come, which makes this feeling addictive; like drugs.

In an interview by CBS, some teenagers admitted that if one of their posts get less than 200 likes, they just delete it.

“We will make decisions that hurt the business if they’re good for people’s well-being and health because it has to be good for the business over the long run,” Mosseri said.

Sounds good, right? Too good to be true.

An article from CNBC brought to light that some Facebook research shows the real reason for them hiding the likes: more posts. For any social media platform, more content is always better.

Since people would feel less self-conscious because they won’t be able to see the number of likes, they would automatically feel like posting more. People would also not compare themselves to others in terms of likes.

What about the addictive dopamine release? If I am not getting the pleasure chemical, why would I constantly check Instagram after I have posted it? Well, a user would still receive notifications for anyone who has liked the post.

The interactions with the app would shift in a more positive manner, letting people spend more time on the app without thinking of all the negative aspects, especially bullying and feeling of self-loath, and making it a more comfortable environment.

Moving onto Influencers — the life and blood of Instagram — how does this move affect them?

One of their success measures is the engagement each of their posts has. Brands only want influencers to sponsor their products if they have an actual effect on people, and one of the metrics is likes.

To be a successful Instagram influencer, your engagement rates have to be through the roof right?

No, not really. I mean, just because someone liked an influencer’s post doesn’t mean they have actual influence over them. Let’s face it, a lot of us actually end up just meaninglessly scrolling and liking some posts without even noticing it.

For influencers to have an actual reach with people, they must be able to get their attention. They must make the user stop scrolling their feed and actually interact with the post.

According to a tech platform called Influential, a high amount of likes doesn’t necessarily mean high attention metrics, such as video completion rate and click-through rates.

This means influencers will have to focus on much more sophisticated metrics than just likes. These metrics will only be high if the content they put out is worthwhile for a user, which means they would need to come up with actual content strategies.

There’s also a big plus for influencers. Since they won’t be worried about the likes on each post and how it would bring down their engagement rates; influencers, too, would be willing to post more.

This is especially important since a lot of influencers were shifting towards Instagram Stories, as viewership stats aren’t public on that, keeping their reputation intact.

They would get a sense of freedom, away from the shackles of “likes”.

Brands will have to focus on better social media strategies that will tell stories, rather than just focusing on getting as many likes as possible.

Click-through rate is something a brand would have to largely pay attention to, as that would be their defining metric of whether a user actually was able to connect with the brand.

Things like the right hashtags may not work as well for a company as a proper, well-thought-out post would. However, brands will also not be duped into paying high rates for influencers based on their likes, especially since the concept of fake likes exist.

We are seeing that Instagram wants to make all these three parties go back to the roots of the platform. Storytelling. Content. Experience.

With users, they want them to focus on sharing their experiences with the world — without the worry of being accepted. Instagram wants them to be real.

Influencers need to put out content that is able to resonate with users and not just falsify a perfect world for these users that they must strive to achieve.

Brands need to be able to use this platform to tell a story about their products and services — being able to connect with the users should become their #1 priority.

These are the metrics Instagram wants you to care about.

It’s a rosy picture, isn’t it? But you still have to ask, don’t you — what’s in it for Instagram?

Well, brand image, for starters. By caring about the negative impact likes were having on mental health and actually doing something about it rather than just talking about it, CEO Adam Mosseri was able to change our image about Instagram from a “toxic platform for fake perfections” to “accept and love yourself and your experiences.”

Still, what about the revenue? Ah see, remember how I mentioned that Facebook research shows that people will actually start posting more on Instagram without the likes?

So if they’re posting more that means they’re spending more time on the platform. If they’re spending more time on the platform that means brands have the ability to show them more ads. So, Instagram’s ad revenue keeps going up.

More than that, Instagram is able to create a cycle for itself.

So, to answer the question, can we live in a world without likes?

Yes, and Instagram is banking on it.

This article was originally published here

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