The American poet, Eden Ahbez once said ‘The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.’ Alas, old Ahbez did not see foresee the power of like. Or “a like”. The push of a button. A double tap-tap. A digitized pop of pure affection. A teeny, tiny heart so mighty, it could send a fierce shot of adrenaline surging through the blood of a stranger across the oceans. Instant appreciation, instant gratification, instant “love”.
Surprise then, at the news of social juggernaut, Instagram trialing hiding the number of likes on posts in several countries, including New Zealand, this month. For those of you who have probably already noticed, “Likes” aren’t shown in any public part of the app, including on public-facing grids or on your main feed. However, you can still see your own “Likes”. So, although the removal may quell the desire for social public status, you can still gobble down those sweet dopamine hits in private.
Announced at Facebook’s annual developer conference, joining us Kiwis as guinea pigs are Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, and Japan. The test is being presented as part of Instagram’s new focus on the app’s effects on mental health and emphasis on “digital well-being”.
Under the influence
‘But what about the poor influencers!?’ we hear you not cry. Well, it turns out they aren’t too best pleased about the whole thing. Because whilst the number of followers you have is important, engagement is where these guys make their big bucks. No likes, no influence, no influencers.
New Zealand influencer, Mikaela Testa posted a video of her breaking down in tears at the news of the recent changes stating ‘Regardless of what you may think Instagram is a REAL job and those in the industry have worked hard to get where they’re at. It’s people that aren’t even in the industry that think it’s a f**king joke. It’s not, it’s real damage out here.’
For brands who won’t be able to see how well their branding or product is performing with influencers, justifying expenditure becomes a little more tricky. In the same breath, will this lack of partnership deprive some businesses of much needed market intelligence?
Influencer culture has certainly made its dent over the past few years. With big and small name brands chasing followers, likes, reach and engagement, it’s hardly a wonder that ethically dubious click-farms (who prey on buying followers and likes for you) have also made a name for themselves.
Do it for the likes!
‘We hope this test will remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love’ Mia Garlick, Facebook Australia and New Zealand director of policy, said in a statement.
But does the Gram really give a shit about us mere mortals?
It is worth remembering the app, much like everything else, is Facebook owned. Previously, Ex-Facebook President, Sean Parker, said not only did Facebook know the “like” button could exploit human vulnerability for profit, but they specifically designed it to do just that.
With other software developers in Silicon Valley in agreement, it is hard not to look at this move as a business decision. Damage limitation. A way to pivot away from criticism and rising pressure from the public surrounding social media and mental health.
Whatever the outcome of the test, digital approval has come under the global microscope. From a business angle, the influencer culture has made brand strategy lazy, relying on the new ‘creators’ rather than creating ourselves. From a universal standpoint, what has now become a normalised need for validation can only deserve further inspection.
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