With Instagram and Facebook experimenting with hiding likes on posts, what kind of impact will that have on the influencer and social media marketing industry that so heavily relies on that metric to measure reach and efficacy?
Words by Maki Molapo
When Facebook was first introduced in 2006, we all flocked to it, understandably so because it was so different from other social media sites we were used to. Whether you were a LinkedIn or MySpace user at the time, or a Mxit and later a 2Go user, not being on Facebook around its era of inception was an anomaly. We connected with our close friends, before our parents caught up to the hype, and were able to comment on their posts. Unlike other instant messaging apps where someone would put up a status and that would create conversation. As the years went by, other social media sites, excluding LinkedIn, became extinct while others were simply forgotten.
We did not know at the time that social media would become the beast that it is today. We also didn’t anticipate Facebook being the social media giant that it is, alongside other popular social networks of course. To date, the 16-year-old social networking site has acquired Instagram and WhatsApp, which are, according to Statista, two of the biggest social media apps, besides YouTube and Weixin/WeChat. Social media has grown so much that it has become a lifeline of connectivity, communication, a means of accessing information, job searching and a moneymaking platform — we even have influencers because of it. This, however, has led to increasing concerns about its effect on our mental health, considering the pressures some face because of it.
In an effort to lessen the pressure, Facebook and sister app Instagram started experimenting with hiding the total number of likes in 2019. According to Business Insider, “the goal has been to shift focus to the quality of content posted, rather than the quantity of likes and views these posts accrue”. This is because likes counts have increasingly become a popularity metric contested mostly by teenagers. In fact, according to IOL, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) reported in 2019 that, “increased participation in social media networks, including Facebook and Instagram, was associated with increased psychological distress in young people, with the effects almost twice as severe among young girls”.
This year, Facebook is testing giving social media users the option of hiding or showing the total number of likes. This means users will be the only ones who can see their likes count but their followers won’t be able to see them, unless the user makes them visible. In terms of who will be most affected, be it negatively or positively, by this experiment, senior social media manager at Grey Advertising Michelle Steenkamp says, “I wouldn’t be too concerned because when Instagram hid their likes, we were still afforded some sort of metric — ‘hundreds, thousands, millions…’. I feel it was somewhat advantageous, especially when fans can’t see the exact amount, but the page owner can. For brands I’ve worked on, we didn’t see any significant drop in our likes or engagement.” At the same time, influencers rely on the total number of likes in order to attract brands.
Student educator, micro-lifestyle influencer and social media promoter, Zanele Ntseto says on Instagram they are dependent on interactions because that’s how they primarily benefit from social media engagements. “It’s easier for other people to like or interact on a post because they see others do it. The influence grows but when it’s hidden, people can ignore the entire post,” Ntseto explains. She says this then defeats the entire purpose of the promotion.
However, Steenkamp says, “As a social media manager, we are always looking for the ‘value’ element, which compares your likes to actual engagement, because at the end of the day, we, as a brand, need to look at reach and engagement metrics, KPI dependent.” Steenkamp says strategically speaking, a good metric to look at is the number of people you are bound to reach as a brand when doing a campaign, but at the same time ensuring that number is highly targeted and in line with the brand ethos. “This usually becomes very transparent when one compares reach to actual engagement on content (KPI dependent),” she says.
The experiment will start on Instagram and later be explored on Facebook.