What’s in a like?
Instagram has been dubbed the worst social media site for users mental health and wellbeing (click here to read the research) and like culture is seen to be at the heart of the problem.
When we receive a like on social, we get a dopamine hit – a little chemical reward bomb going off in our brain. Marketing and psychology expert Adam Alter says –
When someone likes an Instagram post, or any content that you share, it’s a little bit like taking a drug. As far as your brain is concerned, it’s a very similar experience. Now the reason why is because it’s not guaranteed that you’re going to get likes on your posts. And it’s the unpredictability of that process that makes it so addictive. If you knew that every time you posted something you’d get a 100 likes, it would become boring really fast.
So if you don’t get the likes, you don’t get the dopamine hit you were hoping for. But even if you do, it’s a cheap, temporary high.
Hate like; the act of “liking” someone’s photo on social media even though it fills you with intense jealousy.
Likes, or the lack of likes, is used as a weapon by bullies. And they’ve caused an epidemic of comparisonitis – a condition that causes suffers to question why their likes aren’t as big as yours.
So Instagram’s solution is to hide the number of likes from view. Users can see the number of likes they get, but noone else can.
A follower whose account has just switched over sent me this screenshot of how my most recent post looked on her phone.
But we all like to be liked
My first thoughts on the trial were – I’ll miss my likes, but I think it’s really cool for the kids – I’m a grown-up and don’t care about likes, this stuff really affects young people’s self-esteem. Ha. I kid myself.
Just one week ago I deleted a post from my feed because it didn’t get very many likes. It’s lack of likeability changed my feelings about the photo, and about what I had written underneath it. Admitting that makes me feel very silly, but I was just having a predictable response to the dopamine kick in the teeth (I’ve reinstated the post by the way).
Tastes like freedom?
The theory with hiding likes is that this will free up users to post exactly what they like, when they like, without worrying about how popular it will be.
New Zealand based Instagram user Simone McCallum’s account has switched. She told me it may have already impacted the way people are liking and commenting –
You get used to it pretty quick. You can still see if someone has liked a post, you just can’t see the total likes (unless you count them all). I feel like I am seeing different posts in my newsfeed – possibly because engagement has changed?
Another user Tracey MacKenzie – who’s in Canada where Instagram started this trial says –
We’ve had the no likes for a while now and I think it’s great! Instagram wasn’t suposed to put pressure on people. The person who posts the pic still sees the amount of likes an I think it’s much better that way. People will get to see a different side of each other now – not just the perfect side.
What’s not to like?
So from a personal perspective – bring on invisible likes. We’ll still have all the information we need to judge how our posts are performing but will be liberated from the pressure of anyone else seeing it.
But for influencers and brands – is it a nightmare? It’s easy to see how hidden likes could lead to less engagement, and affect audience growth (read this piece in the New Statesman). If that happens in the trial, businesses could put pressure on Instagram to stop them rolling it out globally.
And what I would really like…
Are likes really the most significant metric for Instagram to address? I don’t think so. With engagement rates already down I sense people are less bothered about likes than ever.
Follower numbers are still the vanity metric du jour. When I speak to individuals and businesses about their social strategy – how can I get more followers is their number 1 question.
A recent study suggests that half of all Instagram users have bought fake followers and likes (here’s the BBC report). So unless the emphasis on follower numbers is removed too, Instagram will still be awash with dodgy practice.
And removing likes doesn’t remove the constant stream of perfected images we scroll through – which many judge to be far more damaging psychologically.
This trial is groundbreaking and could entirely change the social media landscape, but it will be months before we know the results of the experiment – and many months after that before it could be implemented for everyone. I’d love to know what you think about it. Comment below and we can chat.