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Instagram without the likes - yay or nay?

You may have heard through the grapevine that Instagram recently started testing what the platform would be like if you were to hide likes on posts so that only the creator could see how many 'likes' they received, but none of their followers. Naturally, you can only imagine how this would affect influencers, content creators and brands that have for a long time viewed such likes as an indication of success and popularity. How else can you know, right?

That's what we wanted to look into a bit more too. Wendy Thompson, CEO of Socialites writing in Stoppress, shares her view about why this might just be a clever move on the social media giant's behalf;

"Two days ago, Instagram started experimenting in Canada by hiding likes on Instagram in the post view. Results are not in yet as to whether people like or don't like the move. But this change will most impact influencers, content creators and brands that until now - rightly or wrongly - have valued likes as a measure of engagement and therefore success."

So what would happen if this feature (or removal rather) were to roll out globally? No doubt it would mean a bit of a shakeup in terms of how "successful" or not posts and specific creators and brands are viewed, but on the other hand, let's consider the psychology behind getting 'likes' in the first place.

Instant gratification and the psychology of rewards through social media

Maybe you're super popular with loads of followers or just a handful; either way, Instagram has long been a platform for making people (especially teenagers) vulnerable to the opinions of a fickle audience, many of whom are usually faceless. A UCLA study looked closely at the effects of what happened to a teenager's brain when they received a large number of likes on a post they shared. According to Stuart Wolpert (2016) writing for Newsroom at UCLA, "the same brain circuits that are activated by eating chocolate and winning money are activated when teenagers see large numbers of "likes" on their own photos or the photos of peers in a social network.

Taking 32 teenagers in the age group of 13-18, they were each shown 148 photographs on a computer screen for 12 minutes; this also included 40 photos that each teenager submitted as part of the experiment. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), lead author Lauren Sherman (a researcher in the brain mapping centre) stated that, "when the teens saw their own photos with a large number of likes, we saw activity across a wide variety of regions in the brain."

But not only this; the study also demonstrated that a teenager's wilfulness to "like" a photo heavily relied on the total number of "likes" the post had already attributed. Sherman concluded, "We showed the exact same photo with a lot of likes to half of the teens and to the other half with just a few likes; when they saw a photo with more likes, they were significantly more likely to "like" it themselves. Teens react differently to information when they believe it has been endorsed by many or few of their peers, even if these peers are strangers."

A move for the (mentally) better

If there is one thing social media is good at, it's FOMO (fear of missing out). We're sure you're no strangers to feeling inadequate at times when scrolling through your social media feed, full to bursting more often than not of perfectly curated images of travel, beautiful people, amazing parties and more - and with hundreds of thousands of likes coupled with it. All this can make people feel that their own life is inferior and significantly 'boring' or perhaps make them feel 'unpopular,' purely based on whether or note their posts are receiving ample amounts of likes. However, we at Zavy think it's an intriguing idea that many hope, according to Stoppress, "will translate into better mental health outcomes for users, reducing toxic anxiety caused by its current "like" as a measure of popularity - not forgetting that purchasing fake likes will no longer hold value or happen at at all."

The experiment above is an interesting indication about why Instagram might roll out this proposed idea of like-hiding so people can honestly decide for themselves about what they do or don't like, regardless of the number of likes a post has. In fact, a number of New Zealand's most high-profile, successful influencers supported the move, as can be seen in their responses below.

How will influencers be "found" if this move rolls out?

For those among us who rely on Instagram as a source of income, this move might come as a rude awakening. While Instagram themselves feel that the move will result in more creative content being produced, it could very likely also lead to influencers feeling that they have to pair up with sponsors and advertisers, compromise their own content so that they get paid, and ultimately choose to post more sponsored content - which isn't always what followers want to see.

A Kiwi influencer with a following of 1.1 million followers had been approached by brands including Pepsi to post sponsored content on multiple occasions. However, he chose not to engage with them as he anticipated that he would see a drop in the number of likes and overall engagement for #adcontent - despite the money, he chose to turn the option down.

With regards to this, the move to removing likes could arguably end up better for influencers and brands - but not in terms of producing more creative, authentic and organic content that the social media giant is hoping for.Only time will tell if this proposed change would actually encourage more authentic organic comments, genuine connections and unpressurised engagement.  

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© Zavy 2021
© Zavy 2021