How incredibly liberating to imagine an Instagram with a privatised like count! When I first read about this, I thought of a giant middle finger emoji to all of the self-proclaimed digital strategists that impose measurements on content creators. I’ve been told before -might I add with misplaced confidence – if an image doesn’t hit 10% engagement of following, the Instagram account is either faking their followers or not worth being paid. Yet, brands still want the exposure and imagery from any and every ‘influencer’ they can get. It goes without saying that Instagram is much larger than the few percent that boast enough of an audience to leverage freebies and even paid work. And I’ve said before, apps aren’t here to serve the 10% that make money off of a free platform. Another feature that has been announced is the idea of simply ‘creating’, which mimics the way Facebook statuses are posted: they can be stickers, text, images or video. Whatever your heart desires. It’s loud and clear, the tech giant is here to serve the masses. The ultimate goal is to increase active engagement rather than total time spent, which can often be unproductive.
Why? Because of advertising dollars. How to do this? Remove the concept of competition that’s making people self conscious and attracting critique that it’s disadvantageous to our mental wellbeing. As for ‘influencers’… well if they can survive another mini tech apocalypse, they deserve to live. Good for you, cockroach.
Implications for influencers
Sure, if Instagram engagement is hidden from the public it doesn’t stop brands requesting media kits and screenshots from influencers. But I applaud this as it adds a layer of consideration to the already arduous selection process. There are many on the other side of the industry that still see us as walking figures e.g. 83.4k, 70% female audience, 72% UK based, 20% Australia with 4.6% engagement. Could have been a model if she were three inches taller and lost five kilos. She’s as good as it’ll get. They rarely take into account the very reason we have a following – our content and personality. (I know that not everyone planning campaigns is so cut throat but excuse the cynicism, I’m jet-lagged).
I know many, including myself that have struggled with the conflict of creating out of love and for our community, and posting images that we believe ‘Instagram’ wants to see. I know that brands fall into this trap too, I’ve often been approached because they “love the style and editorial feel”. But one reshoot request later, I’m provided with a moodboard of identical images they’d like me to copy. These references are always edited the same, with a composition uncanny to one another and everyone is bloody grinning like it’s Christmas. It’s as if there’s a puppy in their hands, except there’s not. It’s a chocolate bar or a sanitary towel or a cup of branded coffee.
Then there’s the more personal element of the internal workings of our industry – the more popular you appear, the more support garnered from your peers who would like to be associated with you. As lovely as this is, we’ve all experienced disappointment by the lack of genuine people to which we give our time. By removing likes from public view, you’re really saying: read my captions, look at my photos, watch my stories. If you don’t think you’d get on with me in real life, then please don’t waste my time.
Of course there are people that really pride themselves on their incredible likes to follower ratio. They’re so attuned with their audience and have cultivated a loyalty that exceeds any trend they try or filter with which they experiment. I don’t want to put this down because there’s a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes that the majority of viewers don’t stop to consider. However, I will say that measuring your success on the whims of others isn’t sustainable. For this reason, I am still for the idea that Instagram goes through with privatising our like counts. Even though it’s currently being trialled in Canada alone, it wouldn’t hurt to see how it goes down in the UK too.
Implications for users
It surprised me that even casual users of Instagram care about their likes. I’ve had friends’ partners or even people I meet outside of work ask me to ‘like their photo’, even though they have absolutely no stake in its success. My friend has a theory that deep down, everyone wants to be an ‘influencer’. The same way that everyone at school wants to be liked. Judge or sympathise – whatever your sentiment, ego is a huge issue in our society. Even though it will always exist and find a way to manifest itself, I feel that social platforms have long provided the prime conditions for breeding this kind of negativity. It is not the cause but it is certainly a trigger.
Personal feelings aside, Facebook has been investing in measures to reduce the damaging impact of technology on its users. Time Well Spent is one well known initiative that you may have heard of (and I wrote an article for another website about it here) that highlights mindfulness while using social media. It even promotes digital detox, believing that meaningful engagement is more positive than listless scrolling. The Centre for Humane Technology has been particularly active since 2017.
It is made up of leaders in tech and politics. The manifesto if you will, distinctly highlights the problem with superficiality versus reality. Because as much as the media likes to portray this, it’s not just influencers making you feel like you should be a yogi with braids and a perfect smile. We are always affecting one another, mimicking what we believe to be most successful, regardless of what’s below the surface. How do you think you learnt the reaction to ‘follow’ and ‘like’ in the first place?
Although removing this urge for approval won’t end just because ‘likes’ are no longer a currency. But it’s a significant step in committing to removing an unhealthy obsession that often, we don’t like to admit.
Implications for brands
If brands haven’t learnt by now, this will certainly give them a shove into consciousness. None of us have control over this app. If there’s an update one week, it’s likely a few of your posts will tank. If Instagram decides that the trend is towards a certain type of hashtags, then your trusty usual set are no longer useful to getting you fresh views. It’s even more precarious than Google’s SEO metrics. Having little choice but to look at on-brand content over arbitrary figures is a better way to stay authentic to consumers. After all, our audiences don’t choose their favourite ‘influencers’ in order of their statistical popularity. Exposure simply makes them aware of us.
Every year, my PR contacts tell me that they’re refining their digital strategy. Every year the budget is finalised later and later. In short, it seems that brands are trying to make sense of the data available and because everything keeps changing, it’s pretty hard to get a concrete grasp on what the next step should be. Cue third party platforms that connect influencers to paid briefs and gifting opportunities. Except when it comes to certain ones (which is why I believe that there are around three of them that are any good), there’s a lack of transparency in where the budget really goes. Most platforms ask for 20,000-100,000 upwards for a campaign. Yet often, we’re allocated a set fee of $50-400 for multiple posts, with less than 100 influencers doing the same job. Where does it all go? If you ever find out, DM me.
There’s also a distinct lack of genuine relationship with the person promoting and creating for your brand, which means the loyalty lies with the platform and not the product or brand. Not only this, but which Instagrammer gets selected for jobs is ultimately left to external parties to advise. Yet the allure of accurate reporting and a sense of ROI means that this will continue to be a popular option. I believe that it’s the direction that brands will take or invest in even more, if Instagram’s trial should become a reality.
Would you want Instagram to privatise likes in your country?