'But How Will We Validate Our Existence', Cry The Instafamous??!??
A leaked Instagram design trial shows the platform is experimenting with obscuring and hiding ‘Like’ counts, as uncovered by reverse-engineering guru Jane Manchu Wong.
On the link above, if we view screenshots left to right; you can see on the far left that the Instagram feed post lacks a Like count, but still shows a few faces and a name of other people who’ve Liked it. As per the screenshot in the middle.
‘Grammers are notified that the like count on their post’s is private, only viewable to the poster, and not publicly viewable.
In the screenshot on the right Instagram describes the test accordingly:
“We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get. During this test, only the person who shares a post will see the total number of likes it gets.”
Hiding the follower count on a user profile, doesn’t appear to be part of the trial.
The Vital Role Of Social Proof For Marketers
Social proof in all its forms is important for marketers, and influencers, for a range of reasons.
Social messages with social proof, whether ads or organic, usually have a lower cost per impression (CPM) and higher click through rate (CTR).
More advanced marketers often create content and ad funnels which first manufacture social endorsement, before then amplifying to the masses
Human’s brains are wired for shortcuts, hence our implicit cognitive biases. See an article with lots of likes and comments on LinkedIn, well it must be good, right? Hence you click.
Unless its Oleg Vishnepolsky, then I imagine you throw your phone out the window.
Social proof plays a key roll in the spread of virality and fake news, since people mistake endorsement for quality or truth.
Even marketing enfant terrible, Mark Ritson, was not immune to the phenonomen purchasing fifity thousand Twitter followers in 2013.
For influencers themselves, and Ritson is no exception, if you have a large social footprint people believe you matter. Especially for cold audiences who are unfamiliar.
This is true for both the public and brands alike, when it comes to influencers.
Hence any tweaks or design changes a platform makes, in the manner of this test, would have far reaching consequences.
Chasing Likes Is Making Us Ill
While social proof is important for marketers it’s societal impact is less savourary.
A 2017 UK study by the Royal Society of Public Health found Instagram to be the most damaging social network for young people’s mental health.
Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society For Public Health:
‘It’s interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and wellbeing. Both platforms are very image-focused and it appears that they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people.’
It could be viewed the latest Instagram trial is it trying to reduce harm proactively, before government regulators intervene.
Likes = Dopamine hit for users
The role of social proof, in the form of Likes, Follower counts or similar is quite a hot topic at the moment. Therefore, changes should be expected at some point, in some capacity.
In 2017, Facebook co-founder Sean Parker, claimed Facebook introduced the like button in 2009 to give users “a little dopamine hit” to encourage them to upload more content.
Parker claimed in an interview with the Guardian:
“It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”
It is also a topic discussed at length in a recent Ted Talk with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey:
“One of the choices we made in the early days was, we had this number that showed how many people follow you.
We decided that number should be big and bold, and anything that’s on the page that’s big and bold has importance, and those are the things that you want to drive.
Was that the right decision at the time? Probably not.”
As pressure grows on social channels to reduce their harmful impact, Likes may, one day, follow Pokes.