On Your Bike Likes - the start of a new Instagram era?

On Your Bike Likes - the start of a new Instagram era? You’ve selected the perfect image ‘for the gram’. Edits done - now, for the caption; after an hour of deliberating various compositions, you’ve decided on a single emoji. Finally, you click ‘post’. What ensues is the suspenseful anticipation as you eagerly wait for the first likes to start rolling in; each like popping up like a shot of air to inflate your self-worth balloon; each long gap, a prick that slowly deflates it. It’s this anticipation and unknown vacuum of how many likes you will get, that fuels such a concoction of excitement, addiction and anxiety; the drug effect. It’s hard to deny there’s a certain thrill that comes with posting.  On your bike likes However, Instagram recently announced it was trialling “hiding the number of likes on posts in several countries, including Australia and Japan, in order to ‘remove pressure’ on users”. The user will still be able to see which of their friends have liked a post, but the fundamental stimulation of seeing a ‘like count’ will disappear. Instagram believe “you can now focus on sharing the things you love”. On the face of it, a valiant effort to tackle the inherent problems that arise from a like-based system of validation. So, what’s the problem? The creation of the #blessed influencer market The growing popularity of the Instagram platform, coupled with the augmented desire to attain likes and the clear potential it possesses as a marketing stage to perform on, led to the birth of the influencer market. What transpired was an endless convulsing sea of hashtags to swim through - #Love, #Blessed, #LivingMyBestLife – in order to attract mesmerised users to posts. In a nutshell, companies pay and sponsor influencers - based on the number of likes their posts get - to promote products. Now a driven social media professional can make a substantial amount of money from users’ likes. The value of a like has become a lot more than a mere glowing red heart. A new friendly and utopian social media ecosystem on the horizon? So, will removing likes create a more meaningful, uncompetitive and enjoyable ecosystem of social media activity? And not only this, but act as a solution for both user and marketeer? The core trait of this new policy is to cut the problem at its source; removing a likes count will reduce the innate desire of the online ‘like-thirsty’ species for self-validation. But, moreover, what it represents is the chance to enhance the capability that Instagram (and social media) has for positive sharing, influence and collaborations. I am, personally, a user and fan of Instagram. At its best, it offers a dazzling spectrum of art, theatre, music, sport, culture, community and values, which connect people in wonderful ways; for artists, it enables a hub of creativity; for the user, a diary of stand-out moments in their life, connecting and sharing with others, jokes stories to watch from friends. If we’re glancing at these ideas through a PR / marketing focused lens, with the removal of likes, what transpires is a renewed impetus on content-fuelled campaigns rather than catering for superficial ‘likes-based’ ones. Tech start-ups must now operate in a highly saturated tech marketplace; Instagram offers companies the opportunity to express a cultural identity, brand and personality. Removing likes may work for B2B companies in the same way as the user. A polished, ‘unfriendly’ and selective feed can be replaced by a more relatable, fun and accessible compilation; companies are now posting pictures of team members, socials and the office environment alongside product campaigns. As a result, it provides another means (and perhaps amplifies the ability) to appeal to customers, businesses and influencers alike. Not only this, but it can help to allure the best talent, promulgating the “I wanna work for that company” effect. An example of B2B ‘instagramming’ is Canadian e-commerce company shopify. They operate by implementing tools for other companies that allow “shoppers to discover, shop and buy your products directly from your Instagram posts and stories”. Their own Instagram account offers a mixture of inspiring business stories, quotes and pictures in order to attract other businesses. Combining all these factors, what emerges is a newly-formed ecosystem where users, professionals and marketeers engage with each other in a more organic and profound way. The bigger (and more important) picture It’s no wonder that Instagram has been the subject of multiple studies denoting its role in the exacerbation of mental health and well-being issues. The combined efforts of ‘like-hungry’ mentalities, celebrity culture and the prominence of the influencer market, have led to the perpetuation of a highly edited and transposed version of ‘the ideal life’. This has been attributed to users constantly comparing lives with others, increased anxiety and lower self-esteem if likes aren’t achieved on posts. Despite the outcry from some (and to the disappointment of others), the influencer will no doubt survive; the correlation between likes and sales will invariably be transposed over to analytics such as followers and comments. Instead, the trial represents a golden opportunity for a new dawn for social media and the wellbeing of its users. But will removing likes actually affect engagement? This will be no quick fix. Change takes time to adhere to. Will this strategy only serve to act as a mere masque to continuing psycho-physical health problems and wider societal issues? After all, the profusion of idealised images, ideas and lifestyles will remain. Bullying will likely remain prolific. However, will a ‘like-free’ environment initiate a change in mentality? I have to admit I have been excited over likes; it’s ingrained within us. And, on some levels, there is nothing wrong with likes acting as a show of appreciation. The counterargument is that it removes the tool with which to praise commendable and inspiring achievement. But those who already exercise a confidence and self-assuredness within themselves and their lives will not stress as much over what they post, likes or no likes. Removing likes may generate this effect for the majority; like the good old days, you’re posting what you want rather than waiting for that ‘beauty’ to rake in the likes. It may lead to people being more critical and forming their own decisions as well as following the trends; as mentioned, removing likes eradicates a physical validation. It’s the agency the user exercises in interacting with Instagram that dictates their experience. Who you follow and what you engage with can create a feed full of ‘positive vibes’ and ‘healthy’ content, and the more diverse the better. This plays into the hands of the B2B marketeer – it’ll be easier to target specific audiences who would be enticed by the company. Don’t get me wrong, if it arrives on our shores, it will feel incredibly weird at first. Maybe we will be screaming to have them back. Maybe this is the first step towards a carefree, self-assured and invigorating social media ecosystem; a refreshing update. You have to start somewhere in order to drive the eventual evolution of a new era.