No Likes, No Problems
Ever since the proposed changes to Instagram were announced, I can’t help but think about how this will change things - for myself, for influencers and for the social media ecosystem at large.
This month, a leak revealed that Instagram is testing the removal of like counts. Sounds inconsequential right? But if you’ve ever underestimated Instagram and its effect on the social psyche, this is not the time to make the same mistake again.
The introduction of Instagram - and social media in general - has irrevocably changed, well, everything. It’s changed how we communicate; how we see ourselves, beauty, fame and our own value. It’s changed how restaurants are run and marketed.
It’s as simple as this: do you remember a time before Instagram? What was it like?
This modern age has been largely redefined by the ‘gram.’ We do things just for the gram. It is violently FOMO-inducing and value-creating unlike magazines and television were able to before. Our value has become determined by the likes we get.
We question the reality of things if we didn’t capture it for the gram. We don’t know what the world looks like without a filter. We see Instagram opportunities rather than the beauty around us.
And hey, I don’t say that this is all bad. I’m still a massive believer in social media and it’s ability to impact the world positively.
It’s given amateur creatives a platform to showcase their work and experiment with their creativity. It’s made us storytellers, giving us the tools in the palm of our hand to easily create. It’s made us take .a few more risks - even if it is just for the gram.
Like with all social media, I believe that Instagram has opened up avenues of storytelling that we were not offered before. There is more space on a feed than pages in a magazine meaning there is more room for faces and voices we don’t usually hear from come forward. The way in which we choose to curate our feed can help us find and connect with people who are open enough to share their struggles, that might just reflect our own.
But it also doesn’t help that those brave few are the anomaly; that they are paraded around for their bravery to go against everything that Instagram is, a perfectly curated, beautifully filtered, false reality.
We’ve come to accept the norm of Instagram and it’s role in our lives without taking a step back to recognise what it has done. To think about it as both the positive impacts and the clear negatives is to remove ourselves from the endless scroll and think a little more critically. Like anything in our lives, it pays to take a break and really consider what this all means.
A change like getting rid of likes isn’t just about changing the functionality of the platform. It’s a much-needed wake-up call for what instagram is.
Yes, it can seem trivial that one simple number is suddenly hidden from the feed. And hey, it might not even happen. But the fact that even the rumour of such a change has sparked dozens and dozens of articles about how this might change the game for the platform is proof enough that we should all be thinking more critically about Instagram.
We are being forced to face the fact that Insta likes have changed the way we look at value. Whether that be the number of likes that we receive ourselves or that others receive on their post, it’s making us rethink the nature of a like in itself.
Are we jumping on bandwagons, just to throw out the like to the posts that are going viral?
Are we using the like to remind our crushes that yes, we are watching?
Are we liking posts just so that we might be able to rig the Instagram algorithm and see more of a type of post?
Are we liking posts just because they are our friends and you are going to like every photo they post, just because?
Or are we actually just liking posts because we genuinely like them?
Speaking for myself, I have been guilty of all these likes. Likes have become so removed from this idea of liking something and wanting to show my appreciation. And the idea that this might no longer be available has been a most welcome wake-up call for the way we rely on Instagram to understand popularity and our society’s values.
I believe that this is the step in the right direction to restore Instagram into what it could be. With the three trends outlined below, I - perhaps naively - hope to see the platform reward content that is meaningful and positively contributes. I hope to see the platform perpetuate a culture of creativity and connection. I hope to see a platform that reflects the marketplace of ideas we have continued to search for.
1. Genuine likes over virality
The culture of virality has equally created a culture of shame. You never want to post an unpopular opinion and particularly when our feeds are becoming increasingly curated towards our own values, the risk of saying something that the group does not agree with is ever higher. In that sense, the same opinions, the same photos in the same spots around the world flood our feeds with mindless monotony.
In our quest to build our followings and attract all the likes, we tend to follow the same formula of posts and copy. You’ve seen it before. Every girl is in the same, ‘follow me to’ pose at the same location around the world. Everyone seems to go to the same cafe and order the same, photogenic dish. We all jump to spread their loves and prayers over the latest tragedy.
We all become obsessed with ‘taking the perfect Instagram' shot’ rather than just capturing what we see in front of us. And by following along this trend with fake likes or what is seen as popularity, we just feed the beast of the same ol’ shit.
2. Authenticity over followers
It’s no doubt that this change will have a much greater effect on influencers than the average user. One can only hope your best friend still likes your posts as soon as you post them.
But without their high like numbers and followers, what will influencers have?
I’ve watched influencers invest stupid amounts into bots that automate their growth; or even just a bunch of fake followers. Their focus on such vanity metrics seem to bypass any need for building a personal brand beyond the pretty pictures they curate on their feed.
And I’ve long been so frustrated by this. I know I cannot ignore the power of influencers as a whole in consumer decisions and their growing importance in marketing strategies. But I’m tired of the ‘industry’ of it, the entitled bitches who have little more creativity than which emoji to put in their caption. I’m excited to see these vanity metrics no less because they won’t have anything to parade in our faces as their success.
And this will definitely not be the end of influencers. It will just mean that those who are authentic, creative, have bothered to build a personal brand over an influence will come forward. Real and raw stories will be more engaging and exciting and hopefully the norm rather than the anomaly.
Don’t believe me? Just look at the success of Instagram Stories - particularly for such influencers. They’re usually real and raw; a simple piece to camera as the influencer goes through the day. There’s no way of seeing how many people have also watched the story or even engaged with it. And yet, it’s proven a great medium for engagement and even impressions for said influencers. I have little doubt that the same will happen with the feed as well.
3. Stories over content
Putting these both together, I see the potential for a better feed. If we aren’t just looking at the overly stylised images of fake influencers and we’re not looking at the same old picture over and over again, it gives room for more interesting stories to be told. As much as social media platforms change and also transform the way we communicate, we must not forget that they are tools of communication and abide by the same rules. We might use fewer words, less effort, more emojis to get our message across. But if we remove all the frills and whistles around it, we need to get to the root of what it means to communicate.
And that’s why storytelling is so important. Storytelling allows us to convey meaning. It allows to find ourselves in our worlds. And it allows us to connect over superficial barriers on things that matter. While getting rid of like counts can wake us up to the world that Instagram could help us create, it is storytelling that will transform our feeds into what they have the potential to be.
Some 18 months ago, I first came to this idea that storytelling was what social needed. And it was a thought I had no idea how to actualise into anything further than that.
But with these changes on Instagram and clearly, a new passion for creating a better social media, I’m excited for what’s to come. If anything, this change has bee a huge validation for my current project in creating a social media agency that puts all these values of genuine engagement, authenticity and stories to the forefront. I do not do social for social’s sake; I do it because I do believe that this is something we cannot turn away from but should be making conscious efforts to make better. I hope that with this newfound resolve to ensure this happens for my own feed and for my agency, that we might make a small move to get there.
How will you change your social media use?