Instagram: Removing Likes and What This Means for Our Mental Health
By Danny, 7 months ago (4 min read)
Today, 500 million users around the world will be scrolling their Instagram feed – and if they’ve recently uploaded a new post, they’re likely to be refreshing again and again and again in the hopes of seeing their like count rise. After all, we’re hardwired to find positive social interactions rewarding, and in today’s digital world, the approval of others through social media engagements is frequent and instantaneous.
So, with all this in mind, why since November 2019 has Instagram been trialling removing likes from its platform? How will the potential removal of likes change the way we use Instagram? And what sort of impact will removing likes have on big businesses, brands and influencers that heavily rely on these metrics as a means of measuring engagement? Let’s take a closer look…
Why remove likes?
In November 2019, Instagram began trialling removing the like count from the newsfeeds of certain users amidst growing public concerns regarding social media’s negative effect on users’ mental health. The idea was simple – by removing the ability for users to see the amount of likes a post receives, the connection between social media engagements and social standings is removed, to the benefit of users’ self-confidence and subsequent mental health.
Such a theory has significant evidence behind it, too. As a result of us spending such a large amount of time on social media every day – an average of 28 minutes per day on Instagram, according to this study – our brains have actually begun associating the sound and vibration of a notification as a positive reinforcement, triggering dopamine to be released from our ‘reward’ neurotransmitter. Pair this with an increased desire to compare ourselves to others, a practice stemming from the fundamentally fabricated lives we portray to others on social media, and the negative impacts users may feel from a lack of engagement (or, at the very least, less engagement than others) begin to speak for themselves.
As too do the reasonings for tackling this issue head-on. With a shocking 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental health problem each year and a further concerning 1 in 6 people experiencing a recurring mental health problem in any given week, mental illnesses are becoming increasingly pressing issues in modern society. Amongst the most heavily affected demographics is the 18-25 year old category, with the prevalence and subsequent impact of many mental conditions peaking during these years – and with a mammoth 30% of Instagram users falling into this category, this only further emphasises the importance of Instagram’s efforts to minimise mental health triggers.
What impact would removing likes have?
Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri told Buzzfeed News that the removal of likes was “about creating a less pressurized environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves”, and in theory, this makes sense. Likes wouldn’t be completely removed from the platform – users would still have the ability to like others’ posts – however the amount of likes a user received would be hidden from public view. This would ensure everyday users could still readily engage with friends’ and celebrities’ posts without the subsequent pressure of comparing the amount of likes that post has received with their own, minimising Instagram’s role in reinforcing ideas of popularity and social standing.
But what about brands, businesses and Instagram influencers who rely heavily on like counts to measure their audience’s engagement with their digital marketing strategies? Traditionally, the amount of likes an influencer receives, or their like-follower ratio, was one of the main ways brands would select an influencer to advertise their products – the idea being the higher the engagement rate, the more valuable that influencer is for brands. Likewise, businesses could judge the popularity of an announcement or advertisement, or better understand the success of their organic reach, based on the amount of likes the related post received.
Therefore, if the like count feature was to be removed from the platform, expect to see brands becoming more heavily reliant on other data as means of measuring engagement – particularly the total amount of referral traffic coming from Instagram posts to product and web pages. This means it’s likely that we’ll see an uplift in the use of Instagram’s ecommerce tagging and checkout features, something that’s already becoming an increasingly popular trend amongst retail ecommerce brands.
With an increased awareness of mental health rightly becoming predominant in the wider public consciousness, efforts from social media giants to reduce the role they play in triggering depression, anxiety and reduced self-confidence should of course be applauded. If we begin to see these changes rolled out across all of Instagram’s users, expect to see a shift in the digital and social marketing strategies of big brands – but, far more importantly, expect to see a more enjoyable and celebrated social platform that actively encourages anyone and everyone to get involved.
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