Apr 24, 2019

Trending from G/L: Instagram’s Hidden Like Count Test

Melissa Ross Digital, Education, Social Media, Trending Now, Trends
Melissa Ross Social Media Manager

Instagram is positive. It’s happy. It’s bright. It makes the users ‘feel good’. But, is the pressure to align with Instagram’s “happy” culture causing users to actually be less happy “IRL?” While no one’s questioning Instagram’s impact on users’ purchasing decisions, a recent test by Instagram could change the way advertisers and influencers use the platform altogether.

Let me explain.

Twitter is known in the social media community as probably the best way to directly, in real time, engage with your audience. But, it can also be a catalyst for bullies. Twitter is a notorious hotbed of abuse, so much so that the social platform has recently abandoned its previously “reactive” approach towards abusive content, and begun to take action on how to be proactive and preventative when it comes to abusive content. On the other end of the spectrum, Instagram looks to be the friendliest of the social media platforms. The visually-led community cultivates positive and motivational messaging, where posts that go viral tend to have a positive message, and where many of the most famous accounts are of dogs and cats.

But some mental health experts say that this positivity presents a unique problem. It encourages its users to post upbeat and staged photos that others could be misleading to others and potentially harmful. Scarlett Dixon is a primary example.

The fashion blogger posted a promoted photo of herself having breakfast, with the intention of promoting Listerine mouthwash. The photo was quickly screenshotted and posted on Twitter, where users called out the inauthenticity of the image. The user stated, “Instagram is a ridiculous lie factory made to make us all feel inadequate.”

The tweet took off, with more than 111,000 likes and almost 25,000 retweets. Dixion even responded to comments calling her fake, saying, “My feed isn’t a place of reality. I mean, who spends their time in such a beautiful city, perched on a ledge, ice-cream in hand and smile permanently affixed to her face? It’s staged, guys.”

It’s for this reason alone that experts are looking at how harmful Instagram is to its users mental health. In a 2017 survey by the Royal Society for Public Health, 14- to 24-year-olds scored Instagram as the top social platform that most negatively impacts their quality of sleep, their fear of missing out, and their body image.

“It’s a reward cycle, you get a squirt of dopamine every time you get a like or a positive response on social media,” explains psychologist Emma Kenny when speaking to Cosmopolitan about the effect of social media likes on one’s mental health.“It’s like a hit, similar to the way you feel when you have a drink. The social media like triggers that reward cycle and the more you get it, the more you want it.”

Now, Instagram is testing out a way to possibly combat these negative effects on its users, but it might be at the expense of its advertisers, and more specifically, its influencers.

Imagine an Instagram where no one but you can see how many likes or followers you have. That’s exactly what Instagram is currently testing internally. Researcher Jane Manchun Wong discovered the change in a beta view on her Instagram, and Instagram confirmed the testing with TechCrunch.

“We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get. During this test, only the person who share a post will see the total number of likes it gets,” says Instagram in a pop-up message about the feature test.

An Instagram spokesperson said that the testing is a result of the company trying to find ways “to reduce pressure on Instagram,” which is likely their way of addressing how this validation culture has been shown to hurt mental health and self esteem.

With influencers’ income solely dependent on their engagement rates and likelihood of a post “going viral,” this change can directly hurt their business. By hiding their engagement on posts, influencers could find it harder to get deals with businesses for sponsored content. Brands need to see engagement on content before tapping an influencer to rep their product so that they can gauge their ROI. It would also make it near impossible for users to figure out which posts are popular on the platform, and therefore, influential. For a social media specialist like me, it will be harder to learn what kind of content is resonating with the Instagram community.

As this testing concludes and impacts possible changes on the platform, it will be interesting to see how Instagram social media strategies change across the board for influencers, businesses and advertisers alike.

If you’re in the market for the creation of a social media strategy to fully optimize your business’s digital footprint that will directly improve sales, brand awareness, and engagement, let’s chat.