When Likes Disappear

YouTube has begun to roll out an abbreviated public subscriber count this month, no longer allowing viewers to see the exact number of followers a content creator has. While individuals will still be able to see their own subscriber counts, YouTube is eliminating the possibility for others to view the exact number. This change is happening to reduce the prevalence of subscriber count “watch parties,” where viewers monitor the pages of content creators caught in scandals to watch their subscribers fall in real-time. YouTube believes that getting rid of exact follower counts will “[address] creator concerns about ​stress and ​wellbeing.”

Yet, while YouTube will still display some semblance of follower counts for others to see, Instagram has gone a full step further, by testing the elimination of viewable likes altogether. These tests are currently taking place among Instagram users in Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand. Though individuals will be able to see their own likes, they will not be able to see how many likes other people are getting, nor will their like count be viewable by others. The possible elimination of viewable likes is happening because Instagram “want[s] your friends to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get.”

And if this works, which is very possible, we may end up seeing more social platforms following suit. In fact, Facebook recently told TechCrunch that it is also thinking about taking away the Like feature. Removing likes has become a considerable option for all of these platforms because the removal may lead to a more positive user experience, especially when it comes to the mental health of social media users.

Multiple studies have been published that link social media to depression and anxiety. One of the underlying problems with social media is it establishes an easy, and yet unrealistic, way for people to compare themselves to others. Social media can have a tendency to make people feel like they aren’t good enough, especially if they don’t receive the same amount of likes as their peers. In this sense, removing likes seems like the right choice for social platforms as it will likely lead to a healthier self-image for many users.

However, while this change may be a step in the right direction for everyday individual use, when it comes to promoting a brand across social media, removing the Like feature means that companies may need to reevaluate their social marketing plans. Businesses will no longer be able to depend on likes to showcase the worth of their posts. Currently, consumers can use social media likes as a way to verify the authenticity of a product or service, but if there are no longer likes to showcase, they will have to depend on other outlets to verify the quality of service, such as the quantity and sentiment of comments. Additionally, while companies will still be able to monitor their own likes, there’s the possibility that many followers will stop “liking” posts altogether because they no longer see a point for it. Rather than posting to garner the most amount of likes, companies will now have to create more powerful content that sparks conversations. Comments may very well become social media’s new form of likes.

Taking away a visible Like feature also removes the chance for comparison. Companies will no longer be able to compare their social likes to those of their competitors, giving no basis for what a “good” post might look like. Maybe even more importantly, companies will also no longer be able to compare or monitor the amount of likes that different influencers are receiving on their posts. If businesses can no longer tell if their influencer marketing is effective, there may be a move toward more paid advertisements.

It’s important to understand that likes are not the only way to measure success online, and in fact likes may have never been the best way to keep track of performance. Though likes are easy to see and look good upon first glance, they don’t mean much when it comes to their value. Social engagement is a means to an end, and removing likes will force companies to invest in more robust measurement programs, ensuring their campaigns are formulated to meet more important goals, like gaining customers, increasing sales or scoring new business leads.

Although there will be hurdles if likes are removed altogether across social media, it is not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, businesses will have to change their social media tactics, but this will likely result in companies producing stronger content across the board. There will be a transitional period, but when combined with the potential positive effects that removing this feature will have on mental health, no more likes on social media may just be a change for the better.

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