Banishing Likes: The Social Shift Towards Authentic Content

Dec 19th, 2019 —
3 minute read

Instagram has started hiding likes on Instagram for some users in the US. Since mid-summer, the social media brand has been testing this strategy in 7 other countries: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, and Japan.

But it’s not just Instagram undergoing a major shift. Facebook also announced it’s removing like counts in Australia starting at the end of September. Twitter is currently testing hiding replies. And what’s more, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has stated if he could go back and re-create Twitter, he “wouldn’t even have a like count in the first place.”

The goal of these changes across three of the biggest social media platforms is to foster better mental wellness among users. Recent research found the number of young adults and adolescents who suffer with depression is increasing, with the greatest spike in symptoms occurring in 2011 — the same time social media hit the scene.

We don’t yet understand the full impact social media has on our mental states, but comparing the highlight reels of others’ lives to the reality of our own can take a toll — especially on younger generations who have grown up with a presence on social media since they were born.

Though the shift away from likes is designed to increase wellness among users, these changes will also lead to a shift among creators and the brands who work with them. Without worrying about likes, there’s a renewed focus on creating genuine content, not just content that garners likes.

Here’s how the social media industry — Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and even TikTok — is committing to authentic content in 2019 and beyond.

The Argument for Each Side

Of course, not everyone is thrilled about these experiments. Some creators are worried that removing likes will cut into incomes driven by influencer campaigns, since likes are one measurement of how engaging a creator is — and brands look for that sign to move forward with partnerships. On the brand side, likes are an important metric to understand which influencers will make a campaign successful. In other words, likes mean potential engagement for their products.

But some brands and creators are also on board. I’ve heard from more than one brand that sees higher engagement on influencer posts that feel more genuine and less produced. As a result, brands are actively seeking out influencers who are true fans of their products and services. Authenticity shines through in the content those influencers produce, in turn driving customer trust and higher sales.

For those brands and influencers, showcasing genuine content has always been more important than measuring vanity metrics, such as like counts.

Embracing Authenticity in a Content-First Future

We need to encourage high-quality content from both creators and brands that is posted because it reflects our real lives, not because someone is trying to gain admiration.

Creators who produce authentic images and videos also help brands craft a message that resonates using their advocacy, voice, and content — so brands can stop putting out a message that’s lackluster or commercialized. These creators also stay true to their audiences. And by empowering creators to be authentic with their followers, those brands in turn put their best foot forward with users, showing that they all share common values.

When people are free to put content first without peer pressure of succumbing to what generates likes, they can create their highest-quality content. That philosophy is central to creating engagement.

The Shift to Value

Newer social channels and networks, like Instagram Stories, Instagram Live, and TikTok, understand authentic content is the right way to go, and have built their products from the ground up based on this belief.

In fact, in 2016, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom mentioned that one reason for launching Stories was to help users escape from the pressure of like counts. Similarly, Instagram Live has never offered a way to like content. Instead, viewers are encouraged to watch and comment.

On TikTok, which is particularly popular with Gen Z, engagement has nothing to do with likes at all. Its global feed prioritizes content first, with views as the most important engagement metric, followed by shares. What’s more, TikTok content is created on the app, instead of created externally (like with a DSLR), edited heavily, and then uploaded. Likes don’t matter as much because everyone on the platform is posting “raw” content.

The changes across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter — plus the way new platforms like TikTok approach metrics — prove that the world is emphasizing content over likes. Rather than influencers and users aiming for stats and public popularity, advocacy is taking a front seat.

Smart brands have been prioritizing engagement over likes for years. Now, with likes going away, if you’re not embracing that mentality already, you’re going to be forced to catch up.

More from the blog