New Delhi: Instagram, the world’s second-most popular networking site with over 1 billion users, seems to be changing the game of social media marketing by experimenting with a new feature: Make like counts private.
While the feature is still being tested in just one country (Canada), with its wider rollout dependent on the feedback received, the change is creating quite a flutter, especially among influencers.
With the proposed eclipsing of like counts, account owners will still be able to see when someone likes their post. However, the only way to find out the number would be to manually count it, since the final count will be invisible to users as well as their followers.
The idea is reportedly driven by an endeavour to give content quality precedence over a mad dash for likes.
The photo- and video-sharing portal has become the go-to social media site for those looking to post snippets from their day-to-day life as well as make-up, cooking and other tutorials, apart from a host of other content.
A 2017 study suggested that getting likes evoked similar happiness among teens as winning money, and this sense of validation is believed to be the reason some social media users go to great — often extreme — lengths for content.
For celebrities and ‘millennial influencers’, the like metric on Instagram is an important way of understanding how engaging and popular a certain post is, with high counts often earning them endorsement opportunities and a chance to monetise their popularity.
The advent of likes as a marker of one’s online popularity has given rise to internet guides that advise you on how to get more likes and followers, making social media platforms more competitive than connecting.
This trend has also spawned multiple companies that help social media users artificially boost their popularity by buying likes and followers, a factor Instagram has sought to crack down on.
However, there are fears among influencers that the new feature will make the going tough for even genuinely popular bloggers/vloggers.
Varsha Jeetendra Kunhody, a Gurugram-based influencer marketing specialist at Mavericks & 80DB Communications, a PR agency, said the new feature would “make our job even more challenging”.
“With influencers today buying likes and followers, agencies are extremely cautious of selecting the right set of influencers for brands,” said Kunhody. “And the process gets more time-consuming when we begin tracking influencer coverage in terms of the authentic reach and engagement each Instagram story or post receives. With this move, my influencers have already started panicking.”
The price influencers charge per post/story is based on the engagement and reach their content receives, Kunhody said.
“If that gets hidden even for a short duration, we will need influencers to share screenshots to every story/post, showing us the actual authentic reach, which now only they can view,” she added. “So, genuine content lovers will be put to the test, while agencies and influencers will begin working longer hours.”
Influencer Noor Sethi told ThePrint that hiding the number of likes would bring the credibility of several bloggers like her into question.
“The easiest way to figure out if any Instagram account is artificially boosting their engagement is by comparing the ratio of likes to the number followers/comments,” she added.
“By introducing this feature, Instagram would not only affect my online engagement but also make followers question the credibility of my blog and end up sabotaging my social worth,” she added.
Mumbai-based fashion startup The MissyCo, which relies heavily on social media for promotions, said it was up to Instagram to ensure the move doesn’t affect brands.
“As a fashion startup, there is a lot of pressure [on us] to be on the top and, in the age of social media, the only way to measure this is likes or followers,” said The MissyCo founder and CEO Shikha Shah.
“Numbers work wonders to influence our followers, and engagement is important to give us an insight into what is working,” she said. “As long as the Instagram algorithm still functions in the same way and shows our content to the correct audience, we believe that the visibility of likes can be made private.”
Speaking to ThePrint, Archit Agarwal, a Delhi-based influencer, said influencer marketing in India was purely a numbers game, with brands flocking to just about anyone with a large following without looking at the overall engagement, or the quality of content they push out.
He said the new Instagram feature, if rolled out, “will bring greater focus on the quality of content” and “help smaller bloggers such as myself shine in a slowly-saturating space”.
‘A deep responsibility’
Over the years, the carefully-curated feeds that now flood social media have increasingly come under the lens over their potential impact on mental health, though this question is yet to get a definitive answer.
Research conducted by the UK charity Royal Society for Public Health was among studies that noted social media’s role in fostering depression and anxiety among youngsters, saying that “seeing friends constantly on holiday or enjoying nights out can make young people feel like they are missing out while others enjoy life”.
However, a new University of Oxford study published in the BMJ this week sought to question this belief, saying “concerns over how social media impacts teenagers’ well-being and quality of life have been overblown and are not supported by solid evidence”.
Speaking to ThePrint, Instagram spokesperson Tara Bedi said the platform had “a deep responsibility to make sure the people on Instagram are safe”. “We do not allow content that promotes or encourages suicide or self-injury, and will we remove it as soon as we are aware,” she added.
“Mental health and self-harm are complex and nuanced issues, and we work with expert groups who advise us on our approach,” Bedi said.
Get the PrintEssential to make sense of the day's key developments