Lacie is the protagonist of the episode titled “Nosedive” in British TV series Black Mirror, which speculates on the social consequences of technological developments.Her life revolves around a social network that dictates the rules in real life: the more likes, the more prestige.
This young woman plummets from the top of the pyramid to the bottom, where she finds herself on the same level as society’s outcasts. Lacie embodies a “satire about accepting yourself, about the images of ourselves we want to convey and about the way others see us,” explains Charlie Brooker, the author of this story. Brooker believes that, like Lacie, “we’re all a bit false.” He also adds that “we’re all a bit scared,” as her story clearly isn’t set in the future, but rather in the present day.
But there’s no need to use such an extreme example to show that getting likes has become a fundamental part of life for those who spend their time online—and that number is now 4.4 billion people, or 57 percent of the planet. According to the Global Web Index, users spent the equivalent of one seventh of their waking lives on social media in 2019. It’s undeniable that social media is now at the center of relationships for most people, and all the more so in terms of the relationship between brands and consumers.
This paradigm change has multiplied opportunities (distance now has a new meaning, and it’s shorter, so it’s much easier for a brand to treat the whole world as its market) but it’s also set off a few alarm bells. The pace of daily life has sped up and the duality between our real lives and the lives we want to project could bring along serious consequences, especially for younger people (and it could be sooner than we think).
The World Record Egg campaign, launched on Instagram at the start of this year, is a good illustration of how far the competition for likes can go. The aim of this initiative was to get a photo of an egg to beat the world record for likes. The egg photo eventually made it to 54 million likes, three times what it needed to beat the record. The day the egg hatched, it was revealed that the campaign was seeking to raise awareness of mental health issues in the online community, especially those suffered by young people due pressure from social media.
“The social impact this measure could have (the number of likes on publications becomes secret) is much more important than the potential damage it could do to influencers who make a living from creating content“
At the latest F8 (Facebook Developer Conference), the owner of Instagram announced, among other news, that in some markets the number of likes on publications would be hidden from users’ followers. This measure aims to “lead the fight against online bullying” by stopping the social pressure these numbers are accused of generating. It is clear this tweak will change the way social media is used (since if Instagram changes, other sites will follow), including for those whose businesses depend on it, such as influencers, brands and communication professionals—and specifically monitoring tool specialists.
Ana Garcia Martins, author of blog “A pipoca mais doce”, applauds the measure, saying it has the potential to “put an end to the tyranny of likes and the subsequent social anxiety and pressure” it causes, especially among young people, “who have an exacerbated presence on social media.” Content generators will continue to have access to statistical data, and can pass it on to those brands they work with and other interested brands.”
Garcia Martins highlights one specific aspect: “It’s possible that when likes are no longer visible, users will feel like there’s no longer any point in interacting through them, with that button, which could imply a drop in the numbers and level of interaction.”
Joana Garoupa, Communication and Brand manager for the Portuguese energy company GALP, sees the measure as a positive. “It could increase user freedom to post only the content they really want to share and that interests them the most, without fear of being judged,” she said. As for the impact it will have on brands, Garoupa believes “this measure will force brands to review their communication strategies for this platform” and find alternatives “to spark interest in their user communities.”
“Likes cannot and must not be the only recipe for success”
Jorge García Perpiñá, account director at social media monitoring company Brandwatch, believes this initiative is not only necessary, but should be carried out in parallel with Facebook. Garcia Perpiña sees likes as simply part of the equation. “It’s important to wait to assess how user behavior evolves in brand interactions, but the biggest impact could come from how important brands consider this information once it ceases to be public.”
“Whatever happens, there have always been other kinds of public interactions, like comments, mentions, tags, etc.” Like Garoupa, Garcia Perpiña believes brands will focus on the essentials: Content and trying to tell even more interesting and relevant stories to the audiences they want to reach.
The uncertainty caused by updates such as Instagram’s latest one always leads to concerns among those who choose social media to communicate. This is because of the ways it could impact their business, whether they are a brand, influencer, monitoring company or even communications agency. However, it also gives us a chance to redefine the relevance we give to these tools and remember that the decisive factor in any kind of communication continues to be content authenticity and quality. Success, not just in relation to this change but others too, goes to brands that listen, think, prepare and adapt; those who work hand-in-hand with the right partners and become specialists in developing and implementing the right strategy at all times. The risk is not the change itself, but facing up to it as if it isn’t permanent. The “business as usual” idea is no longer enough to identify and leverage opportunities. For social media users, we just have to wait and see how far from the “tyranny of likes” this new measure takes us.