I feel that after the theories about Game of Thrones, Instagram and its changes, take second place as the most talked about ‘thing’, on the Internet 🙂
I read an article about this a few weeks ago, when the leaked code got simulated by a dev and it showed a design for a like count free Instagram. The world stood still for a second, while we could all chew on the concept and comprehend what was happening. As Instagram did not comment on this, some people assumed it was just a test never to see the light of day. However, here we are – a like count free version of Instagram is rolled out in Canada. And now what?
There are a bunch of reasons I have been thinking about this for some time now, and I will try to articulate them, as I think the discussion can be interesting. However, the most important one is that I am a big believer in mental health on social media. Hence why, I feel cautiously pessimistic that this is the real reason Instagram is doing what it is doing and here is why.
How is it that all of a sudden, Instagram started caring about people’s mental health? The platform has been around far too long, not caring about its users feelings and thoughts (remember that chronological feed), to all of a sudden become an altruistic, user centred business model. Since the Facebook takeover, they have done nothing less than turn Instagram into a money making machine (read monster).
Feeding on its users addiction for likes, follows and public recognition. I am totally including myself in that group so do not read this as a judgemental statement.
We create content, we share it, and we stare at the screen to see what happens next. We obsess over the likes, the algorithm, the follower count, who said what and how to get in the nirvana of the most popular posts. Natural engagement is diminishing with every day that passes. The algorithm has made it almost impossible to grow, and stand out organically, if you are not already huge or have a massive budget.
This brings me to the next point – the algorithm. The algorithm, although nobody knows the exact formula, is driven by engagement to sequence content.
What do I mean by that? There is a formula that works out how many followers does an account have, how many likes per (inset time period which I assume is seconds) does the shared content get, plus how many comments per said time period – based on that calculation, the content gets pushed as popular or not. Each account has a median, when a content piece by said creator, surpasses the said median, it gets automatically pushed as more popular by the algorithm. Meaning that the more engagement a piece of content gets, the more engagement it will get because the algorithm keeps on pushing it on the creators’ followers feeds and onto new accounts, as well as possibly into the most popular section on the #’s used and the explore pages of potential followers.
The way the algorithm works, makes it counterintuitive for Instagram to hide likes – ‘so people will like the content for what it is, rather than how many likes it has’. Now, I am all up for creativity. Geee, I would love to see how my photos do with no like counts on them… But how??? As cynical as this statement is going to be, competition is what drives the world forward. The moment a creator starts commercialising the platform, stats are king. Stats get the brand partnerships, they get more followers and they get money. This makes it difficult to imagine a world, where creativity is the only exchange currency on Instagram.
A piece of the pie
Also, how is Instagram going to make money? Shoppable feed? OK, makes some sense, maybe that is why they are trying to turn the platform into an ecommerce app. However, what about all the money creators spend on sponsored content, or brands spend on creators? Are they selflessly giving this up – I do not think so.
What about followers count? As a creator, it makes me feel bad other creators have more followers than me. Is Instagram going to remove that too, not to hurt my feelings and make sure my mental health is better?
My point in the sarcastic comments surrounding this article is – they may be removing likes but it has nothing to do with mental health or making this platform better for creativity. I am yet to see a public business think about its users, before thinking of the bottom line.
For whatever reason they are doing it, something even more f***-ed up is coming on this platform.
In summary, my thoughts are that Instagram wants a bigger piece of the pie from what content creators make on their platform, and they are trying to come up with a way to make this happen. I have read a number of articles on how much Influencers earn per post and it can go in the 100s of thousands. Currently, Instagram has no way of policing this, and cutting itself a fee. What if hiding the stats, is somehow related to a different way of engagement between creators, brands and Instagram making sure Instagram isn’t left out from its cut? Right now, they are testing if engagement actually drops or increases when the likes are hidden, to ensure they do not damage the money making mechanism of the app.
Mental health, really?
Also, why would they test it in Canada out of all places, to get a mental health outcome? With all due respect to my fellow Canadian pals, I would have definitely pushed the test in the UK or US where people are glued to their phones, and the usage/penetration of the app is in short – insane. When I test digital/tech changes for my day job, I also often chose Canada as a test market. It is a neutral market, easy to gather likes and dislikes, small enough yet advanced enough when it comes to tech – in general a much happier market than its fellow Northern English speaking countries.
I will share my theories as they come along some may be weird but I do not believe in a business with an IPO having altruistic motives of change.
Soz guys, love you Instagram – please don’t shadowban me now 😀