Opinion

‘I see only positives here’ – Whalar’s Matt Sutton on the possibility of ‘likes’ being disabled

'Likes' are a measurable statistic that miss the point and destroy the medium, says Whalar APAC CEO Matt Sutton, who will be glad to see them gone

Even my mum asks me after I’ve posted a photo of us together online: “How many likes has it got”? ‘Likes’ have become the currency of the social media age and among other things, show the innate need we humans have to be validated and loved. And to show others how loved we are.

Deep down somewhere much more pure inside we know it means nothing and there are a gazillion other much more genuine ways to see and “feel” affection. But when a lowest common denominator is on the table do not underestimate our ability to run right for it.

To get a sense of what I’m talking about understand that the most liked post on Instagram ever is a picture of an egg.

 

Followed by Kylie Jenner. Insert your own joke here (but leave my mum out of it). Clearly then, likes are not a good reference point for the quality of content.

I always say we get the brands we deserve and brands, of course, are just like people. Their desire to be loved, to measure that love and show off to the world just how loved they are is just as unquenchable; and can be equally misguided.

As a veteran of 15 years in digital marketing who has lived through the rise of search, the fleeting age of ad-networks, the dawn of social and now, creative disruption, it often feels to me that likes are to social content what the click-through-rate was to banners – a measurable statistic that misses the point and destroys the medium.

In case you missed it, the annual F8 developer conference was where Facebook announced it was running tests on removing the ‘like’ count from posts on Instagram. Influencer marketing on Instagram alone is estimated to be a billion dollar industry already and doubling year on year.

With much of that predicated on driving engagement on content for brands, it’s small wonder that this has led some in the marketing industry to ask: “What is the impact of this going to be?”

First up, a couple of clarifications. It’s important to note this is currently only a test in one market (Canada) and Facebook is constantly trialling and testing changes to its products in highly appropriate test markets. So, this may not yet become a fully-fledged feature change.

Secondly, all indications are that the test involves removing the public recording of likes on a post, and not removing the ability of the content creator themselves (and as such a brand working with that creator) to see how many likes that post has got.

Instagram themselves described it as a change aimed at making the user experience “less pressurised. In a year when the whole planet has been going through an existential crisis about the nature of the social platforms and how they mirror a society increasingly obsessed with instant gratification and validation, this should be seen alongside a host of other changes Facebook are looking at to bring the focus back to “the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get”.

I see nothing but positives here. For starters, the platform must be successful in its core utility of connecting people as a force for good in order to maintain its relevance in society and overall user affection.

And so it’s great to see them on the front foot. Removing just one point of comparison for reach, status or popularity for those users who use such comparisons as a stick to beat themselves with, has to be a step in the right direction.

A healthy, functioning platform is a prerequisite for it being a healthy place to tell a brand story. And secondly, brands have a chance to ‘take the hint’ and focus on the real impact of the content they share on achieving their marketing and business goals. The metrics behind the metric, if you will.

Matt Sutton is CEO for Asia-Pacific at influencer marketing agency Whalar. He is based in Singapore

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