I’ve seen dozens of articles since Instagram announced the great like counter disappearance of July 2019. In general people are now aware Facebook are starting to test the same UX change, but less aware that YouTube and Twitter have made changes to reduce the significance of the number of subs or followers an account has. I’d wager that’s because brands don’t imagine it’ll have any impact on their metrics, after all the number of followers you have won’t increase or decrease because the number was rounded up on YouTube.
The conversation started earnestly around if the changes would lead to positive psychological change, but speedily moved through the stages of grief and loss (“they’ll never roll it out”, “I’m so mad Facebook would murder my likes”, “Maybe likes aren’t that important anyway?”, “I guess this is the end of social media marketing”, “Likes were just worthless vanity clicks anyway”). It’s not been a pleasant conversation to follow, it’s highlighted how many people who work in social media marketing think of the public as one dimensional meat bots, designed to click, view and purchase in the right ways to hit all the KPIs needed to get them that end of year bonus.
A lot of the discussion about vanity metrics, perceived value of influencer work and making platforms more rather than less attractive to brands has the same root flaw: a failure to understand that social media platforms are designed for the public to talk and share ideas with one another on, rather than for brands to flog garms.
While we convince ourselves there’s no deep and meaningful value in the likes our dark posted adverts sending traffic off to product pages get, there’s two billion real humans without KPIs who find meaning in the likes a video of their grand-daughter taking her first steps receives. The flip is also true, that the people clicking like on the posts by their friends and family also think those clicks and comments are worthwhile.
Someone sharing a link or piece of content with you is actually a really deep and meaningful engagement. It’s a selfless trade of one human’s time and mental energy to bring utility and hopefully a smile to someone they care about. When was the last time you saw a brand post something for a customer or member of the public with a comparable amount of love and care? A fair number of brand and social managers today think that moderation is a job for the intern, so don’t even give those users the care and attention to read those replies and messages in the first place.
Every platform has problems, some are functional, some are due to the content or communities that live on that platform, but most of the rest are centred around the way the platforms have been built to game certain human behaviours to maximise dwell time, engagement rates and average revenue per user.
If it seems that brands are an after thought to social platforms, it’s because they are. And that’s a wonderful thing, pray that the platform owners never put our opinions above those of their users.