Facebook removing likes is good for social media

Facebook has rolled out a trial removing like counts, and according to Heather Cook, that can only be a good thing. We might just move further away from vanity metrics and closer to actually achieving what social media platforms were created to do: connect with people.

It’s no surprise to see that Facebook has followed Instagram’s lead and hidden the number of likes. It’s simple: likes are not good for social media. And while there will be early opposition to the move, social media content and interactions will be better for removing them.

Since its humble beginnings, that many credit to a student in his dorm room, perceptions of social media have changed dramatically. Platforms which once used to connect and share important messages have become buried under online bullying and trolls, privacy concerns and an addiction to online recognition.

Almost all social platforms provide an instant gratification we inherently idolise. Whether it’s a double tap or thumbs up, the implicit “goal” behind social media has long been this kind of viral validation.

A like is a reactionary, almost ephemeral, process and doesn’t encourage significant business interactions. Rather than encourage engagement through conversation or sharing, the like model has instead promoted provocation and antagonism.

Consumers are addicted to online recognition

The trial to remove Facebook’s iconic thumbs up, announced recently, takes away any indication of how many likes a post receives to your followers and friends. By removing like counts, how we engage on platforms begins to change. The substance of an update moves front and centre, rather than others’ reactions to it. And what was a popularity contest becomes an opening for meaningful engagement.

While likes have typically been viewed as the bread and butter measures of success for businesses on social, they’re just vanity metrics with little commercial value. The hunger for likes, paired with algorithms engineered to serve us “more of the same”, was a downfall for both brands and consumers, as we were presented with unbalanced exposure to certain brands or particular takes on a topic or industry; an increasingly narrow, and sensational, slice — the proverbial social media echo chamber.

This may have seemed ‘good for business’, but the end-game is entirely different. Consumers seeking value, looking for more than the cheap dopamine of sensationalised content, will eventually turn elsewhere. Many industry leaders are now moving towards a for-purpose approach to business, realising the commercial gains in raising the profile of corporate social responsibility initiatives, and the importance of leading with validity and credibility. While businesses may continue to crave those thumbs or love hearts for a little while longer, the value of a more meaningful approach to social media engagement will soon be clear.

Facebook’s official statement echoed this shift from metrics to meaning.

“We don’t want Facebook to feel like a competition — we hope to learn whether this change can help people focus less on likes and more on telling their story,” the social media giant said when announcing the end of likes (on a trial basis, at least).

Businesses will need to quickly adapt to avoid getting left behind in a maze of algorithms, really reflect on the kind of content they are producing and what the inherent goal of their posts may be. I think we will see social media marketing strategies becoming more innovative and original.

It will most likely have an effect on businesses that use influencers as part of their digital marketing. Big-name influencers that are only surface deep will be replaced by a new wave of ‘micro-influencers’: those who have a smaller following, but often tend to have a stronger genuine engagement that has matured from simple clicks to behaviours that have more tangible impact on brand value and long-term ROI.

A great example of this is Adidas’ Tango Squad Program, which partners with young athletes who have influence in niche communities. Instead of using the typical influencer model—which taps into the power and influence of one ‘social celebrity’ to reach as many customers as possible—Adidas decided to take a more grassroots approach to its social marketing. It built out ‘squads’ of micro-influencers to connect with customers at a more local level, working to develop intimate, meaningful dialogue with smaller, more valuable audience groups.

Captions are more relevant to Adidas followers, and often it is more selective about the products involved in the sponsorships. The removal of likes will force businesses to forgo the vanity metrics, focus less on maximising reach and more on generating transparent, quality engagement. Brands will work more with influencers who delve deeper into authentic brand content and promote genuine engagement, whether that is encouraging people to share, click through to a site or start a conversation.

Despite its challenges, social media represents a uniquely powerful way to have a global conversation. It provides a platform where anyone can have a voice, where innovative ideas can flourish, and where real debate can happen. In a world facing existential challenges — from climate change to the rise of protectionism — social media can be part of the solution, not just part of a popularity contest.

Heather Cook is the APAC general manager at Hootsuite


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.