Un-Liking Facebook

Facebook recently announced they’re following Instagram’s lead, introducing a new update that will hide the number of likes, reactions and video views displayed on the platform.

According to the Guardian, Facebook are promoting the update as a way to reduce social comparison, responding to research and feedback around the impact of social media platforms on users’ mental health. Facebook Australia’s director of policy Mia Garlic is quoted saying, “It really is just taking that number out of the equation, so that people can focus on the quality of their interactions and the quality of the content rather than on the number of likes or reactions.”

As with Instagram’s updates earlier this year, we’re expecting to see the changes first roll out as a trial for users in New Zealand and Australia. In preparation for the changes, we asked some of the FCB team for their thoughts on what this announcement means for users and brands.

Dan West (Digital Strategy Director)

Facebook has been in trouble for a while. It’s been relegated to the platform of birthdays, births and weddings – which happen rarely. Instagram is now our platform of choice for capturing our day-to-day lives. Facebook has tried to counter this by highlighting more moments to celebrate (like “Celebrate knowing someone”), but the truth is its engagement is dropping. Removing Like counts could encourage its users to share on Facebook more often, as they feel less pressure to get likes (and less fear of not getting them). But the move could also help to hide Facebook’s decline in popularity as users increasingly move to Instagram, Snapchat and Whatsapp – highlighting that posts aren’t getting as many Likes as they used to only motivates more people to jump platform.

From a marketing perspective, removing likes could hurt influencers – though this is less of an issue for Facebook than other platforms. The update will remove the instant recognition of their work, as well as influencers’ ability to showcase their popularity (and popularity breeds popularity). However, with studies reporting that 52% of UK influencer accounts have bought followers, comments, or used bots in the past, we already know the Like is a vanity metric at best.

The ability to measure likes won’t be affected for post authors, so the update won’t impact brands’ ability to measure in-feed engagement. However, with people often liking what their friends like, we may see drops in these engagement numbers.

I would argue there is already little value in a Like: Facebook’s own research shows Likes do not equal propensity to purchase or brand preference. Personally, I say good riddance – let’s measure something that matters.

James Butcher (General Manager – Digital Media)

We have our first generation of digital natives. If you were born in 1996, by the time you were 13, Facebook and social media were very much engrained in your everyday life. For better or worse, these individuals have grown up with social media shaping the way they view the world.

To date, we have relied on major global platforms to self-regulate in ensuring we have a safe, healthy and secure environment for people, and quite frankly, their efforts haven’t been good enough. Removing Likes from public posts is an acknowledgement that, for millions of people around the world, we have created an unhealthy echo chamber where people are seeking others’ validation and approval.

And brands have followed suit, seeking permission and love from consumers based on a measured metric which has consistently been proven to have no correlation with effectiveness or outcomes connected to business performance. If the removal of Likes helps to create a safer internet, and starts a shift away from the instant feedback metrics, then I, for one, am all for it.

Kate Grigg (Digital Strategy Director)

Though Facebook has positioned this update as helping individual users, it will also challenge brands to create more authentic content. Instead of just amassing Likes, brands will need to consider and curate a content tone that drives further action. A user’s comment, share, DM or a customer conversation will become valued as a more genuine exchange. Content that directly delivers store or website visits, and can be linked to an actual purchase, will also become a more robust standard of measurement over the somewhat superficial Like.

If you are interested in discussing your brand’s social strategy, we offer social consultancy services. FCB Social is a dedicated, award-winning specialist team that delivers socially-led content, bringing clients’ “brand personalities” to life with effective, two-way community engagement. Please contact your Group Business Director for more information.

Date: October 11, 2019