Guest Contribution by John Marcinuk, Head of Marketing, Blue Fountain Media.
Following in the footsteps of Instagram, which came under fire this year for hiding likes from followers, Facebook is set to rub more salt in the wounds of influencers and businesses.
Experimenting with a soon-to-be-released version of the Facebook app for Android, notorious app-breaker Jane Manchun Wong discovered the prototype no longer displays a count for likes and reactions to users. In a radical departure from one of the platform’s most iconic features, it means only creators will be able to see how many followers reacted to their content – if or when the version is released.
But while it may be shocking news to those who use Facebook to engage customers and build their business, it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise.
Earlier this year, Instagram (which is now owned and operated by Facebook) began rolling out a new system for likes on the social channel in countries around the world. Like the Facebook prototype, the platform started hiding likes from followers, essentially removing the social scoreboard for businesses, as well as the temptation to make popularity-based likes for users.
As with most of Facebook’s updates, the would-be change is believed to be largely consumer-driven. But according to social media analysts, the reasons behind the change go much deeper than vanity metrics (though there’s certainly a link). In their minds, it comes down to the health of the social community. Or more specifically, its mental and emotional health.
Why the change to Facebook?
For years, analysts have seen big changes to Facebook’s like functionality as algorithms shifted and reactions were introduced. But what started out as evidence of engaging social content, has evolved into a pecking order of sorts among users of the platform.
Instead of being used to measure a post’s performance, social analysts say reactions are being used as a virtual scorecard in certain demographics and Facebook communities. And it’s not only impacting how people interact on the platform, but how they perceive and use social media in general.
Study after study is showing how social media inadvertently plays a role in mental health, especially among teenagers. And the hunt for likes is only aggravating the problem, leading many people to take extended breaks from the platform – or stop using it altogether – as evidenced by this big drop discovered by Edison Research.
While Facebook isn’t admitting this phenomenon is fueling the change, social media strategists are concluding that the misuse of likes is negatively affecting consumer engagement. This signals bad news for advertisers, and even worse news for Facebook, which relies on these advertisers for revenue.
How the new like system could impact your business
With social media falling under increased scrutiny, and its ties to mental health becoming more prevalent, revamping the likes feature may stem the tide of users leaving the platform.
In the meantime, however, businesses are feeling the pinch. In a study done by Buffer and BuzzSumo last year, engagement dropped by about 50 percent despite greater efforts from Facebook’s business community to drop content more frequently.
So what will the change mean for businesses already struggling with engagement? It’s hard to say for sure. But if it does bring more users back to the platform, chances are it could help rebuild these once-thriving business pages and communities. However, the way they measure their social performance will undoubtedly change forever.
Instead of likes and reactions, which many businesses have long hung their visibility hat on, companies will be required to use more social media savvy and look at other metrics to gauge their social success. And it will ultimately change how companies do business on the platform for the foreseeable future.