Where’s The Social Proof? The Effect of Hidden FB Likes on Business

Claxon Senior Digital Strategist, Liam O’Doherty, discusses how Facebook’s recent removal of “Likes” may have a more greedy motivation compared to the “consumer-first” picture it’s painting… 

Following what Facebook Australia’s director of policy Mia Garlick described as “initial positive feedback” on removing like counts on Instagram in Australia, Facebook announced they will now trial hiding like counts on the Facebook platform as well. Sources report this may already be happening for Android Users and we’ve definitely seen it showing up on internal staff profiles.

While this may have sent many influencers, bloggers, brands and teenagers into a further frenzy, it hasn’t made huge waves in paid traffic circles. But when Facebook does remove one of Cialdini’s key weapons of influence in Social Proof (and arguably the single biggest behaviour driver of the platform), I’ll be curious to watch the changing hard dollar value of likes on social media.

On my own personal Instagram (I have an impressive 897 followers), I’ve noticed a significant drop in the number of likes I’m getting for each post, up to 50%. Speaking with influencers and brands in my immediate network, such as Emily Campbell (@emilycampbellofficial, fitness celebrity and Ryderwear ambassador), they’ve noticed a similar trend.

The simple conclusion to draw is that social proof on posts (e.g. 1000 post likes) drives further people to like the post. This fits with Cialdini’s theory and the tendency for large groups to conform to choices, regardless of whether they are correct or mistaken.

That’s all good and well… But for brands and influencers, does this mean fewer people like you?

Well, yes and no.

Without the force of social proof brands will get a lower like count, but these likes are now more meaningful as they are dictated by what is preferred by the user, rather than what is popular. This is particularly true for paid traffic where users may not have a prior brand relationship.

So if less users like you more… Does that mean that, per like, they are worth more in cold hard cash?

Maybe, this remains to be seen.

Based on an analysis of three highly successful eCommerce brands in the Claxon portfolio, we didn’t see a significant trend either way on paid traffic. One brand experienced an increase in the value of likes on Instagram, one was within the margin of error and one brand experienced a decrease in the value of likes.

It is definitely worth noting that 2 out of 3 brands saw a significant increase in the cost per like on Instagram.

A larger sample size and a more intentionally designed experiment would return a more meaningful data set, but on this analysis there is no significant uniform difference in revenue per like for our eCommerce brands before and after the like count was removed.

Moving away from the effect of likes on paid traffic, I (like many others) still truly believe there is a purely financial motivation in this move for Facebook. Hiding likes helps users to be less conscious of their community’s reactions, creating a ‘better user experience’ and even encouraging them to post more. More content from friends and better user experiences mean more time on the platform and more eyeballs to dry with advertising. It’s a pretty obvious win-win for Facebook.

It is also an opportunity for the democratisation of content, helping Facebook rein in the huge number of influencers, bloggers and brands who have made literally millions from the free traffic source that is ‘The Gram’. Expect to see Instagram move slowly and delicately towards diminishing organic reach and a similar ‘pay to play’ model as the current Facebook platform – making tailored brand interactions via paid traffic strategies an even stronger necessity for marketing teams in 2020.

Facebook’s next big platform play is likely to be international expansion of Lasso, a short-video sharing app by Facebook launched on iOS and Android and aimed at teenagers. It is currently available only in the USA, but watching Facebook’s attempt to stay cool in a lightning-fast teenage market will be fascinating. Will the tweenies tolerate hidden likes on arguably the most highly consumable platform to date? Or will Lasso become the home of judgement as older demographics move into Instagram and the under 25’s move out?

Wow, the future of social is ‘reality tv level’ exciting…

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