It looks like they’re finally doing it. Instagram is about to push the delete button on ‘likes’. Instagram CEO, Adam Mosseri, has announced that the platform would begin testing the change in the US this week. It follows Brazil, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Japan and Italy, where Instagram has experimented with not displaying the number of likes to other users.
"Right now we're testing making like counts private, so you'll be able to see how many people liked a given photo of yours or a video of yours, but no one else will," said Mosseri. “It's about young people," Mosseri said. "The idea is to try to 'depressurise' Instagram, make it less of a competition and give people more space to focus on connecting with people that they love, things that inspire them."
While Instagram is citing users’ mental health and wellbeing as a reason for the change, cynically, could it be a way of Instagram disguising and masking falling engagement and growth across the entire app.?
We passed peak Instagram a while ago, and, with some users engaging in behaviour described as ‘clout chasing’, pursuing likes with the intent to become famous, and ‘sadfishing’, the act of someone making exaggerated claims about their emotional problems to generate sympathy and more attention and likes, it has become, to many, a dysfunctional arena for attention seekers.
Kayli Kunkel, Marketing Director for HYPR, an influencer platform since 2013, says “I don’t believe Instagram is suffering from a decline in engagement or that the motive behind hiding the likes is to make that less visible. If you believe Instagram, their motives are the well being of the users. If you are a bit more cynical you may argue that likes have been used as a driver to monetise Instagram without giving the platform a cut. Influencer marketing as an industry has become extremely reliant on likes as a metric. So its possible they are trying to reduce accessibility to this information for commercial reasons.”
“Regardless, it’s my belief that likes are a terrible metric to measure anything. No two likes are the same. You make like something because you intend to buy it or you may just be a person who likes a lot of photos. No information about the identity or intention of the likers is available, so marketers, influencers and audiences can’t really learn much from them except for a general “level of engagement” metric that helps our ego or makes us feel like we did some due diligence.” says Kunkel.
Rebecca Holloway, Social Media Strategist (@beccasocial), “I would like to think that the removal of like counts will mean fewer bots, however, it wouldn't surprise me if these became more prevalent in inflating follower counts. Along with the number of comments on a post, this will become one of the only ways brands will be able to see how engaged an audience is with influencers they may be considering working with.”
“Despite these changes making life trickier for brands and influencers navigating sponsorship deals, I do think it will have a positive impact on casual users of the platform. I expect that at first many will find it quite strange, but will adapt quickly, and soon forget that like counts are missing. I would hope that this has a positive impact on users' mental health and that they aren't posting for likes, but instead posting content they have really enjoyed creating.” she says.
By June 2018, Instagram had reached the 1 billion monthly user mark. In the US, influencer fraud, including purchasing fake followers, likes and creating fake personas, is estimated to cost businesses $1.3 billion a year, according to research from cybersecurity firm Cheq. US companies spend an estimated $8.5 billion annually on influencers according to influencer marketing firm Mediakix. On a good day, roughly 15% of the corporate dollars spent are lost to fraud it is estimated.
William Soulier, CEO and co-founder of Talent Village, who conduct influencer campaigns for brands, says, “Digital metrics have allowed brands to measure the performance of all promoted content on Instagram and ultimately judge the success of their social campaign. Therefore by Instagram removing a vanity metric such as "likes" on in-feed posts, both users and brands should hopefully become focused on less tangible metrics, but arguably more important factors such as the quality of the content produced.
“The problem is that it's very difficult to measure something like "quality", and therefore it seems inevitable that brands will shift their focus to the next quantifiable metric such as engagement. By hiding likes on the user’s feed, Instagram is giving a chance for content to stand out for its quality and not for its engagement.” he says.
Araminta Sheridan, founder of Araminta Marketing says, “This is a great decision from Instagram. Instagram used to be an anti-media, an authentic experience. Whilst so many incredible things happen through Instagram every day (mental health movements, communities are formed, body positive beauty), it has become so curated. I look forward to people using the platform more openly, less concerned about what other people think. I think this will result in a reduction in toxic behaviour and an increase in genuinely good content. I also think people will start to socialise through the platform again. Less passive ‘double tap’ behaviour, more conversation.” she says.
“Instagram is like a game for some people, people will always find ways to ‘beat the algorithm’ so that they can compete alongside people and companies who can afford to advertise. Changes may solve some problems and cause others to arise. Like most businesses, it's a game of whack-a-mole.” says Sheridan.
Some people are saying upstart Tik Tok is more authentic? “Maybe, it is newer which make authenticity easier.” says Sheridan. “The ‘better’ an app gets, the ‘better' people get at it. How will they avoid their own authenticity problems? Watch this space I suppose!”
Nikki Hesford of www.hesfordmedia.co.uk, a digital agency specialising in FB and IG, says, “Tik Tok is growing massively but it still isn’t that mainstream and most brands haven’t worked out yet how to leverage it into sales. If it does stay the course, the early adopters of the platform who are using it now will see the greatest benefit, as with all platforms, it’s easier to make an impact when you’re there at the start. I think many brands are ambivalent about whether to put the effort into Tik Tok or if it will fizzle out – but like most videos on the internet, a lot of planning, and staging from media agencies has gone into making it look authentic and ‘off the cuff’!” she says.
While, for many, it is hard to believe that Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, is doing anything altruistic, it still wants to keep its cash-cow healthy with a thriving population active both physically and mentally.
Hannah Elderfield, Associate Insights Director at Canvas8, says, “Hiding likes is something that has come about primarily to help protect the mental health of everyday users. But the assumption has been that ‘hiding’ likes may negatively impact brands and ‘influences’, for whom such ‘engagement’ has been an important metric - that’s not necessarily the case though.
“When ‘performance metrics’ are displayed publicly, it sometimes dictate what type of content gets posted or shared - especially on certain platforms. And that’s contributed to a rise in ‘cookie cutter’ posts - influencers know what ‘works’ for their audience and often repeat what’s performed well in the past, but many feel that that’s led to a lack of creativity in this space. Removing likes may well free up brands and influences to try new and interesting things, freed from the shackles of public endorsement.” she says.
“There’s another element here in that ‘virtue signalling’ (or a lack by which to do so if likes are ‘hidden’) could give a more accurate view of what people are enjoying. For example, people will no longer be able to like things to be seen to like them. They’ll only be able to signal directly and that’s a very different dynamic which could result in more authentic and honest interactions online.” says Elderfield.
Hesford says, “My view is that actually, it’ll make very little difference. For a long time “likes” have become meaningless both in terms of performance algorithm, and public perception - the only people who will be affected by this are those seeking validation from “like counting” (usually young, impressionable and quite vulnerable girls and boys) so this can only be a good thing.
“You may have noticed a lot of brands post stories 5-6-7-8 times a day, yet publish a “post” only once every few weeks, due to the nature of how obsolete they are becoming.” she says.
“Facebook - who own Instagram - is similar to Apple in that they’re at the cutting edge of innovation – they aren’t reactionary. They don’t ask people what they want, they just do it. People always complain at the introduction of every dynamic new change, but ultimately people accept it and it makes the platform a better place. For Instagram to keep growing, it needs to clean up it’s image of ‘fakery’ before consumers become too sceptical of the authenticity of the content they are exposed to and start to become fatigued. Click farms and bots can ‘like’ images very easily, but it requires a more sophisticated set up to automate fake commenting, so the intention here is to reduce fake interaction, which of course will make it stronger.”
“Whether FB/IG genuinely cares about its users’ mental health, or whether it’s a PR strategy with commercial aims – only they know! But in any event, it is clear to most regular users of IG that the platform causes feelings of inadequacy. While they may not cause mental health problems, there is no doubt they trigger existing sufferers of depression, anxiety, eating disorders and self-harming, when vulnerable people are bombarded daily with messages that say ‘everyone else is achieving more than you, are slimmer than you, more beautiful than you, have more money than you’ etc.” says Hesford.
“Influencers probably hope that their followers will express their thoughts and approval with more meaningful interactions such as commenting, in the absence of tapping a like button. If that were to be the case, it would create a more authentic metric on which to measure the influencers who have a real following versus those who paid for theirs. Those who have built a genuine following will be pleased about this change. It could see smaller influencers with maybe 20-30k followers emerging as having more commercial opportunity than others with 100k+ because it will become obvious to brands, which ones actually have an engaged audience.
“As a marketer for brands wishing to spend money with influencers, it can be incredibly difficult knowing whether the influencer you plan to pay even has any real people watching their content.” says Hesford.
There are many people and businesses invested in the success of Instagram influencer marketing. It’s big business. They’re, obviously, going to put a positive spin on any changes and are going to still cite the importance and influence of individuals paid to post.
Instagram is due a refresh because it has become quite boring and samey. Deleting visible likes could be a positive move to remove what has become a digital shackle for some users. But, could all the attention just turn to the numbers of followers? Deleting all metrics could be the answer if they really care about people's mental health. Removing likes could take some of the steam out of people’s mental and emotional desire for validation and attention. Digital platforms need users to come often and stay longer and injecting newness is all part of the process. What this does to the influencer market is yet to be seen and do they even care? Is it time to say goodbye to the flat-white?!
BUY TheChicGeek's new book - FASHIONWANKERS - HERE
As this year’s A Level and GSCE students collect their results I’m going to look at the reasons behind the death of the Saturday job amongst this demographic - Generation Z or iGen - why they seem to need less money and whether this will make them less attractive as a target market to marketeers, brands and retailers.
According to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) some 42% of 16- and 17-year-old students were studying and working simultaneously in 1997. This had dropped to just 18% in 2014.
Post-millennial youth - those born after 1996 - have been labelled as ‘Generation Boring’ or ‘Generation Sensible’. A recent survey by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service showed teenagers are becoming less likely to have sex, preferring to spend time with their families and having romantic relationships online. Teenage pregnancy rates have fallen by 55% in the last decade to their lowest ever level (July 2018). Add this to the rates of smoking, arrests, drug taking and drinking all falling and you can see why older generations are perplexed at this conservative and law abiding wave of youngsters.
Hannah Elderfield, Consumer Behavioural Analyst, Canvas8, says, “From paper-rounds to sweeping up at the hairdressers, Saturday jobs can give a first taste of independence and provide useful future skills. But, data shows that less British teens are taking on part time work, with pressure to get good academic results partly the reason."
“Research conducted by the BBC found that the number of young teens working part time jobs after school or at the weekend has declined steadily since 2013. Businesses employing kids aged between 13 and 15 are required to apply for a permit, and the number of permits issued in 140 local authorities across the country fell by a fifth – dropping from 29,498 in 2012, to 23,071 in 2016.” says Elderfield.
“When looking at dropping levels of Gen-Z taking up weekend jobs in general, it’s important to recognise the pressure teens today feel to do well in exams. 61% of 15- to 17-year-olds believe that good grades are more important than happiness! As a result, they’re channelling their focus into a different type of work, the hard work of studying.” she says.
Leila Willingham, Founder @Digipigz, which targets this demographic and offers ‘market research and insights supplemented by their community of industry astute 16-24 year olds’, says, “We think that statistics like that will mean marketing professionals label Gen Z as 'lazy' and what they won’t be interpreting is that Gen Z are very future focused and these statistics could be off the back of their dedication to learning and prioritising their studies over a job at that age. It may even be that they are doing work experience as opposed to paid work.”
Today’s teenagers don’t seem to be so driven to get themselves a part-time job, like previous generations, and it’s not because of a lack of opportunities. The number of jobseekers per vacancy has fallen to a record low despite a drop in the number of posts on offer. There was less than one person for each vacancy in June 2018 even though the number of advertised jobs fell by 5 per cent to 1.1million compared with a year ago, according to job site, Adzuna. Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics showed there are 32.4million people in work in the UK, a record high, and 388,000 more than a year earlier. The National Minimum Wage for people under 18 is £4.20, compared to £7.83 for those over 25. But, you would think this would make them more attractive to low-skilled employers? But, Generation Z seem to be set on concentrating on their studies.
Mia, 15, from London, says, “I don't have a Saturday job because I spend most of the day at a Dance School, which is my exercise and release from the pressures of school. I also have an absurd amount of homework which can take on average 2-3 hours a night/day, leaving little time to work or socialise. I also need some time to relax and recuperate.”
Her father, Darren, says, “I feel that the amount of homework received certainly affects the possibilities of part time work. The kids, today, are under a huge amount of pressure to live up to an adult role model, living a fantasy lifestyle. To be able to do this they know they need to succeed at school to achieve a high paying job. I also believe that parents are being lent on more to assist with these social lifestyles. I had a part time job from the age of 12 to 17 and didn't rely on my parents much. But, at the same time I received a fraction of the workload from school that children seem to receive today.”
“Many people think it’s better to get qualifications before leaving education to work straight away as many believe it is the best way to achieve a high income.” says Rhianna, 16, from Hounslow.
It’s not ‘cool’ to be seen flipping burgers or stacking shelves when you’re living ‘your best life’ on social media. If Generation Z are too busy studying and doing their homework then they aren’t spending money on going out, drinking and maybe the knock on effects of needing new clothes to go out in etc. But, this doesn’t take into account teens documenting their lives through social media and the tendency towards materialism and showing off what they have.
Rihanna, 16, says, ““Some people get their money from 'cool' jobs like modelling or Saturday jobs, but many people use other illegal ways to allow them to quickly achieve the 'lavish lifestyle'. I get my money from my Mum and Dad and my grandparents, but I have to do jobs around the house. People want money and usually don’t mind sharing the fact that they have a job if it enables them to flaunt the expensive things they have bought on Instagram.”
Mia, 15, says, “There is definitely a truth in not wanting to do 'uncool' jobs. On Social Media you don't really see people working Saturday jobs and most of what you do see is a glamorous lifestyle. This creates a false impression of what you should be aspiring to.”
Teenagers are more reliant than ever on their parents for money. Liliah Zion, 14, from London, says, “My Mum gives me £40 a month to my account for which I am supposed to help with household chores, but, then I get more on top. Everyone just relies on their parents or sells clothing/stuff on depop.”
Her mother, Caroline, says, “I want my 14 year old daughter to work, as does she, however, I think she in the minority, and I recently asked a friend, who owns a long established West London clothing store, if she could work. He was dubious, but said "yes if she was genuinely into it” so that’s on the cards. She has been babysitting to earn money for herself . One of her friend’s Mum’s recently told me her daughter couldn’t even comprehend that she needed to work… ever and her fear was that because she doesn’t.”
But, not all of this generation are studiously just looking at their books or screens. There is a group of young entrepreneurs using their skill set and talents to make extra income. Jenk Oz, the 13-year old CEO of iCoolKid Ltd. a website highlighting ‘cool’ hobbies and activities for the younger generation, says, “We are definitely witnessing a trend of teenagers moving away from the traditional ‘Saturday job’. However, the truth is that the idea of young people seeking part time work, and starting their own businesses is thriving more than ever before. Young people want jobs that help to enhance their CV for university applications - as it’s so competitive - and they want to feel like their employers and job contributes in some way to their interests and hobbies. Gone are the days when a dish washing job in the local restaurant or a paper round are the only options. Now, with the rise and influence of social media and the internet, young people are open to a whole range of money making opportunities which just weren’t possible previously.”
“For example, there’s so many digital orientated jobs which kids can get involved in today, and carry out remotely. From slime manufacturing and selling via Instagram, to writing social media copy for brands during their lunch break (so they can market better to teens), to personalising badges and selling them on Etsy – there’s so many creative activities that young people can try.” says Oz.
“These types of jobs work better with school schedules and present more opportunities for individuals with entrepreneurial flair, a key attribute of Gen Z’ers today. As most of these jobs are done remotely from a bedroom or garage, the wider public don’t see young people doing them – which makes their part time jobs less obvious. Today’s teens and tweens are starting their own businesses that suit their schedules and personal interests – rather than opting for the traditional weekend jobs.” he says.
Hannah Elderfield, says, “Embracing a long term view, they’re using every opportunity to give their careers a head start by swapping would-be weekend shifts at supermarkets for study and experiences. That's not to say they're abandoning work completely – many are finding ‘side hustles’ using tools like Pickle or launching entrepreneurial projects early on, on resale platforms such as Depop."
“Gen-Z’s disposable income is dropping, which has a knock-on effect on the brands they buy from. While they might not be buying into their favourite brands as often as they’d like, they’re still engaging with them, which is important for marketers to consider in the long run. More often than not, that engagement is happening online via social media channels. Eight out of ten Gen-Zers say that their purchases are influenced by social media and over half of 13- to 17-year-olds say they would rather their favourite brand be advertised via influencers.” she says.
Leila Willingham says, “These statistics paint Gen Z in a bad light and if marketing teams aren’t careful, and don’t take time to understand this complex generation, there’s a danger they’ll disregard this generation and later loose out when Gen Z have huge spending power and will look to brands that align with their values/beliefs and have a track record of being good on social, innovative with tech and accepting of diversity, for example.”
Brands need think long term about this generation. It's about raising awareness and desire in the hope of reaping the benefits when they can afford to make larger purchases and buying decisions in the future. This is especially true for luxury brands.
If these teenagers aren’t going out clubbing and drinking like previous generations, then what are they doing with their spare time? “Nothing most of the time. They might play Xbox (mainly boys), go to the park. Go shopping. Meet at friend’s house.” says Rhianna, 16. “See friends, actually and digitally, and pursue hobbies like dancing, exercising, for boys football or skating or mates’ time.” says Liliah Zion, 14. Mia, 15, says, “I don't go out as much, but generally split costs with parents, depending on what I am doing. There is also an expectation as a teenager to dress or act in a certain way (thanks to social media and peer group pressure) and this can be expensive. I generally save up for something special or ask my parents.”
When not online with each other, it feels like teenagers are spending a lot of time in each other’s houses with their activities watched over or supervised by parents. Because they have less disposable income, they are going out less to places involving drinking, smoking and drugs and probably a reason why many of these night time economy places have closed or are struggling to survive, giving even more reasons not to go out. It’s also an element of peer pressure in reverse. If your friends don’t have part-time jobs then, maybe, you don’t feel as much pressure to get one. You also don’t feel left out by having less money. As long as you can afford your phone and you have the internet and social media, then you have a satisfied social life. Is it all ‘Netflix & Chill” without the sex, or is that already yesterday’s news?
Life, it seems, gets very serious from an early age today and Generation Z is a reflection of this. Growing up through the age of austerity, they are very focussed on their futures. “Today, we know how important it is to achieve good grades to allow us to follow the career we eventually want to succeed in. I feel that paid work can be delayed for now until we begin to work professionally and if I study hard enough the results will come in time.” says Mia, 15.
The pressures and time constraints of studying is weighing heavy on the ability and motivation to get part-time work. This is probably why the country’s exam results have got steadily better over the past few years. There are over 7 million 16-24 year olds living in the UK and the number of full-time students rose from 2.16 million in 1996 to 3.24 million in 2014.
But these young people are missing out on valuable experiences. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) report also stated 'earners and learners' are likely to perform better and earn more than those students who focus only on their studies in the longer term. They are also likely to earn more than those just in full-time education, with a premium of 12-15 per cent. Part-time jobs are also excellent ways for young people to gain experience of the working world, a factor which 66% of employers say is important when recruiting.
It’s clear Generation Z aren’t being lazy. On the one hand we have a very diligent, healthy and focussed generation which seems to be putting education before anything else, but, on the other, a generation without as much life experience and rebellious streak as previous ones. This generation is concentrating on learning and their revolution will just have to wait.