Will Facebook's removal of iconic 'Like' button result in more of your ad dollars spent?

Facebook might be eradicating the public’s viewability of the number of ‘Likes’ on a post. Starting with a trial phase in Australia, users will no longer be able to see the number of likes, reactions and video views on the other person’s posts and ads. The information however, will be visible only to the author of the post.

The move comes shortly after a similar trial was implemented for its sister platform Instagram. In a statement to Marketing, a Facebook spokesperson said that it is currently running a limited test where like, reaction, and video view counts are made private across Facebook. "We will gather feedback to understand whether this change will improve people’s experiences," she said. In all likelihood, Facebook believes it will see a different data set from Instagram's through this test.

According to the social media giant, the move was made to reduce social pressures felt amongst users, and to create a space where people would feel comfortable expressing themselves. Facebook hopes with the move users will focus on the quality of the photos and videos they share, as opposed to how many likes or reactions they get. Moreover, given today's social and digital construct, seeing reactions gives people a sense of whether they might want to interact with a piece of content which they may not have otherwise seen. During this test, Facebook aims to assess whether making these counts private helps people feel more comfortable sharing while not limiting their interactions.

However, from the consumer perspective, Prantik Mazumdar, managing partner at Happy Marketer, a Merkle Company stated that passive following and liking on social media, could in fact lead to envy spiralling and decline in perception of one’s well being. “The hypothesis for this kind of an experiment is that by not showing the collective number of likes, Facebook will not hit someone with the social insecurity upfront. So from the user’s perspective hopefully this experiment augurs well and improves the experience,” he said.

But there are, at the end of the day, two perspectives to consider in this experiment - one of the end user and the other of the advertisers, who pretty much fund the user’s experience on the platform. From the advertiser’s perspective though, this is a matter of concern as passive following and liking herd mentality leads to more “social proof” and “triggers a cycle to hook users and drive more likes,” explained Mazumdar. This then increases the “virality quotient” of the brand posts and its organic reach.

“Not only does it then have a positive impact on engagement metrics but more so on the media budget needed to drive reach,” he said.

With this experiment, my guess is that organic reach would further decrease and brands will need to shell out more ad dollars to selectively amplify important posts.

"This is likely to impact influencer’s organic reach as well and they too wouldn’t be a happy bunch,” he said.

James Chua, founder and managing director of GERMS echoed Mazumdar’s sentiments stating that the move might end up being harder to garner engagement for brands as most times, engaging with a piece of content is driven by herd mentality. “Overall I foresee engagement levels to drop, and brands just have to accept that as a new norm,” he said.

“If I see a lot of likes, comments and shares, the tendency for me to engage with or view the content is higher,” he said. Removing it would probably drive more people to become passive users.

Chua added that this move would also be harder for advertisers to do "an armchair audit of the efficacy of an influencer’s content”. On the other hand, it would remove like frauds that some brands and influencers might engage in to drive up the popularity of their content. This might allow advertisers to have more authentic comparison between different types of content pieces.

End of cosmetic visuals

Neeraj Gulati, partner, digital transformation of Entropia took the point further emphasising that today’s social age authenticity is a premium, and through this effort of moving away from the pressure of likes count on Facebook. According to Gulati, the social media giant is ensuring users and brands showcase their authentic side and are creating connections which are deeper and closer to real world.

“I foresee brands focusing on meaningful relationships over cosmetic visuals. The interactions will be moving away from synthetic media to utility alliances. This empowers marketers to remove the smoke screen of likes and look deeper into how the brand can add value to its customers with meaningful content,” he added.

The idea is to connect, and not to celebrate popularity.

Agreeing to the view of the flip side, Mazumdar said hiding of the "likes" count would push brands and advertisers to focus on the critical, non vanity metrics of “likes, comments and shares” but on whether the post made a qualitative impact on the brand’s perception and recall. This includes if the post drove quality traffic and generated meaningful leads and sales to drive higher ROI.

“On the whole, am glad that Facebook is keeping an open mind and experimenting to test out what helps to keep its users happy and engaged in the long run whilst keeping the advertisers still interested. With all the ongoing lashing tech companies are facing, this is the right way to evolve,” he said.