Eyes up here

For those of us in the world of social media marketing, the “like” is currency. It’s one of the most important and visible ways we measure engagement, efficacy and success.

For regular social media users, however – especially younger ones, and especially on more visual platforms like Instagram – focusing on generating likes increasingly distorted the experience users were having with such platforms. This, in turn, was creating more unhealthy, negative experiences for more and more users.

Instagram is taking some pretty drastic and novel steps to combat this – they were providing users in test markets a feature that would hide the likes from their posts. There was much consternation among many, many likes-obsesses users when the test was first announced, as you could imagine. But a funny thing happened after it was in effect for a while – users really like it. More and more users became less focused on the numbers below the post and more on the post itself. In other words, the focus shifted back toward content – where it should be.

For marketers, it doesn’t seem like the change will change much for them. They’ll still have access to Instagram’s highly detailed metrics and analytics – and they can still see the number of likes on their own content and track it. Again, the upside for them is a renewed focus on the quality of the content as opposed to the quantity of the likes.

If you can’t buy them, join them

So seems to be the thinking behind Instagram’s announcement yesterday, debuting a new feature – Instagram Direct – enabling users to send photos directly to other individuals and groups.

Facebook, which bought Instagram earlier this year, recently tried to snap up Snapchat but was ultimately rebuffed by the start-up. So Facebook went ahead and introduced a Snapchat like feature to more directly compete with the service and, it hopes, start siphoning off its rabid user base, especially among the younger people it’s most popular with.

If you’re an Instagram user, what does this mean for you? The biggest change, obviously, is the ability for you to now choose between sharing a picture with your followers or with certain individuals or groups. It also means you now have an inbox of sorts in your account where photos other people choose to send you directly will now reside.

If you’re a Snapchat user, what does this mean for you? Not much – for now. But know that a day of reckoning is coming – a time when Snapchat somehow, someway, that service is going to have start making some money. And unless it starts charging to use the service – highly unlikely – that will mean ads. And that will mean the user experience will change in a fundamental, inexorable way. And the young users Snapchat has built its future on are particularly sensitive to feeling marketed to. That day is coming whether they like it or not, unfortunately.

And, if you’re not a user of either but thinking about getting in the game, Mashable gives us a handy Instagram vs. Snapchat guide.