For the Love of Likes | Why I Crave Instagram Validation

Instragram Likes

Word is out that Instagram is testing the idea of hiding the number of likes your post receives. Wait; what?!

Says Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, “We don’t want Instagram to feel like a competition.”  

The platform says their goal is to reduce pressure and anxiety on its billion or so monthly active users, though more likely the objective is revenue-driven.

Validation matters

Pardon my anxiety, but how will I know how to feel about myself unless the little red dot (or absence of it) is there to measure my performance? What will motivate me if not the goal of more followers (or at least more followers than someone else)?

I’m being facetious … mostly. While I understand the downside for mental well-being and self-esteem, I also think there is a value in “likes,” especially for those of us one foot in the post-work world.

When you’re a part of a traditional work structure – a member of a team, working for someone else – you have access to feedback (like it or not). Maybe you receive regular performance reviews, a raise or bonus; maybe a teammate pats you on the back or complains about you to human resources. You know how you’re doing.

Those of us who have opted out of the corporate world – parents, creatives, entrepreneurs, or retirees, for example – must establish other methods for receiving feedback, or completely ignore our interdependent human nature.

Sorry, you can’t say “I don’t care what anyone thinks,” because you do. We all care what others think.

Yes, we should build meaningful relationships where we can share ideas in a non-judgmental environment and be liked for our true selves. Yes, a connection to a higher power might be all one needs to feel worthy.

But if you’ve worked in an office, you recognize the benefits of feedback — that “atta girl” from a colleague, the dismal product reviews, the gift card from the employee recognition program, the constructive criticism from your boss, or even an angry email from a customer

 — help us to improve and grow.

Without the structure of an employer, you need to test your ideas out in the universe. And the universe today is digital, and most of it is on social media (#universe).

Doing it for the gram

I’m not proud of it, but I’m checking for that little red heart more frequently than I would like to admit. I have a story I want to tell, and I want that story to reach the people to whom it might be meaningful. Those “likes” tell me (or at least make me feel) that I’ve struck a chord.

Plus, to be honest, there is a practical objective of building an audience for my writing that could make attracting a literary agent or a writing gig more likely.

For the record, my Instagram following is tiny. I am at 11% of my stretch goal of 1,000 followers this year and .00007% of the platform’s most popular poster, Portuguese soccer player, Cristiano Ronaldo.

It’s important to note that the quest for on-line validation can be damaging or even dangerous for developing brains who crave approval, especially for teenage girls. They spend an average of 6-10 hours a day on social media, fed on a diet of heavily filtered images, product promotion, false information, and harassment.

You’ve probably seen the bikini-clad tweens at the beach, taking turns in front of Mom’s DSLR, channeling Kylie Kardashian or Alexis Ren, and giggling as they pout and pose for the gram. Nearby, adult men pull hat brims lower and fix their gaze on the scene. Ick.

I’d like to believe that Instagram is mindful of this, and the elimination of “likes” will help, but I’m skeptical. Of its 500 million active users, 60% are girls and women under the age of 34 – a growth market.

Even our mature and enlightened brains succumb to the chase for superficial approval. From my beach chair, I take pictures of my feet in the sand, making sure the frame includes the water, my book, and my cocktail. After some cropping and filtering, voila! Life is insta-perfect.

Refresh for likes

I’ve always been a gold-star seeker – today’s “like” is yesterday’s shiny sticker on my grade school spelling homework.

One should be careful though not to cross the line from seeking validation of good work, to working for validation to feel good. In the last few weeks, I’ve gotten distracted by the latter.

I began to chase the “likes,” trying to beat the ever-changing algorithm of to whom and how often my posts might appear. I analyzed the best hashtags and optimal times to post. I took an excellent on-line course titled Grow Your Gram. I purchased new software to automate my feed, and I spent days curating photos, creating templates, and organizing my grid (that’s the 3×3 view of your latest posts)

It was fun, and I learned several strategies that I will continue to employ. I also learned something about myself.

Stay focused on what matters

One of my intentions for my reinspirement year is to shift from creating endless to-do lists to creating more focused goals. This intent is something of value I wanted to share with potential followers. Mindful of maintaining a visually consistent grid, I created a cute way to share my weekly goals using a heart-shaped memo board.

When I sat down to write this week’s goal, I realized that I was not focused on what matters to me.

My craving for Instagram validation had become competitive – with myself. I had missed nearly two weeks of dedicating serious time to writing as I strove for a perfect grid, a clever caption, and just the right number of hashtags.

No number of followers will satisfy my craving for Instagram validation if they are following a manipulated message and not what is authentically my story.

This, I suppose, is Instagram’s intention with eliminating likes. The platform wants more engagement – video views, live feeds, and direct messages between users – and its new algorithms will reward those who comply.

No doubt, there are already dozens of blog posts, e-books, and video courses designed to help us beat this latest strategic shift, but I’m going to pass for now.

Instagram is more than marketing and audience building for me. The platform challenges me to be authentic (aside from some artful cropping) and vulnerable in much the same way that writing does.

I will continue to crave those little red hearts and follower icons, but first and foremost, I need to write my story. Follow along, wont’ you? 😉

Pivotal Points

  • Focus on what matters to you, not the gram.   
  • Be authentic for yourself and to help others.
  • Seek validation for your effort, not to feel good.

Published by Catherine H Palmer

I used to help big companies tell their stories, now it's time to tell my own. I blog about midlife reinvention and making a new life in rural Vermont. Follow me, I have no idea where I'm going.

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