Earlier this year, the head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, dropped a bombshell.
At an annual event hosted by Facebook (which owns Instagram), Mosseri announced some updates. Most were pretty benign, but one made headlines. Instagram would experiment with hiding “like counts.” Users would no longer see the little heart-shaped indicator that displays how many people liked that Instagram influencer’s latest selfie.
The update is currently being tested in numerous countries—including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan, and New Zealand.
The reason for the change? To create “a space that feels much less pressurized,” Mosseri explained. “We don’t want Instagram to feel like a competition.” On a less altruistic level, this move will also encourage more people to post more frequently on Instagram, thereby increasing what Instagram calls “monetizable daily active users.” (employing the same language that a drug dealer might use).
“Unhappy” would be a severe understatement to describe the mood of many Instagram influencers. For an influencer, likes are money. It’s the outward display of likes that makes you attractive to brands for sponsorship deals. And this experiment would conceal that display—perhaps permanently.
The announcement brought many Instagram influencers to the brink of despair. They’re up in arms, threatening to boycott Instagram and posting angry videos of themselves (ironically, on Instagram). “I’ve put my blood sweat and tears into this for it to be ripped away,” one Melbourne-based influencer wrote. “It’s not just me suffering too, it’s every brand and business I know.”
When you sign up for a platform like Instagram, you make a Faustian bargain. In exchange for a snazzy design and a ready-made audience, you agree to relinquish all control to an intermediary. This intermediary can unilaterally tweak algorithms, change policies, hide like counts, and generally do whatever it wants—even if it puts an end to your business or influence.
Which brings me to the central point of this post: There’s tremendous value in investing in things that age well.
I call this the George Clooney effect. For some things in life, aging is more of an asset than a liability.
This is a mantra that Amazon’s Jeff Bezos lives by. “I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’” he explained. “I almost never get the question: “What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?” Bezos believes that, even ten years from now, customers will want low prices, fast delivery, and vast selection. So that’s where Amazon puts the vast majority of its efforts.
Three years ago, when I started my own platform, I asked myself the same question—What’s not going to change? It was tempting to invest my time in building a social-media following. After all, social media is very public, and people tend to equate likes and followers with popularity. It’s also exponentially easier to get a new follower on social media than it is to get the same person’s email address.
Forgoing the ease and visibility of social media, I decided instead to launch a blog and invest in growing an email list. I host this blog on my own website—and not on Medium. I own my own email list—and don’t allow an intermediary to dictate the terms of my relationship with my audience (or worse, take it away altogether). When I started my membership platform, Inner Circle, to engage with a core group of my readers on a deeper level, I decided to host it on my website—not on a third-party membership site like Patreon.
Here’s the thing: The services I use—primarily the web and email—aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Both have been popular since the 1990s. American users are quitting Facebook by the millions, but no one is quitting email.
Today’s most popular social-media services might feel like permanent fixtures, but they’re not. Just remember Netscape, AOL Instant Messenger, and Myspace.
The here-today-gone-tomorrow nature of these technologies—and their fickle business models—make them poor candidates for an all-in investment. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting with them, as long as you diversify your investments (and invest primarily in services that have stood the test of time). But relying entirely on Instagram to access your followers is the social-media equivalent of investing all your money in Bitcoin. You’re courting catastrophe.
If your goal is for your platform or your business to be around a decade from now, remember the George Clooney effect: Focus on things that have aged well.
[Tip of the hat to Michael Roderick for alerting me to the Instagram story through one of his excellent daily emails.].