Goodbye, Instagram Likes! Hello, Real Social Proof!

Goodbye, Instagram Likes! Hello, Real Social Proof!

The news broke late in April that Instagram is likely hiding the public “Like” count from posts. The plan is being tested in Canada, in which only users can see how many Instagram likes a post earns from followers. It’s causing an uproar among popular influencers and the companies who sponsor them. This leads us to a discussion of what genuine engagement looks like, and the importance of social proof in business and sales.

What We Know So Far

This article by Later.com summarizes what is known about the program so far. If you’re an Instagram user, you will be able to see how many likes your posts receive, but your followers won’t. Even then, you’ll need to click an additional link under your post to see your likes total.

Mark Zuckerberg himself, CEO of Instagram’s parent company Facebook, has said he wants users to post authentic content without dwelling on the number of likes, which are inauthentic and draw users into a competition; “We want people to be less interested in how many likes a post gets, and focus more on connecting with other people.”


The biggest block of users affected by this change, from a business standpoint, are the “influencers.” Influencers are the ones who build huge followings, then land sponsorships from companies to recommend their products. Almost everyone agrees that the Like count on posts are easy to fake, and don’t fully reflect what followers really feel about them. However, they’re the easiest metric to measure.

The Later.com article goes on to say:

“In 2019, brands care more about reach and engagement rate than they do followers, so without the ability to publicly view an influencer’s likes (aka their engagement), it could make it harder to gauge how engaged their community is. Suddenly, a good influencer media kit is now deemed essential.

Lia Haberman, formerly VP Audience Development at Livestrong, notes that hidden likes could result in a spending shift away from influencer marketing and towards paid advertising on Instagram. ‘This will likely increase the amount of ads as brands look for more exposure and make it difficult for anyone but established influencers to get a foot-hold.’”

In my previous article about Instagram marketing, I emphasized that paid advertising and sponsorships are only beneficial to large companies, and that small businesses and the self-employed are better off using organic reach. I also cautioned, referencing some experts, not to “buy” followers or likes, because such metrics aren’t real and will disappear once you stop paying the companies providing them.

Indeed, when I search for “Instagram likes” in Google, over half of the first page results are for those sketchy firms selling likes. Instagram and Facebook have long wanted to crack down on the practice, and the new change is probably the way they do it.

Reactions from users other than influencers are very positive. Social media has long been blamed for self-esteem problems. From a CNN article: “‘Likes are powerful because they are immediate feedback,’ said Renee Engeln, a psychology professor at Northwestern University. ‘In a way, likes give you the same kind of hit like a gambler gets at a slot machine.'”

Comparison, envy, and insincerity are facts of life on Instagram. Although its content is overwhelmingly positive compared to Facebook and Twitter, it’s easy to feel inadequate looking at someone else’s beautifully presented feed. It’s easy to forget that everyone cherry-picks the best parts of their day, and their best selfies, to share on the network. The rest their everyday lives may be filled with struggle and heartbreak.

Also, without the pressure to compete for likes, users will be free to post more authentic and creative posts. I first heard the news about the hidden likes from YouTuber Roberto Blake. Blake feels that followers’ comments are a much better indicator of a post’s influence. There is much more information in comments than in likes. Influencers can still share their profile analytics with brand sponsors, so they needn’t worry too much about their careers.

Blake also says removing public likes will make it easier for smaller users to break out. Often, if users see that a post has a huge number of likes already, it will gain even more through a bandwagon mentality. It’s too easy for a lucky few influencers to dominate the platform. This opens up a discussion about social proof that I’ll get to later.

“Likes” On Other Platforms

Blake goes on to suggest that YouTube get rid of its own likes display in key sections of its site. When visitors see that a video has a large number of likes and views from the homepage, they judge it to be quality content before actually viewing it. It’s a lazy way to search for content, and punishes newer, smaller channels trying to break out in the same way it happens on Instagram.

Let’s go over likes, as well as reviews on other social media platforms and online marketplaces. As a WordPress user, I see reviews all the time when I’m looking for a new plugin to use. Plugins are made by 3rd party developers and are available in the WordPress Repository. They add functionality to the sites I make for myself and clients.

Plugins in the Repository have scores, written reviews, and numbers showing how many times they’ve already been downloaded. I confess, I’ve sometimes chosen one plugin over another because more people use it, but it’s beneficial to look at the scores and read what other people say about them. Some plugins become runaway hits thanks to word of mouth and the social proof shown in the repository display.

Amazon works in much the same way. It allows for customers to write reviews of products. It’s good marketing to convince initial users to write favorable reviews, which encourages more people to buy that product and tell Amazon’s algorithm to feature higher in the search results, or even the homepage.

How Social Proof Helps Your Business

When you launch a product or service, you need an initial marketing push, then you need early customers and reviewers to say nice things about it. Since the start of 2019, I’ve studied why certain companies become huge while most others struggle. I’ve learned that the successful ones create a feedback loop of satisfied customers, good reviews, increased trust in the brand, more satisfied customers, and on and on.

What Businesses Should Do

With Instagram hiding the public likes from its feed, marketplaces should now reconsider what kind social proof is presented. Whether on Amazon or in YouTube, it doesn’t always benefit the customer to see what’s popular. A product or article should meet customers’ individual needs. I feel Google Search is better at finding relevant content for users. And content is the key. Going back to Roberto Blake’s preference for user comments, we can learn much more about creation from the audience’s words than a binary response such as like or dislike.

User reviews tell us the “how” and “why” of business’ benefits. If you’re having a website built for your small business or your digital product, get some testimonials from previous clients, or ask them to review you on Google or Facebook. There are WordPress plugins that let visitors write reviews right on your own site, or import them from other platforms.

Fighting The 80/20 Rule

There is a lot of talk about income inequality and what to do about it. Political commentators fret over how to increase opportunity for everyone besides the “1%.” The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, says that 80% of wealth is held by 20% of people. That 20% are the ones who stumble on just the right feedback loop to grow their customer base. I don’t agree with wealth redistribution because it’s code for communism, but I do feel that regular folks need a better chance at prosperity. Without the strict number value of likes, and more focus on qualitative comments, we can promote individualism and diversity in the marketplace.

Announcing A New Workshop: Build A Restaurant Website!

Announcing A New Workshop: Build A Restaurant Website!

Attention Corridor restaurant owners, managers, and website admins!

On November 5, 2018, I’m hosting an online workshop for building or updating your restaurant’s website. With the purchase of a ticket, you’ll get an invitation to a Google Hangouts session. In it, I’ll introduce you to WordPress and guide you through creating your very own website using this globally popular software. WordPress is the choice of professional web designers and small businesses because it’s versatile, open-source, and has applications for anything you want to accomplish online.

I’m not just talking to you in this workshop, though. I want to find out from you what would most benefit your business. Do you need more sales of a particular item? Do you want to reach a wider audience? Would you like more traffic at certain times of the week?

Improving your online presence will go a long way towards your goals, but hiring a professional web designer is outside most restaurants’ budgets. I should know, I’ve talked to plenty food service professionals trying to win their business. That’s why I’m hosting this project. A website design project can cost thousands of dollars.

The workshop will begin at 9:00 AM Central Time. I’m limiting it to 15 clients. That will allow everyone in attendance to work out the best strategy to not just revamp their sites, but to market them. This is a pilot program. Participants who pay the $99 ticket fee will not just get new web marketing plans, but free membership in the online course I’m developing. The resources I create with your input will be available as long as my own website stays active, so let’s make something great!

GDPR Is Here! Resources For The Shakeup

The European Union’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) went into effect May 24th. Its aim is to protect the personal data of European Citizens using the Western world’s biggest websites and apps. These are obviously Facebook, Google, and any services that piggyback on them.

CNN reports that less than a day into the law’s enforcement, multiple tech giants have been sued by government agencies:

The complaint against Facebook was filed with Austrian data regulators, Google with French regulators, WhatsApp with German regulators and Instagram with Belgian regulators as soon as the law went into effect at midnight.


From Friday, European data regulators can impose fines of up to 4% of global annual sales each time the companies run afoul of the new law.


It’s tempting to think these governments are trying to cash in, but rumors of clandestine data harvesting go back to the early days of the Obama presidency. It goes that Google, Facebook, et al, collect metadata about their users through their websites and apps. They then sell it to politicians and corporations for targeted marketing.

Ostensibly, small to medium-sized businesses have little reason to fear GDPR, but it doesn’t hurt to be ready. A great, snarky post in thedesignspace.co blog lists the ways to be fined under the law. They amount to common sense, good business practices to ignore (or follow- the post is being funny.)

First, to avoid getting in trouble, don’t spam or annoy your contacts. 2nd, allow them to unsubscribe from your email marketing. 3rd, make sure you have a privacy policy on your site or app. (I made my own through this service: www.freeprivacypolicy.com.)

4th, 5th, and 6th, if you annoy them enough with your spam, they users can ask you directly to stop. If you ignore this for 30 days, they can report you to their country’s ICO. The 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th steps to getting fined amount to the ignoring the ICO’s requests for you to stop. Governments make huge tech companies their first priority, so if you’re a smaller business, you have a longer grace period.

The best advice I can give is to be respectful of your customers and sales leads. This is good customer service in any case. Next, if you utilize any online services including web hosting and email marketing, look up their blogs for any GDPR news. They should be up front in how they protect their clients. It’s sad that it’s come to government legislation being necessary, but honesty is the best route to sustainability in business.

Gutenberg: Making WordPress Easier For All

Project Gutenberg is the landmark effort to make page design easier in WordPress websites. It’s meant for users who are new to the platform, or website creation in general, and is part of WordPress’ ongoing quest to “democratize the web.” Professional web designers, agencies, and software developers who are invested in WordPress debate whether it will put them out of business or open new opportunities.

Gutenberg is a simple drag-and-drop editor. The user assigns areas called “blocks” to a page or blog post, and inserts text, images, and graphics to them. This is similar to the existing category of WordPress plugins called page builders that I’ve written about before. As a freelance web designer, I’ve used commercial page builders for clients and my own projects, When I first heard about Gutenberg, I feared for their viability and wondered if my purchase of their licenses would be justifiable in 2018.

Matt Mullenweg, the cofounder of WordPress and the CEO of its development organization, delivered the keynote at the huge WordCamp convention in Nashville last month. He went a log way in putting many fears to rest. The audience was predominantly made of plugin and theme developers. After reporting on other community and organizational goings-on in the WordPress movement, Mullenweg invited one of the lead Gutenberg developers, named Matias, onstage to demonstrate the tool in its current state.

Here is video of the speech. Skip to 35:00 if you want to see the demo right away:

Matias opened a new blog post in the WordPress backend, inserted blocks by calling them up in a menu, and either pasted text or selected images to display in them. He was able to adjust the size, width, and number of text columns in each block in the settings. One can see what the page would look like as it was being built. Watching the video, I thought Gutenberg looked like a very plain version of the Divi Builder released in the fall of 2016. My immediate next thought was the page builders already on the market are twice as advanced or better. Gutenberg can be considered an entry level builder.

The blocks in Gutenberg are meant to replace age-old features like widget areas and shortcodes. Plugins and themes presently display much of their information in these widget areas, or are embedded into pages using shortcodes that are copied and pasted. The hope is that programmers focus on the block architecture when making plugins. The companies creating page builders can have a layer of design options on top of Gutenberg, or they can specialize in making new and more diverse modules to be used in the blocks.

In the Question and Answer portion of the keynote, the first query was whether Gutenberg would replace page builders. Matt Mullenweg said if anything, it should make the existing builders stronger. He noted that other plugins currently need to be compatible with vastly different builders, but Gutenberg will bring standardization. The different builders have their clannish, almost fanboyish communities of users who eagerly find fault with any builder that’s not their first choice. Standardization should open them up. Mullenweg also mentioned WordPress’ homemade suite of plugins called JetPack and that 3rd party plugins that do the same things are in business despite of it.

Later I listened to commentary by Adam Preiser of the YouTube channel WPCrafter.com. He’s also of the opinion that commercial page builders are more robust than Gutenberg. Then he makes the analogy between Apple and its proprietary cords for devices versus all other brands using USB, and the closed nature of each commercial page builder versus the open source nature of WordPress. Gutenberg should drive, if not force, the different builders to open up and be more compatible with other categories of plugins, like Mullenweg says. Adam mentions closed website platforms like Wix and Squarespace in passing, but I realized that certain WordPress page builders like Divi and Visual Composer are similar. They’re loaded with legacy code and lock their users into continued use.

What I detest about Wix is its users don’t truly own the websites they build on it. They either pay steep subscription fees or endure Wix branding and advertisements on the sites. Even with the subscriptions, the styling and personalization of sites is prohibitively limited compared to the power of popular WordPress themes and page builders. What I love most about WordPress is its open market of themes and plugins. Comparable to Apple’s App Store or Google Play, the WordPress Repository and premium marketplaces are environments where enterprising software developers can create great tools for the public and make reasonable revenue. This is possible because WordPress is open-source, and can be installed on hosted servers that a business or freelancer can own outright. It’s the logical choice for professional services. Premium themes and plugins cost money up front, but the site owner can save money in the long run through careful budgeting and choosing the best valued plugin for the price.

Gutenberg is meant to compete directly with Wix and Squarespace in the do-it-yourself web design arena. WordPress’ default design options are nonexistent and rely on the 3rd party page builders. This has been Wix’s advantage until the Gutenberg announcement. As stated, Gutenberg can’t do everything a commercial page builder can, so those builders will still have a role in professional design and branding. However, I can tell you from personal experience that it’s getting hard to find work as a web designer. Middle America has a bootstrap mentality.

Thanks to page builders, premium themes, and the imminent Gutenberg, the real work of website creation will be in generating engaging content. Professional coders and programmers might find work in making tools rather than the sites themselves. Their aim should be making those tools secure, efficient, and reliable. In my article on the best themes and builders for multiple websites (read it here), I said that Beaver Builder is well respected among coders. Any content you create with it is preserved if you ever turn the app off. This is because Beaver Builder is carefully developed with WordPress’ core architecture in mind. If you choose to purchase and use it as of this writing, in January 2018, I feel it will be the most future-proof builder when Gutenberg is complete, approximately in April. Beaver Builder’s development team is the most open about their plans regarding Gutenberg, as seen in their blog (read it here), making me think they’re the most prepared for it. They’re renowned for taking user feedback and cooperating with the larger WordPress community.

As for web designers, their approach going forward should be strategizing for a client’s website in the business’ overall marketing. This is actually an exciting time when web design can truly be a craft. Consulting and coaching are growing industries in many fields, as seen in my last post. Large internet corporations sell online marketing services in cookie cutter packages, but a freelance web designer or consultant can tailor an individual business’ website. And rather than build the site for a project fee, they can coach the business in making it themselves, recommending just Gutenberg or an additional page builder as suitable for their particular brand. In 2018, there are no more excuses for not having a website.

If you want to buy a Beaver Builder license, follow this link. I’ll get a commission, which supports my work. Buy Beaver Builder

Portfolio Update Underway

Portfolio Update Underway

I have decided to revamp one of my demo websites- Iowa Corridor Burgers and Sushi. It’s not in my portfolio for the time being. On another front, I have 2 or 3 new projects lined up and I can’t wait to show them off.

Welcome To Xiphos Web Marketing!

Welcome To Xiphos Web Marketing!

Hi, I’m Nate Houstman, owner of Xiphos Web Marketing, and this is my first blog post. I graduated from the University of Northern Iowa in 2002 with a B.A. in Anthropology. If I learned anything, it was how to write research papers, I should site my sources, and that plagiarism is bad. Ever since then, I haven’t been satisfied with the conventional wisdom. I always question the motives of the mainstream media and mass market advertisers. I haven’t watched network television since 2007. It’s a new era where audiences can choose their own entertainment and research businesses on their own schedules.

I worked at Yellowbook from 2006 to 2014. It was very fun and rewarding at the outset. I was a content expert and problem solver in the department that designed yellow page ads. My experience conducting research came into play, and my creative side flourished. Sadly, the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009 accelerated the decline of print media. Yellowbook changed its company name to Hibu to reflect a new direction, and I was transferred to to Customer Service area. I was introduced to the concepts of SEO, web content writing, landing pages, etc.

Interacting with Hibu’s small business clients over the phone gave me a greater appreciation for their work. It’s hard to meaningfully serve them in a rigid corporate environment. The greatest lesson I took was business depends on human connections, more than anything else. I left Hibu in May of 2014. I pray that the company succeeds, but it’s clear I don’t have a place there anymore. I discovered the entrepreneur and freelancer community in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids Corridor, and it inspires me like nothing else does. I freelanced on the side while working another full time corporate job. In December of 2015, though, I determined it was time to make my own way.

So, here it is: Xiphos Web Marketing. Since leaving Yellowbook/Hibu, I’ve learned all a can about marketing in the digital world. There are new tools for web design and managing accounts. It’s not enough to have a website, you need a strategy for maximizing your audience. It’s not enough to advertise anymore, you need to relate to your customers. Let me be your solution in the Information Age.

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