Instagram has already completed testing and gradually rolled out an update to the platform that hides the like count on posts in 7 other countries. This week they’ll begin to implement the same change in the U.S.
While the app’s users will still be able to see how many likes their own photos receive, other Instagram users won’t be shown a number. Follower counts will still be publicly visible, although in 2018 they re-designed profile layouts to make follower counts less prominent.
Why did Instagram decide to make this change?
For our mental health and well-being (allegedly). Extensive research has linked Instagram to rising numbers of people suffering from depression, anxiety and bullying. Spending too much time on the app is known to set unrealistic expectations and create feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. Many of us have long understood and acknowledged these consequences of our society’s unhealthy addiction to social media, but recent research led Instagram to pinpoint the root of the problem or at least certain features that contribute to a toxic social network.
"The idea is to depressurize Instagram, make it less of a competition," Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri said at the Wired 25 Conference, reports CNN.
Likes have essentially become the metric of our popularity contest and the removal could certainly help users to refrain from comparison, seeking approval and hopefully encouraging a healthier type of self-expression that isn’t driven by peer validation.
How will this impact companies that rely on the platform for marketing?
This will force some brands to re-evaluate their strategy if they rely too heavily on likes to measure their success. The change to the platform urges brands to develop more meaningful content and to establish genuine relationships with their audience. It is important to note that comments remain visible and other forms of engagement, like story reactions and direct messaging still provide an opportunity for brands to engage with their audience on a more intimate level.
Hiding likes will also force some marketers to look past vanity and instead amplify content with paid support so that we can better track ROI and potential conversions.
What does this mean for influencers?
Influencers in other countries have already shared very mixed reactions and I believe their ability to adapt to this change says a lot about the quality of their relationship with their followers (as well as their own need for validation).
"Likes are a motivation factor," Canadian Influencer Kate Weiland told Business Insider. "Now there's no audience applause at the end of a performance. It's kind of like crickets in the background."
A recent survey of Canadian influencers by #Paid, a platform connecting brands with creators, found that more than half of influencers affected by the Instagram test have seen the number of likes drop on their posts. Over 50% of surveyed influencers have seen the growth of their follower counts slowed.
An influencer’s capacity to adapt to this change demonstrates their authenticity! This shift will separate the influencers with trigger-happy followers from those who have a strong connection with their audience.
What about the impact on brands partnering with influencers?
This is where the update complicates things a bit. In recent years the increase of bots (fake accounts), fake followers and sites that allow people to purchase followers has resulted in a lot of fake influencers. The easiest way to differentiate a profile with real followers from accounts that have purchased them is to look at the number of likes on their posts in relation to their following. It’s a simple indication of engagement. Once we lose that metric on the app, analytics tools like Sprout Social and Hootsuite (that can still reveal like counts and engagement) become absolutely vital for marketing research.
“Marketers will be affected by Instagram’s new change in two key ways: identifying influential content producers and measuring its effectiveness,” according to CEO of Social Media Link, Susan Frech.
The app’s change also makes it critical for influencer’s to provide comprehensive media kits that give marketer’s substantial insights to determine whether their scope is a good fit for that brand. Overall, removing one metric demands the need for transparency in all others.
As a creative, I’m hoping to see other creatives taking more risks! Ideally this shift will drive creators to be authentic and to be less inhibited in the way they share their work. What do you think about the change?