At this year’s Facebook F8 conference a range of potential new Instagram updates were revealed, including the idea that Instagram would be experimenting with hiding Likes from public view.
What could this mean for individuals, influencers, and marketers?
Instagram account holders will still be able to view how many Likes their own posts have received and who has engaged with their posts. However, other users will now receive reduced information, without a specific number or list of usernames.
The trial, which first launched in Canada earlier this year, has now been rolled out across accounts in Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Japan, and New Zealand.
Why has this been introduced?
According to Instagram, the change takes inspiration from the app’s highly popular Stories feature in which posts stay up for a maximum of 24 hours and views are anonymous to everyone except the account holder.
The platform also cited the mental wellbeing of individuals, with some users dangerously linking their Like count to their self-worth.
Adam Moserri, Head of Instagram, stated in a recent interview with CBS This Morning that Likes can make Instagram feel “a bit tense” and take the focus away from what Instagram is really trying to achieve, which is inspiring users and connecting people with shared interests.
Potential effects: Individuals
What effects could these changes have on the average user of Instagram? Given how many millions of people use it, the impact could be far reaching.
As well as being a source for good, social media has been linked to negative impact on mental health.
For example, the Self-Esteem Project ran by Dove found that the majority of girls aged 18-23 would avoid posting photos of themselves online if they didn’t feel comfortable with their appearance, taking an average of 12 minutes to prepare for a single selfie.
Removing popularity metrics, such as Likes, will hopefully reduce the stigma attached to posts that receive less virtual gratification than others.
Without the distraction and pressure of reaching a target Like count, individuals may feel more freedom to experiment with creative content that demonstrates their true interests and personality. This means more authentic content that’s closer to reality.
Potential effects: Influencers
Influencer marketing is a huge business and Instagram is a lucrative playing field for influencers, who monetize the engagement they receive with brand endorsements. How could this change impact them?
Rather than waiting to be approached by businesses, influencers may need to start reaching out to brands they want to work with and present an analytics report to prove their value. After all, brands won’t be able to see how many people are liking influeners’ posts anymore.
Black market of engagement
The black market where users can buy engagements and take underhand engagement-boosting shortcuts may well become far less lucrative.
Instagram has penalized dishonest users in the past, most recently when it took action and removed fake Likes and followers from people’s accounts, leaving some influencers with a vastly depleted follower count and a bruised ego.
Now, without a public display of how many Likes a post gets, there could be less incentive to try these dodgy techniques.
Perhaps by concealing ‘popularity’ counters from others, such as the number of Likes a post has received, there’ll be less pressure on influencers to maintain high engagement counts on every post. This could allow them to channel their energies into creating and sharing new kinds of creative content that isn’t driven by a need for Likes.
Potential effects: Businesses and brands
A company’s own analytics will not be affected, and besides, some would argue that the Like count is little more than a vanity metric. Data such as web traffic generated, link clicks, and interaction per follower will all give far richer insights into how your target audience behaves.
Although comments and followers will still be visible, marketers will no longer be able to use the Like count to gain an understanding how well their competitors’ posts are doing. This makes it harder to learn from their social media mistakes or successes.
Revaluation of metrics
It’s worth taking the opportunity here to think about the value of ‘Likes’. It’s possible that other forms of engagement – such as replies to Stories, comments, shares, and hashtags – will become more valuable to Instagram’s algorithm.
Influencers can be seen as a drain on Instagram’s earning potential from advertising. Brands may use Instagram to research and connect with their chosen influencer, but these partnerships and the revenue generated exist outside of Instagram’s ecosystem.
Hiding the Like counter could lessen the appeal of influencers and encourage marketers to plough more funds into paid advertising instead, giving Instagram a revenue boost.
On your toes
Social media platforms refresh their algorithms and features on a regular basis to keep both individuals and marketers on their toe. However, big changes like this always divide opinion.
It has not been confirmed yet whether or not this update will become a permanent fixture. But, by removing certain ‘vanity’ metrics, there are plenty of benefits individuals, influencers, and brands will feel.