When Instagram launched in 2010, no one had any idea that it would reach the level of success it has achieved in a little under a decade. It started out as a platform where we shared one heavily-filtered, oversaturated photo at a time for our followers to enjoy (RIP the Early Bird filter and thick borders we all knew and loved). Now, we can’t get away from our feeds and feel a sense of FOMO when friends and influencers post fun stories about what they’re doing.
With 1 billion monthly users, Instagram is the second most-engaged network, following right behind its parent platform, Facebook. Instagram is now leveraged as an all-encompassing social platform–where else can you watch dog videos and buy a new product without ever leaving your feed? We kid (kind of), but as a society, we rely heavily on the number of likes on a photo gets for validation. We’ll obsessively check the like count after making a new post. Research shows we get a surge of dopamine every time a new like comes along. When did we decide to let a little number rule our lives, emotions, and marketing campaigns?
Recently, Instagram rolled out a new feature in Canada where the likes on your post are hidden from your followers. According to the Head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, Instagram wants users to focus on what is shared and minimize the stress of posting online, where we can fixate on how many likes our photos or videos draw. While this shift might be great from a psychological standpoint, what could it mean for businesses and influencers?
The Psychological Impacts of Likes
That little number that counts how many people double tapped on your photo does a lot to the brain. First, that number can cause an increase in social anxiety and social isolation. Social media has been linked to a spike in depression, psychological distress, and suicidal thoughts and actions among people 26 and younger, mainly among women. Most users see the app as an extension of themselves; a low number of likes on a photo can cause a user to feel a lack of self-worth. It’s important to keep in mind that for most of us, what we see on Instagram is a disproportionate view at how we behave in real life. Not many people would post what they consider to be an unflattering photo of themselves on Instagram, which means most of the people we follow probably operate in a similar manner. You can’t compare someone else's highlight reel to your everyday life.
Part of Instagram’s experiment is to rethink how the platform works. Instead of making it feel like a competition, Instagram is aiming to create a less pressurized environment. This would give users the freedom to curate their profiles however they want, instead of what will get the most likes. Removing the visibility of likes might also alleviate the mental health stressors that come along with seeing that number.
Are Likes Even a Good Metric to Measure for Brands and Influencers?
One of the questions that has been asked frequently is, how would this shift affect brands and influencers? If you think about it this way, Instagram Stories don’t offer your followers a view of everyone that’s already seen your story. This feature, or lack thereof, doesn’t affect the popularity of Instagram Stories at all. In fact, as of 2018, Instagram stories had 400 million daily users—twice the amount their Snapchat counterpart receives. According to Mosseri, Instagram Stories were created in part to prioritize mental health and alleviate the pressure of receiving likes. Despite the lack of like count, brands and influencers continue to use Instagram Stories for their ease of use and freedom to build creative content that reflects who they are and sells their product. Why couldn’t the feed operate the same way?
Some may ask how brands are supposed to tell which influencers produce strong, valuable content if there is no way to quantify the engagement. It is important to keep in mind that what we see on social media may not be reality. Instagram users can purchase bots to boost their like counts on social posts, therefore a like count doesn’t always accurately reflect the amount of real followers or engagement an account has. Fortunately, there are plenty of other metrics to look at when deciding who to work with. In 2019, brands are looking for reach and engagement. Influencers will have to be willing to prove that they’re worth the investment by having a strong influencer media kit in the bag. Influencers should already have a media kit to sell themselves to potential clients, but will definitely need one if this shift happens in the future.
One way that brands and influencers can leverage a like-less feed is by purchasing ads. Ads will always be a great way to get content across to the right people and an opportunity for brands to get creative with their ad space. As there are no outward metrics shown to users on Instagram ads, this will challenge brands to develop creative and eye-catching content for users to stop scrolling through their feed and visit their brand. This also challenges brands to get more creative with analyzing their data in order to determine what content is actually driving businesses to their site and how to continue with that growth.
Don’t Panic, Everything’s Going to Be Fine
As of now, there’s no word on whether this shift will be implemented for all Instagram users. Instagram isn’t the only social platform that’s currently considering getting rid of their like count. There are reports of Facebook and Twitter testing this new feature as well. However, people use social media as a way to get approval in the form of likes or comments. A permanent change on how our feeds outwardly display our like count could cause a decrease in Instagram logins. After all, that “approval” number is part of the reason why people use social media in the first place.
Overall, this is not a time to panic. This shift is only being tested, and besides, there are several other metrics to measure your worth on Instagram. It all depends on your brand and goals. Maybe engagement and clicks are what give you a more accurate read on the types of content your users are consuming via your social channel. These metrics give brands actual data to work off of in order to keep optimizing their social persona. If this shift rolls out to all users, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Removing likes might take a little getting used to, but it might also help us detach from our phones and stop obsessing over the numbers.
If you want to learn more about ways to improve your brand’s social presence or influencer programs, drop us a note. We’d love to speak with you!
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Shabam, Hamza. “Here’s Why Instagram is Going to Hide Your ‘Likes’.” The Washington Post 1 May 2019. The Washington Post Web.
Salinas, Sara. “Instagram Stories has twice as many daily users as Snapchat’s service — and it now has background music.” CNBC 28 June 2018.
Wong, Brittany. “An Instagram With No ‘Likes’ Could Have a Big Impact on Mental Health.” The Huffington Post 10 May 2019.
Written by Alejandra Guillen—Content Creator