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In May 2019, Instagram announced plans to test removing likes from Instagram posts. The picture-sharing social media platform ran an early test in Canada, and then announced a more extensive test on Twitter in July. The subsequent test covered Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan and New Zealand. Some users are worried about the plans, but what does removing Instagram likes really mean for the marketing industry and the future of Instagram influencers?

What Changes Are Instagram Making?

At first, the removal of likes on the platform may seem devastating for influencers. After all, likes are one of the easiest and quickest ways to determine if content is appealing to an audience. However, Instagram isn’t taking away the likes metric completely; it’s just hiding the total number of likes a post has from other users. This means it’s still possible for someone to like a post, but the total likes figure won’t appear in:

  • Feeds
  • Permalink pages
  • Profiles

Content creators are able to see their own likes figures by tapping on the list of people who have liked the post. It’s also still possible to use the metric in analytical tools such as Insights and Ad Manager. In other words, only content creators know how many likes their posts receive. This brings regular Instagram posts in line with Instagram Stories, where engagement figures are already hidden from other users.

Why Is Instagram Removing Likes?

Several studies have suggested that social media has a serious impact on the mental health of regular users. For example, a 2018 study by the University of Pennsylvania revealed that limiting the use of social media reduced loneliness and depression. Additionally, when people monitored the time they spent online, it decreased their fear of missing out (FOMO). 

Following the increased scrutiny of the effects of social media on personal well-being, Instagram is taking action. Removing Instagram likes tackles the concern that people are evaluating themselves and measuring their own worth based on the likes they get. Hiding the figures has several potential benefits:

  • If a user cannot see how many likes other posts are receiving, they’re less likely to compare the success of their own posts and feel bad if their likes figures are lower.
  • Users are less likely to feel embarrassed or insignificant when one of their posts doesn’t receive many likes, because that information isn’t shared with anyone else.
  • A 2017 report by The Associated Press and NORC revealed that 15 percent of teens on social media feel pressure to always show the best version of themselves. Hiding likes may reduce this pressure, so users get to focus on sharing whatever they want to.
  • Users who wear their high likes figures as badges of honor won’t be able to belittle the users who aren’t doing as well. They may also be less inclined to chase the “buzz” of popularity as there are fewer opportunities to advertise their level of success.

Instagram hopes that removing likes encourages users to focus more on sharing things they love, and enjoying their time on the platform, rather than constantly worry about how well their content is received.

Why Is Removing Likes Problematic?

For some content creators, the number of likes is a marketing tool, used to indicate how appealing their content is and how many people interact with it. Likes are a status symbol, indicating the recognition of someone’s work and providing a numerical way to weigh the value of influencers against each other. By removing likes, Instagram is taking away one of the most obvious ways influencers have of advertising their worth to companies that might be looking for an influencer to partner with on a campaign.

Likes are also the easiest way for an audience to engage with a content creator. Not everybody has time to leave a comment as they scroll through their feed, but clicking the like button takes a fraction of a second. If likes are going to become less influential, content creators must work harder to get the audience to engage through other means. This may make it harder to build and promote a brand.

Some influencers in Australia reacted negatively to Instagram’s test, according to a report from The influencers suggested they won’t have a convincing way to impress businesses or show their celebrity status. However, some influencers aren’t fazed, as they use analytics figures as a core part of their strategy and don’t rely on the likes figures to show their level of success.

What Are the Benefits of Removing Likes?

There is a potential that removing likes could harm Instagram, with users choosing to migrate to other platforms where it’s easier to keep their performance levels visible. Instagram hopes the potential benefits outweigh any negative impact of the change:

  • Mental well-being: Making social media less damaging to users’ mental health is the biggest draw. It makes the platform more welcoming, creates a more positive environment, builds the brand on an ethical foundation and generates awareness through news articles.
  • Increased usage: Without the risk of judgment and online scrutiny, there may be an increase the number of users. Furthermore, those users may post more frequently as they don’t need to worry about only showing their best selves, and can instead just post whatever they want.
  • Reduced dishonest conduct: Platforms such as Instagram have led to the rise of industries that sell and trade likes and followers. Content creators are able to purchase likes, or enter into “like-sharing” schemes to make their content look more significant. Hiding likes impacts on such schemes so it’s more difficult to dupe potential marketing partners.
  • Improved community: Clicking the like button may show a preference for a certain type of content, but doesn’t always help an influencer to build a community. Without likes, comments may become more important, leading to an improved sense of community where people actually engage in conversations. 

Final Thought: Adapting to Change

Social platforms are always evolving, and it’s essential for influencers and marketers to evolve with them, preferably as soon as possible. The test removal of Instagram Likes is a clear sign that social media is becoming more conscious of the impact of Internet usage on mental well-being. It therefore pays to start adapting accordingly. 

Likes are a useful tool for quickly evaluating a post’s success and promoting your overall reach and engagement. However, it’s more important to dive into your analytics and use all of your marketing data to inform your campaigns. It also pays to look for ways to get a deeper kind of connection with your fans, encouraging comments and interactions that represent a stronger response. It’s great if someone says they like your work; it’s even better if they say why they like your work. Start building a strong community now, and future-proof your brand.