This year, Instagram was testing a new feature, or, rather, an absence of one. Users from Canada started reporting like counters disappearing from their feed. Are we witnessing the beginning of a new, like-free era of social media? Will it be the end of all warfare and envy on Instagram? Probably not but it just might.
“We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get,” outlined a leaked Instagram notification in April. By summer, the feature had been tested in at least seven countries.
It is not that no one can see the likes – whoever posted it still can. The main idea behind the change is to ensure users feel less pressure to compare themselves to others, and users don’t post just because they think the content will perform well.
Fear and loathing on Instagram
The initiative is aimed at eliminating the pressure influencers feel, and encourage followers to focus on the content users share not how many likes a post gets. Do you often feel envy? Well, you won’t once you are blind to how many likes other Instagrammers get. Feeling unappreciated? Now, it is a bit harder to know why. In order to figure out the total amount of likes you get, you have an extra click. This way, the user interface puts your data one step further from your eyes. Those obsessed with likes depend on them as a source of appreciation and social interaction.
Is it working?
According to #paid hidden likes research, 55% of Canadian influencers reported the number of likes has decreased. As a result, many creators noticed their content gets lower priority in the algorithmic feed and their overall outreach curb.
However, the experiment was not all failure after all – 60% admitted they found some good points too. 37% claimed they felt less pressure and 31% reported their mental health improved.
After discussing the impact on creators, we can now review how it would affect the content. The problem with the new interface is that creators seem to experience a lack of motivation and can’t bring themselves to produce original content at the same pace.
Moreover, now that they don’t see the like counts, it is impossible to correctly assess what is currently trending and what is not. Without guidelines to follow, influencers have more freedom to be creative. On the other hand, they have even more freedom to travel the path most travelled and publish only universally liked pictures.
Less data to collect?
Without likes, advertisers have one figure less to measure audience engagement. However, there are other things to measure as likes are not crucial. Until now, they remain one of the most easily accessible engagement indicators along with the number of followers.
You might oppose that all the methods of engagement metrics are flawed. Likes and comments can be bought, and so can impressions and followers. But the absence of any of those things is putting advertisers and agencies on a somewhat terra incognita.
Remember how I said the likes could be counted manually? Why do it yourself when a simple software would collect the same figures for you? There are certainly more opportunities for grey-zone software to be discovered.
More objectives to pursue
Ever since the introduction of GDPR, browsers have been tightening their grasp on anyone who has been obtaining customers’ data too willingly. By doing this, they remained the only all-seeing entity with enormous amounts of data. Hiding likes from the public might be just the same – a step to conceal statistics from other marketers and a measure to protect one’s market share from competitors.
Is this the end? Unlikely. You can still switch your personal account to “business mode” and see all the data you need. Then again, enticing creators to switch to business accounts might be another of Instagram’s secret objectives.
Eventually, more business accounts mean more opportunities for monetisation as well as more openness. When registering as a company, one has to indicate their contacts – email or phone number – that would be available to anyone who visits the profile.
We also have to keep in mind that likes on Instagram are less personalised than the reactions sent to direct messages. By introducing Stories, the platform encouraged users to message each other. Maybe, by taking the likes away, Instagram is trying to reroute more traffic in the same direction. Or – alternatively – they believe more people will start leaving comments.
Future without likes
Should we expect that Instagram introduces the no-likes policy on a global scale? Yes, it is most likely. Just like Facebook, Instagram has been continuously pressed by the media, governments, and competitors – it is only logical that they limit the access to the API and anything that might expose their business process.
Should we expect that all the other platforms switch to the no-likes policy any time soon? No, not unless Instagram results prove to be too good to ignore.
What are your thoughts on Instagram hiding like counts? Let us know in the comments below.