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This month (July, 2019) Instagram decided to wave goodbye to what has arguably been one of their most prominent features, the infamous Instagram likes count.
After trialling the move in Canada during May, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Japan, Italy and Brazil have now been added to the list of guinea pigs.
For Instagram users in these countries the amount of Instagram likes a photo gets is now only visible to the user that posted it, instead of anyone who happens to come across the post.
The photo-based platform was ranked the worst for young people’s mental health and self-esteem in a 2017 study of 1,500 teens and young adults which, according to some, has prompted the site to take action and remove one of the biggest affecting features, the likes (or lack of).
However, as we’ve learnt with Facebook’s algorithm shifts to encourage more advertising spend, there’s always an underlining financial reason for a change such as this.
There are currently over 25 million businesses on Instagram, and yet only two million businesses use the platform as an advertising tool. The shift has given small businesses with little ‘social proof’ (likes) the chance to advertise without the fear that their ads will have little engagement and the risk that the lack of interaction on their profile will turn people off. Let’s remember that the likes that influencers such as Emily Skye, Celeste Barber and even Kim Kardashian pull are free … it’s the businesses that are paying Instagram the big bucks to get breakthrough.
On the other hand, we’ve noticed that IGTV still continues to display the number of views on every piece of content. This brings into question the mental health of creators who aren’t getting the cut-through on their videos – what about their wellbeing, Instagram? Perhaps again this is a strategic move to get influencers across to IGTV to both grow it and start using it as an advertising platform in the future … think YouTube style.
To give you a greater understanding of the impact of this change on users, let’s take a deep dive into the effects on the everyday user, influencers, businesses and your marketing approach.
If you’re in the Instagram world for fun, you likely spend more time scrolling through your feed than you’d like to admit. The biggest change to the everyday user is that you’ll have to start deciding what you like yourself (no more following the crowd).
While you can still see how many Instagram likes you get on that fab breakfast you cooked on Sunday, nobody else can tell that your stats were nowhere near that of your friend who has again put up a photo of his great abs.
And if checking that your mum has liked your photo like she said she would is important to you, you’re in luck! Instagram still allows you to check who has liked your post as well as who has liked someone else’s post (don’t worry, we’re all guilty of checking sometimes); there’s just no longer a number attached to that.
The change might simply unleash a little creativity in yourself and give you the chance to post content that you believe in, rather than feeling driven by likes.
This is probably the biggest group affected by the change. While it was previously easy for influencers to craft content, wack it up and have the likes roll in, which can then provide proof of value to paying sponsors and business partnerships, influencers now have to rethink their business model.
It will be harder for influencers to demonstrate their worth based on social proof unless they’ve built up comments, followers or IGTV views. Instead, they’ll likely need to provide a press kit to businesses with snapshots of their insights to prove the like outcomes on their content.
Remember, while a huge number of followers is a great achievement on Instagram for brand messaging, the value for business partnerships really comes down to how engaged an influencer’s audience is.
We live in a world where feedback and social proof are critical to buying decisions. Removing the like count from posts could make it more difficult for potential customers who seek the input from fellow purchasers before making a decision, as they’re forced to read comments or leave the site to find reviews.
On the flip side, this could actually be beneficial to businesses that have strong reviews elsewhere and a weaker Instagram following, as people are directed to other sources to access customer feedback. As we’ve mentioned above, for small businesses without much Instagram cut-through, this gives ample opportunity to spend cash without fear of lack of engagement on posts… because nobody will know! Without the engagement to guide buyers, this might make it easier for small businesses to use ads to convert.
Just like with Facebook’s algorithm shift, we’re seeing a new reality around how to use Instagram for good business outcomes.
Yes, the like removal makes it more difficult to stalk your competitors and take inspiration from what their audience is engaged with. However, it presents substantial opportunity to find news ways to connect through this platform. We’re talking IGTV, boosting conversations, nurturing stories (after all it’s the first thing you spot when you visit the platform) and tapping into advertising in a way that converts.
Importantly, changes such as Instagram’s like removal should serve as a reminder that it is absolutely essential to have a comprehensive marketing strategy that covers all platforms, rather than just relying on one particular tool. Because you never know when it will change.
Social media is an ever-evolving landscape. As marketers, we understand this and work to ensure that your strategy revolves around these changes and assimilates to them.