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If Instagram removed likes, would you still post?

Two days ago, Instagram started experimenting in Canada by hiding likes on Instagram. If executed, this change will  impact influencers, content creators and brands that until now – rightly or wrongly – have valued likes as a measure of engagement, and therefore success. CEO of Socialites Wendy Thompson shares her thoughts on why this might be a smart move by the social media giant. 

This title raises many more questions than I have answers but it's been a hot topic of discussion here at Socialites HQ this week, and I am interested to hear your opinions.

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Two days ago Instagram started experimenting in Canada by hiding likes on Instagram in the post view. Results are not yet in as to whether people like or don't like the move. But this change will most impact influencers, content creators and brands that until now –– rightly or wrongly – have valued likes as a measure of engagement and therefore success.

If the removal of likes is rolled out globally, it will impact the future of digital marketing in how we measure "success" and how we find influencers for our brands. It will also hopefully have positive impacts psychologically and sociology for users, which I am all for!

In particular, instant gratification and the psychology of 'rewards' will be harder to come by – this UCLA study on the impact of social media on the teenage brain is definitely worth a read, especially if you have teenage kids.

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What are details of the proposed changes?

The change was leaked in April by Jane Manchun Wong here on Twitter when she spotted Instagram testing on her account. Instagram this week confirmed that it is in fact testing it in Canada at the Facebook F8 Developers Conference.

An Instagram spokesperson told Tech Crunch:

“Later this week, we’re running a test in Canada that removes the total number of likes on photos and video views in Feed, Permalink pages and Profile. We are testing this because we want your followers to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get.” 

Users will still have access to seeing the likes they get for content posted and still see who "hearted" their posts. But followers viewing the post won't see fan likes on each post.

The algorithms however appear to remain the same, meaning popular content will still be ranked behind the scenes to feature higher in home feeds and explore, and users will continue to see more content by the people and brands they regularly engage with.

But will not seeing likes make people less compelled to like content? Hard to say.

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Instagram's change is a bid to create equality and to return users valuing creative expression ahead of popularity and the #like4like mentality that has prevailed in Instagram over the past many years.

Opinions are divided.

We raised the topic here on Instagram and in general we saw support for the potential change.

We asked...

@socialitesnz: So there’s been a lot of talk recently about @instagram considering hiding the like ❤️ count on photos, so audiences can’t see how many people have liked an individual post. 💭 This is an unreleased feature that would publicly hide like counts and was recently spotted by code hunter Jane Wong, who says the test states that @instagram wants “your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get”. 🤞 Only the person who posted a photo will be able to see the number of likes it’s received. 😱 This would undoubtedly be a massive change to how the platform functions 📲 Would you still post if likes were removed? 🧐 Would this change the type of content you post? 

Some of New Zealand's most high profile, successful Influencers supported the move. Here's a snapshot of their responses:

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Some people and brands thought it was a bad idea, but would still use the platform:

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In a private Facebook group of New Zealand's top influencers, the consensus was that they agreed with the proposed change, saying:

"I love it!!!!!"
"I love it too. I think it's such a positive direction for people to start focusing on the content rather than the likes."
"It’s about time. This will encourage people to up their game in creating quality content. Not just relying on their centennial audiences to give them more likes that someone with a similar following."
"Love this idea, hope they roll it out 💞💞"

Others hope it will translate into better mental health outcomes for users, reducing toxic anxiety caused by its current 'like' as a measure of popularity, a major aspect of Instagram. And purchasing fake likes will no longer hold value or happen at all.

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How will influencers be "found"?

The account holder will still be able to see their stats and brands could still request these in order to partner up.

But... while Instagram may think the move will encourage more creative content, it could also open the door to even more #sponsored and #ad content. If likes no longer matter, influencers may choose to compromise their content so they get paid, and therefore post more sponsored content.

A New Zealand Instagram influencer with 1.1 million followers has been approached by brands like Pepsi to post sponsored content multiple times. But anticipating that he'd see a dip in likes and engagement for #ad content, he chose not to engage with the brand despite the remuneration being very attractive.

Arguably, based on this example, it could end up better for influencers and brands. And it may not see the swing towards the more creative, authentic and engaging content that Instagram is hoping for.

Bear in mind too, that removing likes is not new for Instagram. Likes for video content on Instagram are hidden, with only video views and follower comments visible.

The change also poses a dilemma for both marketers and "popular" influencers as to how they be noticed by brands. Likes currently count as a measure of influence. Without them, do brands merely have to appreciate someone's content to engage them for their brand rather than knowing whether it's resonating and is popular with followers?

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The end of toxic internet behaviour

Facebook executive Adam Mosseri told the F8 conference the move is part of a many-pronged approach to rid the Internet from growing levels of toxicity, particularly those associated with social media use. Changes include:

  • Nudge feature – an alert to users if content they are posting could be deemed hurtful
  • Away Mode – where users are encouraged to take a break during stressful times in life such as changing schools.
  • Manage Interactions – limits on other people being able to comment on posts, or being able to DM.

Like I say, Instagram's trial poses more questions than I have answers.

Will the change actually encourage more authentic comments and genuine connections, or change nothing? Will content styles change?If 'Liking' content is habitual from years and years of use, will people still like content just the same as always, meaning the algorithms will still support more popular people and popular content?

What if Instagram (and Facebook) took away following and fan numbers on profiles too? I don't have the answers, but just like you and my Socialites team, we'll be watching everything happing in Canada and seeing how it could impact our clients around the world.

#byebyelike4like

  • Find Thomson on LinkedIn here.

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