Instagram Shifts Away from Likes

The longtime debate of quality over quantity is taking centre stage with Instagram’s latest platform test. A recent Instagram trial removes the ability for Canadian platform users to see the number of Likes and Video Views on content, only allowing the user who posted the content to see the metrics.

An Instagram spokesperson said “we are testing this because we want your followers to focus on the photos and video you share, not how many likes they get.” In addition, the trial is described as being exploratory and it is unclear if this will be rolled out across other markets or permanently. 

I believe this will have a BIG impact on the platform, and IMO a good one.
Here’s why.

A healthier and more positive user experience
Instagram is the worst social media network for mental health and wellbeing, according to a recent survey of almost 1,500 teens and young adults. This really can’t be argued anymore. The focus on vanity metrics changes how user behaviour on the platform. You see many people ‘gaming the system’ for Likes and engagement, a large part why Instagram has evolved into a more ‘fake’ and vanity driven platform. This incentivizes users to post more polarizing content that has the potential to go viral, attracting further engagement and creating a more divisive and toxic discourse.

Following the trend of moving to private vs. public
This test is in line with the social media industry trend of platforms becoming more private vs public. The move also fits perfectly within the social media giants new narrative and rebrand, with the recently announced company vision of a privacy-focused messaging and social networking platform.

No need to panic - Instagram Likes is not a lever for brand health metrics
For brands, this won’t have much of an impact. Reasoning? Optimizing towards engagement metrics like Instagram Likes will not impact brand health KPIs. This is also in-line with Facebook de-prioritizing the importance of advertising against vanity engagement metrics over the past few years.

What are the implications for Influencers?

The infamous Instagram world_record_egg account has shown us what Likes can do to catapult an account to overnight celebrity. But at the end of the day, if a photo of an Egg can get over 50 million Likes, what does a “Like” really mean? In an email to Refinery29, an Instagram spokesperson said, “we understand that [like count] is important for many creators, and while this test is in exploratory stages, we're thinking through ways for creators to communicate value to their partners. We hope that by making the number of Likes private, people will be able to focus more on the photos and videos posted in Feed, and that this will ultimately drive deeper engagement.” Time will tell in the end, but the removal of Likes could result in more engaged viewers, which in our books, is a win for any Influencer!

What are the implications for brands?

Think Snapchat, users don’t have any public facing engagement metrics except for Snapchat Score. What does this do? It allows for users to be themselves and have their guard down. Users have more freedom to express themselves and don’t have to worry about likes or follows. As a brand this makes it an ideal environment to get close to your audience because they are letting their guard down and have an open mind-set. When people are in this mindset they will consume advertising much differently.

All in all, I think this will quickly shift the experience of the platform to a more positive one. This in turn will have more people spend more time on the platform (and less on others – a strategic move) and drive more revenue for the company.