For months, Instagram has been testing an option to hide Likes in certain international markets. Now it’s poised to test the waters in the United States. In an effort to rethink the potentially toxic, compare-and-compete culture that Instagram Likes can engender, the platform is taking numbers out of the equation. Unsurprisingly, the move has been met with questions — and some uncertainty. Read on to find out more about the change and how it stands to affect brands and influencers alike.
What’s Going on with Instagram Likes?
They’re going away — sort of. Beginning the week of November 11, Like counts have been disappearing from the posts of certain U.S. users. While the account owner can still see how many Likes they’ve accumulated, their followers don’t see the number.
Are Instagram Likes Going Away for Everyone?
According to Instagram chief Adam Mosseri, Likes are vanishing for “some” U.S. users. Although it’s uncertain how many users in the United States will be affected, it’s likely those individuals will be clearly notified. In other countries where the no-Like experiment was carried out, people were alerted by a message at the top of their Instagram feed that they were part of the test.
Why Are Instagram Likes Going Away?
The move is meant to at least partially address the downside of Likes: the inevitable comparisons that arise from people measure the number of Likes their content achieves. How do those comparisons make people feel? Bad, apparently. When the Royal Society for Public Health in the United Kingdom commissioned new research to determine which features of social media are considered the most toxic, more than 2,000 teens and adults responded, and Likes did not fare well. While “triggering” content was deemed the most toxic, the Like button ranked second in toxicity. And according to Western University Information and Media Studies professor Kane Faucher, removing Likes from public view may refocus attention on what Instagram posts have purportedly been about all along: engaging content that connects people. As Faucher notes, eliminating Likes “may improve a person’s self-esteem in such a way that social validation may have to come through substantive engagement as opposed [to] simply comparing ‘like’ counts.”
People can still Like content. As noted above, the account owner will still see their own Likes.
How Are Brands Affected by Instagram Likes Going Away?
There will be some impact. Brands can still see how many Likes their content is getting. But:
- Brands often rely on number of Likes to measure the authority of the influencers with whom they work. That public metric will go away if public Likes disappear for an influencer.
- Likes also provide brands market intelligence, such as when they want to assess the performance of content from their competitors or businesses outside their industry. Faucher, for one, expects that easily-viewed Likes will be missed by brands who rely on this type of numbers data when collecting market intelligence.
But as Ali Grant, the founder of Be Social, the digital communications agency, has noted, businesses will simply be challenged to explore other metrics. “There [will] still [be] access to the number of swipe-ups on Instagram Stories, click-throughs from the link in your bio, new followers to a page, and the number of comments,” Grant says.
As reported in The Fashion Law, there’s a distinct possibility Instagram will work behind the scenes with influencers and businesses, making metrics connected to individual accounts accessible. Will there be a fee for those services? Probably.
How Are Influencers Affected by Instagram Likes Going Away?
The response from influencers has been mixed. In an Instagram video, rapper Cardi B argued that inflammatory comments are more of a problem on Instagram than any number of Likes. Rapper Nicki Minaj has said she’d stop posting on a Like-less Instagram. But some celebrities, like reality star Kim Kardashian West, are onboard with the change. Kardashian West has said that hiding Likes would be “beneficial” to the mental health of people who use Instagram.
Furthermore, some influencers see the banishment of Likes as representing a freeing new chapter, one in which content can be driven by passion, not an eye to numbers or popularity. Lifestyle blogger Grace Atwood (also known as “the Stripe”), who has 127,000 followers on Instagram, told BuzzFeed, “I’m actually looking forward to seeing likes go away and get[ting] back to posting what I like.”
What Happens Next with Instagram Likes Going Away?
At best, removing Likes may challenge influencers and brands to bring on their A-games. “Influencer content will need to become higher quality, since users won’t be able to lean on the amount of likes their posts are receiving when a brand considers working with them,” Jennie Thompson, the head of social, content, and influencers for consumer public relations firm Frank, shared with PRWeek.
Katie Hunter, the head of social and influence at creative agency Karmarama, believes that ditching Likes can ultimately be a win/win for both users and brands. That is, people won’t feel stressed by the competitive nature of Likes, and brands will be challenged to “think harder about creative and what is going to resonate with audiences, driving quality over quantity from a content perspective.”
Influencer Caroline Calloway concurs. As she told BuzzFeed, “I’m the biggest fan of any tweak to social media that prioritizes mental health and authentic sharing. I think it will be a fascinating new chapter of how we all use Instagram.”
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