Instagram is removing likes. Here’s what it means for brands.

After more than a year of international tests, Instagram has finally started hiding likes for some users in the United States. Although many U.S. marketers have been anticipating this day for quite some time (Facebook has been relatively one-sided in its support of the change while explaining the tests), for some it still may come as a bit of a shock given Facebook has largely built it’s brand on the “Like” feature.

While Facebook is still testing and preparing for a full implementation, let’s examine the changes to the likes feature, why Facebook is making them, and the impact for brands.

How much is the Instagram likes feature actually changing?

Not very much, actually.  Previously where users would see a posts’ likes count, the app will now simply provide a range of those likes.  The new text will say the post was liked by ‘others’, ‘hundreds of others’, ‘thousands of others’ or ‘millions of others’.

However, this is only for posts from OTHER accounts.  You can still see how many likes your own photos are getting by clicking the “others” button (effectively making the ‘likes count’ slightly less prominent).

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, also points out “You can see who liked a photo or video, you can tap through to see [the list], and if you have the time you can add them all up yourself.”  And while I can’t recommend trying that, it highlights the limits of the changes for everyday Instagram users.

Why did Facebook do this?

Publicly, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri has cited the company’s concern for young people (particularly Generation Z) and Instagram’s impact on their mental health. Vanity metrics, for instance the number of likes on a photo, can cause pressure and anxiety for young people on the platform. He’s getting little argument from many experts, who for years have expressed concern over the social pressures of the platform.

Adam also cites Instagram’s goal to increase conversations and connections, and I believe that also might be a strong driver of this decision. Ultimately, if there is less pressure to have your posts validated by a strong number of likes, users will show less hesitation to post content, increasing the platform usage. This also might have a positive impact on the number of comments, since there will be slightly less user awareness on a post’s reach and scale.

So this change will most likely lead to more posts and more comments, which in addition to the mental health of its users, certainly provides Facebook motivation to make this change.

The Rise of Comments

Noticeably absent from this update are any changes to the comments functionality. Comments counts will still be visible to all users, and this is presumably by design. I expect the number of comments will become a more relevant feature relative to number of likes, and its relevancy as a currency will increase in the influencer marketing world. Once again, I see this aligning with Facebook’s longterm goals of creating more engagement and community on the platform.

Users in search of validation or sponsorship will be more incentivized to increase their number of comments (as opposed to likes) which creates more value for both the community and Facebook themselves (comments add more content to the community whereas likes do not).

What does this mean for brands?

Brand Content:

Not much changes for a brand’s content.  Brands still have access to all of the metrics of their posts, but they will possibly feel the change in two minor ways:

  • They will no longer be able to see how many likes other brands are getting (as a means of benchmarking themselves or determining successful types of content)
  • Fewer stakeholders will have visibility into the brand’s likes, and potentially the overall performance of a post.  With this update, a stakeholder at a brand will need access to an analytics tool or access to the account to see the post’s likes

User Generated Content (UGC):
The impact on a brand’s UGC will be larger than their own posts. Brands will now need a UGC Analytics platform to determine the scale of the posts they are being tagged or mentioned in. For brands that have access to a UGC analytics tool, there have been no changes to the Facebook API, and therefore there will be no changes to the efficacy of these platforms.

Influencer Marketing:
As a subset of UGC, the largest impact of this change will be on Instagram influencers. First, without a UGC Analytics tool or an Influencer Marketing Platform, brands will no longer be able to validate the likes or engagement rate of influencers. Influencers will still be able to self-report, but brands will have a harder time auditing these claims without a visible likes feature.  Expect analytics tools and influencer marketing platforms to become slightly more important.

I expect influencers will respond by focusing more on content that generates comments (to avoid alienating brands without influencer platforms).  Expect more questions in captions.  While some influencers have claimed this will also allow them to focus more on being creative and generating great content (as opposed to chasing likes), I suspect that will be overshadowed by influencers now chasing followers and comments.

Closing Thoughts:

While many of us (Instagram users) have become addicted to (and potentially slaves of) the likes feature, I suspect that this change will be less impactful on us than we expect. Likes will still be discoverable for our own photos, and comments may gradually succeed likes as Instagram’s primary currency.  That being said, I think few would argue that this should have at least a small positive impact on Instagram users and their vulnerability to vanity metrics and social pressure.

For brands, there can be some material impacts on how they currently value their UGC and influencer posts, but any challenges that arise can be addressed with an analytics platform since the APIs remain unchanged.

More than anything, I would perceive this as a signal that Facebook is focused on increasing engagement and reducing social pressure.  This could be the first of many changes in that direction.

About LoudCrowd

We believe that the most effective way of marketing and selling your product is through word-of-mouth marketing.  Currently, the best (and most engaging way) for brands to scale word-of-mouth marketing is through User Generated Content (UGC) on social platforms like Instagram.  LoudCrowd helps you analyze your UGC and incentivize your customers to grow it.

While we believe your best “influencers” are your customers, we play nicely with traditional influencer programs, because we believe the more people talking about your brand, the better. To learn more, drop us a line at [email protected].

About the Author

Gary Garofalo is a marketing focused technologist and the CEO of LoudCrowd. He’s spent his career focused on analytics, strategic consulting, and building technology companies.  When he’s not writing about social media, he spends his free time reading, lamenting over the risks of climate change and artificial intelligence, and playing pickleball with the LoudCrowd team.

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