Back in April, Instagram rolled out a new update in the Canada region in order to test a potential new design feature. This test disabled the ability for users to view the number of ‘likes’ on any given post other than their own. Only three months later, in mid-July, Instagram have confirmed that this test will be expanded globally to various regions, including:
Ultimately, Instagram wants to alter the way users see ‘likes’ to help combat mental health issues caused by the platform. As such, Instagram aim to remove the deeply embedded fixation with how many ‘likes’ a post receives by ensuring that followers can only focus on the post itself, encouraging users to post what makes them happy, rather than their followers. Consequently, users in these regions are now met with the following message:
When questioned about the decision to continue and expand this ability to hide the ‘like’ feature, Adam Mossiri, Instagram Chief, stated that:
"We don't want Instagram to be such a competition. We want it to be a place where people spend more of their energy connecting with the people that they love and the things that they care about."
Moving forwards, Instagram has a vision to help play their part in aiding the growing crisis of mental health around the world. As a platform that has been proven to negatively impact young people’s mental health due to a fixation with ‘likes’ and popularity, the company now feel the need to address this trend with drastic measures. Mossiri strongly adheres to this belief, claiming:
"We will do things that mean people use Instagram less if we think that they keep people safe or generally create a healthier environment”
With reports revealing that brand engagement on Instagram is starting to decrease, this new test could leave businesses in an extremely precarious position. If it proves successful, this test still has the potential to be expanded further to encompass more and more regions. Therefore, if you use Instagram as a means to promote your business or product online, you need to know how this change could affect your account and how to potentially use the situation to your advantage.
Instagram have assured businesses that their measurement tools, such as Instagram Insights, or third-party tools such as Hootsuite, Buffer or other analytics platforms will not be affected by these proposed changes. Although your followers and viewers will not be able to view the exact number of likes that a post has, you as the author of the post can either request interaction data from Instagram, or alternatively use third-party metric data. As such, this may not seem a grave consequence for businesses as they can still ascertain information relating to the success and engagement levels of each individual post.
Whilst Instagram is correctly addressing the competitive aspect that ‘likes’ spark between individuals, is it beneficial to take away the competitive element from businesses?
Undeniably, the new test will stop businesses from analysing user engagement with their competitors, unless they instead look to their competitors’ follower count.
In the future, this difficulty of comparing popularity may mean that how many followers a business has may become the new metric by which success and competitiveness is measured. Yet, the number of followers a business has reflects nothing about user engagement and offers a competitive business little information relating to the popularity of certain posts/brands/products. Businesses should be careful not to get mixed up in this ‘vanity metric’ by fixating on followers when trying to appear competitive.
The biggest question concerns whether taking away the ability to view how many ‘likes’ a post has will positively or negatively impact audience engagement for a business. The only way to understand the consequences of this change would be to compare post engagement data following the implementation of the test compared to beforehand.
Whilst removing the total ‘like’ figure, the proposed update does still highlight who in your friends list has liked any given post. The fact that a user can still see interactions made by friends is beneficial for businesses. Indeed, it is more likely for someone to ‘like’ a post and be made aware of your company’s profile if their friends or people they follow have already interacted with a post from the same account. Perhaps this update will make ‘who’ likes your post more important than ‘how many’ do when trying to increase brand awareness.
It remains to be seen whether taking away the ‘like’ figures will encourage or discourage users to ‘like’ posts. What we do know is that many businesses rely on ‘likes’ to gauge the success of certain products, offers or types of posts they share.
However, for smaller businesses, start-ups and SME’s, this update can offer some peace of mind. Start-up companies who can only attract a small number of ‘likes’ will not be adversely affected by these changes, and instead could gain.
How? By disabling the ‘like’ counter, it will allow small companies to compete more effectively against well-established brands as posts from both will appear to produce similar engagement levels to general users.
Only time will tell whether Instagram decides to go global with this test, and even if it will be implemented in a permanent future update. However, one can be sure that even in its test phase, there are pros and cons to this new feature depending on the size of your company and its reliance on Instagram.
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