A few weeks ago, Facebook held their annual F8 Developers Conference where entrepreneurs and developers come together to hear all the new announcements regarding Facebook’s ever-growing empire.
One of the biggest pieces of news to arise is that Instagram’s like function is at risk. Already being trialed in several countries such as Canada, Brazil, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia, the update means that the total amount of likes on a post will be hidden. Instead of a number, users will just see icons for two to three profiles that have liked the post with “and others” next to it.
“We want your followers to focus on what you share; not how many likes your posts get. During this test, only you will be able to see the total number of likes on your posts,” read the message at the top of relevant feeds.
Understandably, the news caused a number of questions to arise. Mostly, among those under the business belly of the platform. How will we know how successful a post is? How will we know how valuable an influencer is?
Let’s start from the top.
Why are they doing it?
The idea was birthed under recent accusations that Instagram is an extremely damaging platform for mental health – particular for the younger generations.
In 2017, Instagram was ranked the worst social media platform for mental health. A survey asked 1,479 young people aged 14-24 to score the most popular social media apps on various aspects of mental health such as anxiety, depression, loneliness, bullying, body image, and FOMO or ‘Fear of Missing Out’. Four of the five main social media platforms cause young people to feel more anxiety, and those who spend more than two hours a day on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are more likely to experience mental health difficulties.
The consequential report suggested that it’s due to “the unrealistic expectations set by social media” which can increase feelings of “self-consciousness, low self-esteem, and the pursuit of perfectionism”. Some teenagers are regularly deleting Instagram posts that don’t get enough likes, meaning that younger profiles have less and less content on their profile – leaving only the posts that gain the most recognition.
"I've had friends who have posted pictures they love, but when they only have 50 likes in the first hour within posting it, they delete it and say 'just wasn't getting the likes I thought it would,'" 15-year-old Dan told Tech Insider.
Others living in the domains covered by the like-ban have switched to using business accounts so they can access more data about how their profiles and posts are performing. It’s now thought that two million 12-15 year old’s are displaying their phone and/or email information publicly because of it.
In an interview with CBS, Instagram head Adam Mosseri stated:
“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.”
Is the removal of likes the answer? Time will tell. What we do know, is that this will change how users act on Instagram and engage with others.
What does this mean for businesses?
One of the main industries affected by the like-ban is that of influencers. Influencers rely on engagement such as likes in order to perceive their value in the market to businesses – and vice versa. Measurement tools won’t be affected – meaning that like counts and other metrics will still be accessible, just not for the standard user.
There’s already been discussions around the value of likes for marketing due to the amount of fabrication on the platform, and the increasing amount of paid engagement. A Good Company estimated that $350m of the market value is due to bots and $394m is due to mass followers, making the overall potential risk of Instagram fakeness around $744m.
Followers are still the most popular tool for influencers to convince businesses of their online worth. However, without access to a large aspect of engagement statistics, it may be harder for businesses to work out how real an individual’s following is. Part of how tools such as IG Audit work out the percentage of real and fake followers is through their ratio of followers to engagement, and how active those profiles are in engaging with other profiles. A study conducted just a few weeks ago on over 4,000 influencers alluded that 52% of UK influencers have bought followers, comments, or used bots – and 21% of them would do it again.
But are likes necessary for business success? Yes, and no.
Currently, users can compare businesses based upon metrics such as their followers, comments, and likes. By stripping them of one of the most easily accessible numbers for individual posts should mean that feeds will be judged on the value of their content opposed to being influenced by the views of others. And, if brands do stop relying or using influencers, they will be forced to turn to their individual content.
As brands turn away from influencer marketing, the importance of paid social increases. Social media is gradually becoming more and more of a ‘pay to play’ platform with further distancing between small large businesses. Those who can afford to run ads, forcing themselves onto the news feeds of potential customers, will find it easier to draw interest than those who are relying on organic social alone. If ambassadors become less influential, and paid social takes it’s place, then this could be a massive boost for big business, and, not to mention, Instagram itself.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom for start-ups and small business. 60% of profiles use Instagram to seek out and discover new products, and as Instagram grows toward the all-inclusive platform it was to be with new additions such as IG shopping and direct purchasing through influencers/ambassadors, organic social is a cheap way to spread brand awareness. With the removal of likes, small businesses may find it easier to compete with big businesses in terms of organic social. No more will customers look at a post and immediately judge it by the number of likes, but hopefully, the content itself. If you have a creative genius on your team who’s good at whipping up interesting posts, then it could be easier to garner a following as users share your page based upon how exciting it is.
Influencers are a dying breed anyway. As the desire for brand-loyalty and truth increases, the flimsy, apathetic, and dubious world of paying for people to promote posts and products on a case-by-case basis is dying. Sprout Social compiled a list of what consumers look for from brands on social media. Topping the list was honesty at 86% %, then friendliness at 83%, then helpfulness at 78%, and then humour at 72%. Influencers promote one product one week, and then a rival’s the next. It’s not reliable, and it doesn’t work long term.
What you want are ambassadors; people who are followed by like-minded user who value their content. Ambassadors won’t be affected by the like-ban because they like sharing for sharing’s-sake, not for cash. By getting in with ambassadors, you have a long-term promotional plan targeting the specific customers who would be interested in your product and all you have to do in return is send out a few free products. Instagram’s like-ban won’t affect these individual’s, and getting in with these types of people is a good way to promote longevity in the face of drastic Instagram changes.
What does this mean for Instagram as a platform?
At the end of the day, Facebook is a business. Zuckerberg has dreams of turning Instagram and Facebook back to his original vision, but he needs to make money. With similar apps such as Snapchat battling it out for success, Facebook needs to make sure their platforms are constantly the best they can be. If users don’t enjoy the change and start leaving the platform, then Instagram will be forced to change.
However, Facebook have what platforms like LinkedIn and Snapchat don’t – loads and loads and loads of money. They can afford to take big risks like this where others can’t. In 2018, Facebook lost $120 billion in stock market value and it was brushed off like realising you left £1.24 at the self-checkout in Sainsbury’s because you were too busy packing your bags. Also, from the areas that were affected by the like-ban, the general consensus is a lack-luster shrug. Users don’t seem to care and are continuing to use the platform as they always have been. Whether this continues if it eventually gets rolled out to the rest of the world, it’s unsure.
Active social media users are up 9% on 2018 to a total of 3.484 billion – 3.256 billion of which are on mobile. According to the Pew Research Center, Instagram accounted for around 10% of social media users in 2012 – now it’s up to 40%. When you consider how many people have joined social media in those 7 years, the growth is tremendous, and only expected to increase.
Once the remaining planned features for Instagram get rolled out to make it an all in one platform for entertainment, news, and shopping, the question should really be can users afford to be off it socially? Can businesses afford not to be a part of it financially? Facebook are in prime position to have almost all of the world under their thumb by simply creating services that are too good not to pass out. Nobody’s going to delete Instagram because their friends can’t see how popular their posts are when they can buy, watch, and learn about anything they want all in the space of a single app.