How Will Instagram's Removal of Likes Affect The Future of Instagram Marketing?

In the biggest news in recent social media changes, Instagram has now removed the visibility of likes in six countries, including (as you probably have noticed) here in Australia. Previously trialled in Canada in May, Instagram chief, Adam Mosseri, said the point of hiding likes was to make it easier for users to tell their story and re-focus on content that they actually want to share, rather than competing for likes and being pressured to only post ‘like-worthy’ content. "We want people to worry a little bit less about how many likes they're getting on Instagram and spend a bit more time connecting with the people that they care about," he explained. A point that has been heavily emphasised is the positive impact on user’s wellbeing, with Instagram often ranked as one of the worst social media platforms for mental health.

Image: Luke Van-Zyl

Image: Luke Van-Zyl

Of course, the change has caused a bit of drama with many users expressing their delight or disappointment, including this now infamous meltdown from Australian influencer, Mikaela Testa. While we are personally loving the fact that we can post as we please with no judgement about how many people end up liking the post, it does make us think, what does this change actually mean for the future of social media marketing and the impact on businesses, influencers and marketers?

Image: Georgia de Lotz

Image: Georgia de Lotz

First of all, businesses, content creators, marketers and influencers are definitely going to have to work harder to create engaging content specifically aimed at their target audience. With no influence to like something just because it already has a lot of likes and therefore must be ‘good’ or ‘cool’, users’ attention is going to be re-shifted to what they are actually liking and whether they personally like the content. While it’s still not clear how exactly hidden likes will effect engagement on Instagram, what is clear is that the perception of reputation and influence will no longer be based on the number of likes a post receives, but rather, will shift to follower counts and comment engagement. Not only that, as users feel freer to post as they wish, this will mean more content on the platform overall, resulting in a saturated feed with more content competing for users’ attention. Of course, not all this content will be high in quality or be an amazing example of great story-telling, but it does represent an additional distraction for audiences. Now more than ever, businesses will need to assess their social media strategy and rethink which KPIs are most important in order to successfully stand out from the competition and capture the right audience.

However, it’s not all negative news for businesses. Some have speculated that Instagram’s change isn’t really about improving the mental health of users’, but rather to raise revenue made from ads and make Instagram marketing more appealing for businesses, especially small business. After all, Instagram hasn’t been the easiest platform for small businesses to attract customers, especially when in competition with bigger brands. Think about it, who wants to eat in an empty restaurant? Who wants to line up for an empty nightclub? Who wants to click on an ad that has zero likes? Well – now more people will. Removing likes, particularly for ads and sponsored posts, allows small businesses to advertise without fear of little engagement. Whatever Instagram’s agenda, hidden likes may be seen as a positive for smaller business as it evens the playing field and gives them a chance to appeal to their target audience without the fear of not getting as many fears as their competitors.

Image: Jakob Owens

Image: Jakob Owens

Of course, this change will mean bad news for those who have bought likes and followers. However, unlike what Mikaela Testa would have you believe, this does not necessarily mean the death of the Instagram influencer. Those who have worked hard to build a loyal following and have real influence won’t have anything to worry about as, even if unseen, they will still be receiving likes from their fanbase. In fact, for these influencers, hidden likes can mean a significant win for them and their well-being. After all, how many stories have we heard from influencers about their increased anxiety and the deterioration of their mental health as a result of the fact that their posts aren’t attracting the amount of likes they would like or previously did, not because of anything they’ve done, but because the platform continually makes changes to the algorithm? So, removing the likes completely will remove the pressure and threat of embarrassment and allow them to focus on doing what they’re good at - coming up with new original ideas and producing amazing content. Rather, it will be those who have not put in effort to build their brand credibly that will suffer the most. For both ordinary users and businesses, this can be seen as a positive as the wheat will be sorted from the chaff, so to speak. It will be easier for users to see who has integrity and who they can trust, and allow businesses to see which influencers are the best choice to collaborate with to help their business grow.

Image: Prateek Katyal

Image: Prateek Katyal

Whilst Instagram has only begun to trial hiding likes and may in fact choose not to make it a permanent feature, it is clear that it has made users, businesses, influencers and marketers rethink how and why they use and interact with both the content on the platform and the platform itself. It will be interesting to see what happens next!