For digital marketers, social media algorithm, policy, and platform changes are a big deal. Recently, the news that Instagram removing likes is on the way has swept the digital space.
But, how true is this? Are likes really gone forever? And why has this happened? Let’s take a look.
A Trial Of Instagram Removing Likes Is Underway
On Thursday, Instagram moved to hide likes on posts. This is an expansion of an already existing test. It has included some users in several countries over the course of 2019.
For now, in the US, this is only a test that will not affect most Instagram users. It is likely that even during this test, you will still be able to see likes on the platform. A Facebook spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch via email:
“Starting today, we’re expanding our test of private like counts to the rest of the world. The feedback from early testing has been positive.”
Will Likes Vanish?
Despite the hype, this is not exactly true. This test revolves around Instagram removing likes publically, but not removing the likes feature privately.
This means that users will be able to see the total number of people who have liked their post, as well as their Instagram usernames. However, other people will not be able to see the number of likes.
This means that you will still have access to this information on your own personal account. However, you will not be able to directly know your competitors like counts. On the bright side, your competitors also will not be able to size you up as easily based on this vanity metric.
This has been a controversial move, with some in favor of it and others against it.
Why Is Instagram Removing Likes?
In a Tweeted statement, Instagram explained their decision to experiment with removing likes:
“We want your friends to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get. You can still see your own likes by tapping on the list of people who’ve liked it, but your friends will not be able to see how many likes your post has received.”
This is part of a wider trend. Many tech companies are striving to make their products look “more ethical.” For example, Apple now offers a Screen Time feature. It shows users how much time they spend on certain apps. Twitter has also considered hiding follower counts.
In recent years, social media has come under fire. It has been said to negatively affect users’ mental health and have a toxic culture. Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram have gotten most of the criticism. A 2017 study even declared Instagram the worst social media platform for users’ mental health.
So, they are taking steps to address these issues. Removing likes may play into that.
Instagram’s Other Possible Motives
According to the Intelligencer, this may also have to do with how much the function of a like has changed since Instagram started. Likes were initially a way for someone to show that they approved of a post.
As Instagram has become algorithmically sorted rather than chronologically sorted, likes also play a part in determining what exactly users see. The like also serves as a metric that gives influencers a way to monetize their success. And it is still a way to communicate that you approve of a post.
Since the like has become so convoluted and powerful, it makes sense that Instagram might want to take it away or retool it.
A Controversial Decision
Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri said at the Wired25 conference:
“We will make decisions that hurt the business if they help people’s wellbeing and health.”
While Instagram claims this is a move based on pure altruism, others are not so sure. Many influencers and celebrities have threatened to leave Instagram. They think this is an attack on their livelihoods.
Some feel that this is a strictly money-motivated move by Facebook. They may want in on the millions that Instagram influencers get from brands every week. It has been suggested that they benefit from making it harder for brands to know which influencers are high performing. If they do this, Instagram will have to step in to help. Instagram removing likes gives them control over the process.
Many Influencers Are In Favor Of Instagram Removing Likes
However, numerous influencers are in favor of this change. They say that it is an engaged community that keeps their accounts alive, rather than just likes.
“It’s one of several analytics I use to determine how well something is performing, in addition to how many people save a photo, impressions, and reach, none of which are currently public-facing.”
Other influencers support Instagram removing likes. At a New York Times DealBook event, mega influencer Kim Kardashian West said: “As far as mental health…it would be really beneficial for people.”
What Does All Of This Mean For Brands?
This has caused mass hysteria online. However, it is important to remember that this is just a test. While it is likely that Instagram may choose to go in this direction globally, it is not guaranteed. There is also a good chance that if you log into Instagram right now, you can still see likes publically.
There has been a lot of debate within the digital marketing world about vanity metrics versus actionable metrics. These are metrics that indicate surface-level success versus metrics that really tell you if a brand is thriving. Likes usually fall on the side of being considered a vanity metric.
SEE ALSO: Are Vanity Metrics Dead?
Likes Are Just One Piece of the Engagement Puzzle
When it comes to determining online engagement, likes are just one piece of a much bigger puzzle. Even if users’ likes are no longer public, their comments and follower count will be. It will still be very easy to tell if users have a thriving community. Instagram removing likes for public viewing will not affect this.
Some think this is a ploy by Facebook to undercut influencers. Others fear that it will kill careers. These people have likely overestimated the importance of public likes. Also, remember that likes will still be viewable privately. They are not simply vanishing.
Final Thoughts On Instagram Removing Likes
Social media platforms (particularly Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram) have come under fire almost constantly in recent years. It looks as if the company is finally taking some of these criticisms seriously. They are trying to take measures to address them.
The threat of vanishing likes has caused a lot of panic and outrage online. However, it will likely not be the social media apocalypse that many are claiming it will be. Remember, this is just an initial test. Also, it takes a lot more than Instagram removing likes to define or tank a digital brand.
What do you think of Instagram’s experiment with removing public likes? Let us know below…