Like Minded. Instagram Without Likes: Our Predictions.

“We want your followers to focus more on what you post, not how many likes your post gets.”

This is the statement for a recent Instagram update, unofficially released on Twitter, which is being privately tested. The changes could see the removal of public likes, that being, the ability to like a post is still present, but the number of likes a post gets will only be visible to the person who posted.

This is big.

So what does this mean?

The suspected release has already received mixed feedback from everyone from general users, to marketers and influencers. The main concern is, it will make it harder for influencers and creators to make money from posting content. Likes and engagements are often seen as a measure of success, not just by influencers, but by us all.

In the industry, we’ve always referred to page and post likes as ‘vanity metrics’. This is a term often met with adversity from clients. They come to us wanting more page likes, and more engagements on their posts. That all makes sense, but what’s the point if those engagements don’t convert into sales or increased brand awareness? If someone has aimlessly pressed like on your photo, without reading the caption or considering the content, it’s completely useless.

It’s far better to have a smaller audience of people who know what you do, or are willing to buy from you, than a large audience of people who click like and go no further.

Here’s What We Think

To us, this update looks like a great move. With less of a focus on likes, content will be at the forefront once more. Imagery, likes, caption, comments. That’s the order in which we see content. In fact, you actually see more text in a lengthy comment than you do of the caption before you opt to ‘see more’. This may sound like a small thing, but on social media, getting someone to ‘see more’ is a big favour to ask.

Users tend to pay more attention to the number of likes on a post, than the witty caption you worked so hard to polish. Sorry. That’s the way the human race works. Socially, we’re sheep. But digitally, we’re lemmings. If likes were less important, that caption might just get more of the limelight.

Content writers, influencers, and Insta-enthusiasts listen up. If this update goes through, we’ll have a golden opportunity to create some killer content. You have 1.3 seconds to grab someone’s attention on social media. If the likes are out of the way, a larger proportion of that time will be spent looking at captions. That’s where you have the most power. They say a picture paints a thousand words, and that may be true, but on social media people like to be spoken to. Choose your words well, and choose your words wisely, and they will do all the hard work for you.

Why Are They Doing This?

Of course, we have considered these changes from a business and marketing perspective. Instagram have, however, come at this from a personal health perspective. It’s great to see Instagram taking some responsibility for the less positive implications of global communication. Recently the pressure associated with social media, and the links between engagement and self-esteem, have become a far more open discussion.

At this week’s F8 conference, Instagram promised to “lead the fight against online bullying”. Improving their bullying filter to automatically hide comments intended to “harass or upset” people is just one of their planned updates. This is a great way to tackle users who consciously post negatively. We see it, and therefore it can be removed. However the unconscious, internal, negativity felt as a result of post engagements isn’t visible. We can’t see it, but can it be removed?

What Does This Mean For The Future?

Instagram have admitted that even their “fight against online bullying” will take years, and perhaps the psychological implications of online engagements will also. But, despite the removal of public likes being an unofficial test at the moment, it looks like a great place to start.

Overall it seems, as technology continues to evolve and develop, as our world becomes more digitally advanced and dynamic, we’re finally considering ways to focus on the human. Instagram’s mission statement is to “capture and share the world’s moments”. Now it would appear they’re formulating a third element: capture, share and support.

It may be a long road ahead, but it’s essential to address the downfalls of such advanced connectivity, in order to protect these applications for both the future generations of each platform, but also future generations of the human race.

Sarah Stuttard.

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Arts Council England Cornwall Council Cultivator ERDF