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No one has ever doubted that social media isn’t great for our soft little human brains. We’re not wired to consume content at the rate we do, or to be so concerned with the way the entire world sees us at any given moment. Despite this, sites like Instagram have become excellent marketing tools, perfect places to establish a brand, and over time a very well paid job for successful influencers.

When Instagram proposed the idea of seeing what would happen if they removed likes from the platform, the response was mixed. Whilst users would still be able to like each other’s posts, and each user would be able to view who liked their posts, the number of likes on someone else’s post would be invisible. In July 2019, the test began. Like-less Instagram is currently being tested in New Zealand and Australia, Brazil, Japan, Italy, Canada, and Ireland to see how the platform will look and function.

There’s no debate that removing likes might go some way to helping users feel less pressure to lead insta-perfect lives, and feel more freedom to post what they want without judgement or competing for likes from friends. The concern comes from those earning thousands from single sponsored posts or selling art through instagram. Without an externally visible indicator of the popularity of their content, they may struggle to maintain that source of income, as a lack of visible likes on their posts would dramatically alter how people perceived the value of their content.

Spend a little time with me

The biggest worry was that users would become disinterested with Instagram without the dopamine spike that goes along with getting likes on a post, and start spending less time on site. Less time on site leads to less engagement, less quality content, less money spent. 

However, the managing director of U.S social media co. The Social Chain, Oliver Yonchev, believes that going like-less is inevitable and will hugely change the relationship we have with the app. He believes being unable to see likes on other’s posts will actually result in users posting more, saying that one reason users don’t currently post more is the fear of being judged heavily by the like metric on the quality of the post. Removing that means a lot of people won’t feel that pressure, so they’ll post more, which could probably lead to more time spent on the platform, meaning more ads served to the community.

Get engaged

If time on site drops, it stands to reason that engagement will as well, especially as users will have no reason to ‘like’ things. However, engagement is really only measured in likes by other site users. When it comes to making money, engagement is measured by, well, making money. 

It was stated by the head of Instagram’s marketing, Noelle Kim, that removing likes will separate influencers with a “trigger happy” audience from those with a real connection to their followers. The latter are those that can actually really influence their following to spend money, as there is a trust there that many influencers don’t have, despite their posts garnering a lot of likes. 

For many marketing companies, working with influencers who don’t just rack up millions of likes on posts but who actually drive sales is imperative,  so whilst obviously larger influencers with high like counts on posts are desirable, they might not actually be as effective as those with smaller accounts who interact with their followers and who at least appear to be authentic. 

Whilst this is undeniably true, likes are the currency of social media. A recent survey of Canadian influencers found that more than 50% of those surveyed have seen the growth of their follower counts and the reach of their accounts slowed. Influencers in all the trial countries have noticed fewer likes and less engagement, which then further pushes their posts down in Instagram’s algorithm, which favours the posts garnering the most attention upon posting. 

Quality over quantity

The potential change could create a drive to make the highest quality content, all the time, as influencers won’t be able to rely on a like count to attract prospective brands, but instead will have to demonstrate their worth through the quality of their content. 

Marketers will be able to see a follower count but won’t be able to tell how engaged the audience is, so all the weight will be on the content itself. Creators will once again actually have creative control, forcing instagram into functioning as a meritocracy.  Time spent on platform, video views, engagement measured via comments and click throughs will become key performance indicators, instead of the otherwise meaningless ‘like.’

You like me, you really like me

It’ll be difficult to tell what the overarching, long term effects will be, and how it might impact on users in different countries. Like-less instagram might not be detrimental, and definitely heralds the end of instagram marketing as we know it. Marketers will have to work smarter, and influencers will have to shift their focus to keeping an audience actively engaged rather than just appearing as such. 

For such a small change, it could create ripples into industries far and wide.  It’ll create some confusion at first, sure, but we’ll figure it out.