To Like or Not To Like

Updated: Aug 23, 2019

‘The woman who does not require validation from anyone is the most feared individual on the planet’ Mohadesa Najumi

Instagram recently trialled the removal of displaying 'likes' on posts; which seems to have had a mixture of reviews. Here’s a breakdown of both the positives and negatives seen and suggested so far, and what businesses must do to adapt to the change.


Whilst attending Semi Permanent 2019 earlier this year in Sydney, I heard first from Ian Spalter, Head of Design at Instagram, state that Instagram was planning to implement a 'test' which removed the display of likes to help combat any negative influences this is having on users mental health, and last week, Australian Instagram users were first to see this trial roll out.


Nancy Sokarno from Psych With Sokz states, “I think this is a major step forward in reducing the re-assurance and validation seeking associated with the need to ensure our ‘self-worth’ is valued by others. We should never have sustained the thoughts we have about ourselves by the admiration of others through ‘likes’.


Mia Garlick, director of policy for Facebook in Australia and New Zealand, says limiting likes, so users can only see their own like count, is to ensure Instagram is a place where people feel comfortable expressing themselves.


"We hope this test will remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love," she says. "We are now rolling the test out to Australia so we can learn more about how this can benefit people's experiences on Instagram, and whether this change can help people focus less on likes and more on telling their story.”


Whilst this is the official statement from Instgram HQ, many are still sceptical about the intent.There is also the belief that this change is actually focused more on generating more advertising revenue than the concerns for mental health and peoples ‘feelings’.


Dr Belinda Barnet, senior lecturer in media at Swinburne University of Technology, says she is "100 per cent sure" that Instagram has a strong business case to remove likes. She says: "It's a big move and so they'd have a very good financial or strategic reason for doing so. I don't think they would make such a risky move for the purpose of public relations. You don't play around with likes just to make people think you care about mental health."


Barnet says the "influencer economy", where Instagram influencers charge businesses a great deal of money to post and promote them on Instagram, is an area the platform wants to tap into. "Instagram influencers can make hundreds of thousands of dollars a post, depending on who you are talking about, and those transactions take place outside the platform," she says. "It's not the end of influencers because you can still see how many followers people have, but the instantaneous public success of posts will certainly take a hit."


"Down the track it's a possibility they might hide followers unless you are a business page or advertiser as well," she says. "This is hobbling the people who make money from the platform without compensating the platform itself, namely influencers."


So it can be debated that the change is for one major reason only. For Instagram to make money. Small businesses account for 97.4% of all businesses operating in Australia, so trying to get small businesses to advertise is a key strategic goal for Instagram. But, it hasn’t been easy if you’re a small business trying to make some sales on Instagram. We know that businesses with a high level of social proof will receive a higher number of sales. Who wants to click on an ad that has zero likes? Well – now more people will. By removing the ability for people to see how many likes an ad has received, Instagram has allowed small businesses to advertise without the fear that their ads will have little engagement and therefore not preform well.


So what about influencers?

Firstly, Instagram has assured us that the change is only a public one. A post’s creator can still open their likes to view the names and numbers of people who have liked their post, and the test will not impact measurement tools like Insights and Ads Manager.


Unlike standard users, businesses and creators set up as a business page will still have access to their insights, a tool that you should be using to measure your own posts as well as previewing influencer insights before setting out contracts to work with them.


People are noticing a slight decrease in their number of likes and post engagement. Whilst the likes are not visible, they are still essential in the success of having an organic reach and will impact how the algorthicm ranks a post in the feed. That is, the more interactions a post has, the more ‘popular’and prominent it will remain on the Instagram feed.


Whilst this is still currently just a trial, I believe it will be a feature that will stick. As Instagram users, we have no control over the function of the app, just like the unchronological timeline people are still complaining over. So, what DO we have control over? Content! - what we post, how we post, and when we post.


Like everything in life, any move, action or circumstance can be broken down in to its benefits and disadvantages. Here is my list of pro’s and con’s on the ‘removal’ of the like count.


Pro’s

  • Those who were previously disheartened by others influx of likes compared to their own may now feel less anxious and pressures around posting, especially the younger generation of personal Instagram users

  • It allows the user to be more in control of what they like to post, without having to measure up to what they think their audience likes

  • It will hopefully bring the focus back to creating authentic and meaningful content without social pressures

  • We will see diversity in new posts, not just the same repetition of ‘popular’ posts or ‘like-bait’ giveaways and memes

  • Instagram believes that promoting business posts should now get higher ‘click-through’ rates – resulting in more sale possibilities


Con’s

  • For Instagram influencers, they will have to rely on companies wanting to reach out to them directly for insights without having a first glance at their generated likes

  • With the removal of visible likes, people have seen a decrease in interaction on their posts

  • The decrease of likes means a decrease of organic reach – this brings back the PAY TO PLAY notion of Facebook. Meaning, businesses will need to start spending money on promoting and boosting posts to get a wider reach


Whats next?

  • Focus on your content – make it ON BRAND, content should always inspire or inform

  • Still like posts! If you like posts, the more likes you will get in return, people usually feel obligated to return gestures :)

  • Ask open-ended questions in your captions – this will generate comments and conversations

  • Reply to any comments made on your posts – ideally in the first 1-2 hours. Do not post and disappear. This will atomically count as double your post interactions

  • Make people aware of new posts via story

  • Use insights – just because others cant see the likes, doesn’t mean you should be oblivious to your own. You should still track what generates likes, interaction and most importantly enquiries and SALES


With or without likes, I believe you should always be authentic to yourself. If you are a business, your posts should always be on brand and have a purpose. Do not let the removal of likes stop you from measuring your post ‘success’. Use insights to see what works and what doesn’t work for you. This means seeing which posts have greater ROI (return on investment), what you should do more of and what you should do less of. After all, most businesses on Instagram use the app as a form of advertising and as an online work portfolio in the hopes of making sales or securing new clients.


Now, we can focus on using Instagram the way it was intended: to give your audiences a direct look into your brand’s story. To give them exclusive access, show them the people who make up your business, paint a picture of the lifestyle surrounding your product… To conclude, likes do not equal sales. Focus on building relationships, creating awareness, building genuine engagement and delivering relevant sales messages.


What do you think on the topic? Let me know below!


Sneaky Tip: If you wish to view someone’s exact likes, you can copy and paste their image link in to a web browser and view them that way.


Businesses wanting to use influencers: You can also use www.socialblade.com to see any persons average likes, comments and engagement.

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