An Instagram World With No ‘Likes’ — How Does the Test Impact Advertisers, Users?
Instagram made a big move. What’s the official motive behind testing a social media world with no “likes”?
The CEO of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, stated in the announcement that the test in the U.S. and Canada was “about creating a less pressurized environment, where people feel comfortable expressing themselves."
For all intents and purposes, Instagram’s latest power move has an alibi: The platform claims to be more concerned with the well-being of its users than with making a profit. Whether or not the company’s true motives are in line with reducing mental illness in its young users — including their stress, anxiety, and depression — the test has certainly changed the way the platform operates.
Diving into the many possible outcomes of this potential change is essential for marketers and Instagram users, alike, in order to best understand what to expect from the future of social media.
Whether positive or negative, the removal of likes has garnered opinions from the masses. Feelings toward the test range from anger to animosity to excitement. The fact of the matter is, likes have been a major catalyst in the way Instagram is used and success is measured, both personally and professionally. For brands utilizing influencers for promotion, likes have acted as a currency by showing how engaged an audience is, while effectively helping brands make decisions on whether or not an influencer should endorse their product or not. Without it, the marketplace will have to be optimized by these advertisers as they uncover what’s to come on the forefront of social media marketing.
Why Instagram Users Are Angry
It comes as no surprise that many of the users who are angry fall under the influencer and celebrity category. For many of them, Instagram likes have completely built their platforms as social media stars. Many of them uncovered the amount of engagement it took from early on and were able to build a fan base of loyal likers in order to gain enough clout to start being paid for promotions. It has been hypothesized by some influencers that Instagram doesn’t actually care at all about the wellbeing of its users. In fact, while its CEO claims the company “will make decisions that hurt the business if they help people's health," others are claiming that the test goes deeper than that, and is ultimately in favor of Instagram’s business: It has been hypothesized that this is being done as a means for control.
While influencers do have a home on Instagram, the brand deals and partnerships they forge on the platform do not currently have anything in them for Instagram. Thus, the removal of likes could make it so that marketers opt to spend their advertising dollars directly through Instagram, more heavily utilizing Instagram’s advertising tools. This begs the question(s): Why would they no longer go through influencers? Can they still get a feel for the overall engagement a user has? Unfortunately, because the metrics marketers rely on when selecting influencers will no longer be visible, it may become challenging to obtain real and true metrics, as these numbers can be easily manipulated if sent over from the source.
And frankly, for some losing likes simply means stripping down and removing their online social status, and they don’t like it. The measurement of likes acts as a symbol for popularity and fame, and many have expressed their dislike toward the change because of this. Removing likes will make it harder for users to determine if someone is cool simply by measurement, and understandably, for those for which Instagram has helped shape careers, this poses a threat to their success.
Why Instagram Users Are Excited
More obviously, many Instagram users are excited; particularly younger users and their parents. Having the platform to rely on for social status and humble brags has created uncharted territory in the adolescent social scene. Likes are the most obvious cool factor when looking at a user’s profile. For regular users who peruse Instagram as a social tool and not to create a business, the pressure to depend on likes as a means of validation, a measurement of self-worth, and a ranking of social status, could completely shift the way young users post. This feeling of “not being enough” if you don’t have the most likes in your social circle is exactly what Instagram claims to be tackling head-on with this test.
But this may not just be a positive change for common users; some influencers have actually expressed their excitement and support for the change, as well. As mentioned, Instagram has evolved over the years from a simple photo-sharing tool to a space where people are constantly trying to be the very best on the scene.
Many users claim that a major shift in the way Instagram was used happened when it changed the feed from chronological order to placing the most engaging posts at the top. The reason many influencers rose to where they were when this change occurred was because people genuinely enjoyed the creative energy they were putting into their profiles. When top-engaging posts were the first thing seen upon opening the app, influencers (and regular users, alike) had to evolve with the change, if they wanted to continue to get the attention they were used to. As a result, many sacrificed their own creativity by means of posting something less original that would guarantee high engagement.
For those who have felt the need to conform to the more popular style of posts, removing likes would mean they may no longer feel constricted or bound to posting things that are guaranteed to perform well (i.e. attract enough likes to deem them relevant enough for the top of the feed). This may allow for a more fruitful array of postings from influencers, celebrities, and young users of Instagram, bringing back into the picture a sense of creative freedom and self-worth.
What It All Means for Users and Marketers, Alike
Whether or not the test is here to stay, the statement it’s made so far has shaken many of its users, and most have an opinion. From regular users — particularly those in Generation Z — to influencers and celebrities, and brands that use Instagram as part of their sales funnel, the feelings of frustration and utter glee are certainly worth evaluating as Instagram chooses how to move forward.
Hanna Anderson is a marketing coordinator at Hawthorne, responsible for online programs, generating business growth using websites, email marketing, online advertising and promotions, SEM/SEO, and social marketing. Her blog is intended to serve as a space to inform and discuss advertising and how it corresponds to Gen Z — written from the perspective of a Gen Zer, herself. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.