Instagram has eliminated the highly coveted like count on the bottom of each user post; or, Instagram has done this in Canada, as a test. If you are outside of the Canadian market, you probably aren't aware of the uproar, but north of 60 we are witnessing the absence of likes and an attempt to rewire how users are accustomed to treating the platform. This is a controversial move that will undoubtedly have a ripple of impact, we've compiled thoughts on why Instagram made this decision and what the outcomes may look like.
Engagement First Media
The initial communication by Instagram about what this move is intended to accomplish is a push towards engagement. The platform recognized the growing economy around its platform of artificial likes and follows and wanted to de-incentivize the aggregation of likes in favour of quality engagement between users. Perhaps the most notable example of like aggregating is in the influencer economy where volume of likes is literal currency in their business relationships with companies working to share their products with an influencer's audience.
The Influencer Economy
This community has been vocal about the absence of likes but some seem for the move while others are starkly against it. The individual users retain the ability to capture their like count and on business accounts a user can still capture all of the metric data and engagement data that has always been available to them.
A potential net benefit of this move is for the brands that work with highly influential Instagram users. When likes and engagement are purchased the data reaching brands about the quality of their investment is blurry, especially when that data is based on likes as the primary KPI (key performance indicator). More sophisticated brands tend to request more detailed information, but a sweeping strategy can result in a perceived information overload when many influencers are engaged and it is easy to wrap up results with the like count in favour of more comprehensive review. With many (I'd suggest most) influencers, the fraudulent likes is a non-issue, but there are always a percentage that are manufacturing their social presence in place of genuinely engaging.
I predict that the influencers garnering engagement and influence through high quality content will continue to see their brand flourish and will ultimately see these efforts further rewarded because their metrics will not waver. Those influencers who are working to accomplish a volume presence in place of a quality presence will quickly lose their ability to attract valuable brand partnerships.
But will this Make a Difference?
Another element of Instagram's strategy is to fix what has become a socially pressurized environment, eliminating, in part, a space for creativity and turning it into a space for approval. This seems to be motivated by a move to the social good, to the eradication of Instagram being a channel where bullying is pervasive and where people turn to find instant self-gratification through the comments and likes of strangers.
It appears that this move has piqued the interest of other tech CEOs, including Jack Dorsey of Twitter who has also noted an interest in removing the metrics. A conversation with Buzzfeed news revealed that he didn't know if meaningful content and participation should be directly triggered by a follower count. Perhaps the age of social media influence is changing and we are seeing a shift back to the early core values of these platforms; time will tell.