As most Canadians with an Instagram account now know, followers and creepers can no longer see their total “like” count on photos – at least, not for the time being.
For those of you living under a rock (or off the grid), it’s part of a pilot by Instagram that’s being tested in Canada that aims to draw a focus to the content of the photo-sharing site, rather than on the number of likes on a post. While users can see their own like counts, others would have to manually count the number of user profiles who liked an image if they really want to know the stats.
Not surprisingly, all eyes are on the influencers in the wake of the rollout, whose “likes” are literally currency when it comes to clients and campaigns. Some influencers can earn up to $15,000 for a single post (!). As Instagram’s head of product, Adam Mosseri, said last week at Facebook’s F8 developer conference, there are also talks about making follower counts less obvious on profiles. “We had a lot of questions from our clients initially,” said Jess Hunichen, co-founder of Shine Influencers, a global influencer management firm based in Toronto. “There have been some mixed reviews about it, but our clients are feeling it out.” If Instagram continues in this direction, she believes that the changes will drive a lot of brands and public relations agencies to work through management agencies to assess the effectiveness of their campaigns and weed out the ineffective influencers from the ones that will actually help your brand.
In the meantime, the move is far from the end of the income train for influencers. Like they currently do with Instagram Stories, they can easily snap a screenshot of the like count to send to clients. Hunichen believes that the move will actually refreshingly level the playing field in the marketing game. “I think we should be focused on creating amazing content, so I think taking away those public analytics does reinforce that, which I think is a good thing and it equalizes with other forms of marketing,” says Hunichen. “If we’re talking about billboards, for example, there are certain factors owners of them know – like the number of people who walk or drive by each day – but they can’t tell you how many people thought, ‘hey, I really like that ad.’ The change is a really interesting one for us to start playing with. We’re talking now about numbers of followers, [and] numbers of impressions, which we are still able to share, but because it’s not public,
it levels the playing field with other media both on and offline.”
As Hunichen highlights, rather than feeling upset, many influencers feel like their voices have been heard by the execs of the multi-billion dollar social media platform.
“I think there was an initial worry about what it means for brands, but there is also a feeling of ‘this is great; I want people to be focused on the content I create; I put a lot of time and passion into that content and I don’t want it to be too focused on how many likes it got,’” she says. Just as the move takes us back a step in terms of advertising, it does so in the social media game as well; back to the days when the “like” button was absent from Facebook photos, before Instagram was a thing and before we got so obsessed with those damn double taps.
For the average user, however, is the experiment really resulting on a new focus on the content rather than the numbers? Personally, I think the like-obsessed are still the like-obsessed – they just have to make a simple additional tap to see the number of likes. No biggie. Users still do get notifications when someone likes a photo – something that has been proven to release dopamine, the chemical associated with pleasure – along with access to the number of likes. So, the change may not result in curbing that addiction to monitoring the likes on that perfectly filtered photo at all.
It would be a far more drastic change if followers and users couldn’t see a list of “likers” at all – or if likes were removed from the equation all together. When it comes to the continued success of Instagram, the company needs to assess the impact the likes game has on the success of the site; after all, it could be the motivating force for posting for some. In reality, the change isn’t as dramatic as some are making it out to be.
On the positive, the (slight) change will likely inspire users to post content that they may know won’t result in the roll-in of “likes” the same way a bathing suit picture or a designed-for-the-gram food item or art installation would. And these photos won’t be at such a risk of being taken down to never see the light of day again if they don’t accumulate likes (it happens). The change also makes Instagram less of a competitive game of numbers and more about sharing moments of one’s life, encouraging users to post free of fear of not measuring up in the like count – and that’s definitely a good thing.
Instagram’s move comes at a time when digital detoxes, social media purges and phone-free meals have become commonplace in an effort to, frankly, feel better about life (it’s hard to keep up with those perfectly filtered Joneses) and to return to living in the moment and organic, real-life human connections. And while it marks a refreshing step back in time, it’s also a wakeup call that Instagram – while a personal photo album/highlight reel of your life – can change its site at its free will and users need to adapt, whether they like it or not.