Instagram began hiding likes on its platform in early 2019, and the test is now well underway for select users in the US, as well as across Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan, and New Zealand.
But what does this decision really mean for influencers, brands, and more importantly, users worldwide? Let’s dig a little deeper into the real effects of this test.
Creation will become more authentic, consumption will not change.
Instagram's original mission was to “capture and share the world's moments”, but over time the platform became a playing field for the creation of unrealistic expectations for image and lifestyle, resulting in many users reluctant to post content in fears of it not “performing” or fitting with their followers expectations of who they are. Hiding likes won't reduce the social pressures of social media, but people might actually start embracing the true mission of Instagram by sharing more moments and engaging with others in a more meaningful way.
In terms of consumption, we don’t foresee a drastic change in user behavior. People will continue to like and comment on the images they like. That’s what we’ve been conditioned to do over the past 9 years. Early reports have shown that Instagram engagement has actually increased in countries such as Japan, especially among micro-influencers.
Influencer fraud will decrease and influencers will be valued based on true influence.
With no likes, how can you measure influence?
Over the last 5 years, influencer marketing has redefined the way brands communicate with consumers resulting in the industry being valued over $1 billion. One of the biggest fears that have arisen since Instagram began testing hiding public likes has been around how brands will source influencers and track their engagement, performance, and ROI. But cracks in influencer marketing were beginning to show long before the testing went underway, particularly around influencer fraud.
With it being increasingly easy for influencers to buy followers and likes, brands have been struggling to make the distinction between an influencer and their influence.
Hiding public likes does not mean that brands won’t be able to access engagement data; engagement will still exist. In fact, influencer performance might become more valuable than ever as brands have to become more thoughtful in the data they look at and make decisions from.
Amid initial fears, a deeper dive into the impact of hiding public likes on Instagram has highlighted 3 key takeaways: (1) consumers will still engage and might even be incentivized to post more, (2) truly influential influencers will continue to strive as the concern around fake likes will be removed from the equation, and (3) engagement data will not go away on the backend, it just won’t be visible on the front-end. Hiding likes might actually work in everyone's favor, including brands, influencers, and consumers..
Cost per view will become a more important indicator of success than cost per engagement.
The most important prediction we can make from Instagram’s move to hide public likes is the effect it will have on the type of content that will shape the future of the platform.
We don’t foresee a drastic change when it comes to people engaging with content, but we do foresee a shift in user behavior and how people are engaging with content. Whereas Instagram’s algorithm once prioritized likes, we can assume that the hiding of them indicates an effort to evolve user behavior away from clicking and towards viewing. As a result, Instagram’s algorithm might start to favor KPIs like impressions and video views. With public likes of in-feed posts hidden, we will see the rise of more ephemeral forms of content and a shift towards the story ecosystem.
It goes without saying that Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and now YouTube Stories dominate content consumption on social. Instagram rolled out its new story-editing feature Reels to compete with the short-form video dominator, TikTok. Short-form video has taken over and this is another attempt to further shift the ecosystem, this time from the ground up.
CPV will become the new CPE. Brands must find ways to create a large quantity of snackable video content, and it will mean becoming more forgiving when it comes to quality. In this case, user-generated content is the golden ticket to scale.
While Instagram’s decision to test hiding likes might come as a big shock initially, the change will ultimately become a native part of our day to day.
Remember when Apple introduced a whole new UI for the iPhone and everyone thought they would never become accustomed to it, or when Instagram reordered feeds from a chronological to algorithmic order and influencers were shouting from the rooftops to turn their post notifications on in fear that their content would never be seen again?
In order to stay relevant, platforms must make changes to prevent plateauing. If we know one thing about social media by now, it’s that users respond to innovation, even if it takes some time for them to adjust.
Like any successful business, Instagram is simply testing new methods to maintain their competitiveness. Even if this is all in an effort to increase their ad revenue, we have to be confident in the fundamental reality that without brands and users, Instagram and all other social networking platforms are worth nothing.