On November 9, 2019, the CEO of Instagram tweeted that they were going to start testing the waters of making the like count on posts private. People exploded with different opinions, from those who praised the move to those who claimed they would quit the platform altogether. Then on March 2, 2021, a programmer error led to a large group of people having their like counts hidden. And again people lost their minds.
So why is this test so controversial? What is it about the like count that drives people to have such divisive opinions? What is the good, the bad and the impact that this move will have on people and businesses?
For hundreds of years, people have tried to “keep up with the Joneses”. People would see the lifestyles of the rich and famous in magazines, in television, in film, and even in newspapers. Then social media came along. All of a sudden, you were seeing constructed images of people’s lives and they were getting rewarded for it. The amount of likes you received on a post became a status symbol. However, it also came with a hidden dark side. Instagram has been seen as the worst social media platform for health and well being, in a survey of British youth. The platform has lead to online bullying and body-shaming, as well as a feeling of inadequacy.
The hiding of likes is meant to be a preventive counter measure against these feelings. Several influencers have promoted the move, speaking out about how chasing after likes has taken a toll on their mental health. By removing the ability for the public to see what likes a post has the hope is that there can be more authentic moments, without the judgement. As Adam Mosseri said, “The idea is to try to depressurize Instagram, make it less of a competition, and give people more space to focus on connecting with the people they love and things that inspire them”.
For a lot of small influencers and artists, removing the like button may reduce the ability for these accounts to engage with their potential audiences. Many people are driven to these smaller accounts from larger accounts liking and sharing their posts. Clicking a like button only takes seconds and shows the creator that their post is appreciated. Another issue that people bring up is that the comment section will still be available, so is Instagram really addressing the core issue of bullying or just pandering to people?
For brand and marketing companies, the biggest implication is that it will become more difficult to find popular influencers to work with. This is going to push influencer marketing platforms to the forefront, because they will have the access to the influencers’ analytics. Another options for many brands is investing more into their Instagram Stories content. According to research from AdEspresso, of the 500 million people that use Instagram Stories on a daily basis, 62% become more interested in a brand after watching them on Stories.
Now that there is less pressure for creators to produce likes, they can focus on content that is genuine and creating relationships that are authentic. Which is the key for creating long-lasting customers who are loyal to your brand.
So what do you think about Instagram removing the like button? I personally am glad that it is going away, but I think that there is more that could be done in the name of mental health. While this makes it harder on social media marketers, I do think that likes have always been a fake number. There are influencers out there who buy likes and followers in order to make it seem like they have more clout. This may be the best thing to happen, because it will force companies to create that real and honest experience that we are all craving.