Mar 25, 2020

Instagram: Has Losing the ‘Likes’ had a Negative Effect?

You may well be aware that Instagram has jettisoned the public 'like' count from all posts.

As part of a recent platform tuneup, according to the Instagram leader, Adam Mosseri, this notable shift was designed to “reduce anxiety and social comparisons” across the platform.  In April 2019 a number of countries, including Canada, Brazil, Australia and Ireland saw the trial and it expanded to the US in November.

While reducing anxiety is a fair rationale for the move, the removal of ‘like’ counting has raised concern among businesses around social media engagement and brand awareness.

But, will removing Instagram’s ‘like’ counting functionality have a negative impact on your brand’s social media marketing activities?

Here we look at the dynamics of the platform change and if removing ‘like’ tallying could hinder your Instagram branding efforts in the long term.

Removing the ‘Like’ count: the immediate reaction

With more than over one billion monthly active users, Instagram offers a wealth of potential to brands and businesses across industries. But, has the removal of ‘like’ counting made this highly-engaged social media playground more difficult to navigate?

While some brands believe that the removal of like counting will prove detrimental to brand growth and awareness, others believe that the metric itself is superficial.

Talking to aumcore on the subject in January, Pierre DeBois, a contributing writer at CMS Wire claimed:

“Likes are superficial in interpreting online behavior against sales influence. In comparison, advanced analytics tools can apply iterative steps and inferential statistics to discover customer behaviors and opportunities richer than a like.”

Based on DeBois’s outlook, providing you have access to a well-balanced mix of Instagram data and engagement metrics, you will be able to quantify the success of your content while gaining insights that will empower you to improve your Instagram marketing strategy.

The removal of likes may be somewhat jarring to brands and marketers, but perhaps it’s more of a vanity metric than an insight into how a piece of content truly resonates with your audience.

Concerning influencer marketing, in particular, the removal of ‘like’ counting will have a minimal impact on brands that focus on offering genuine value to their audience and driving real engagement with Instagram users.

That said, not long after the ‘like’ removal initiative was rolled out in November 2019, influencers including Canada’s Kate Weiland noticed a reduction in the number of likes or comments their posts have received. 

The immediate reaction of Instagram users on both sides of the marketing coin (brands and influencers as well as consumers) has been mixed.

Singer Nicky Minaj, for instance, was disgruntled by the removal of ‘like’ counting, Tweeting that she would no longer post on the platform. And visual artist Peter DeLuce shared a similar sentiment, stating a belief that “the removal of the feature will take with it personal validation within the art world, thrusting art back into the subjective hands of the so-called elite”.

Instagram: Has Losing the ‘Likes’ had a Negative Effect?

One survey from 2019 shows that over 50% of influencers across industries say they have seen a slump in likes and follower growth since the change has been implemented. 

But, while this discovery suggests a negative impact (and a notably sour reaction to boot), it seems that influencer agencies that cement brand deals and marketing campaigns aren’t quite as concerned.

In conversation with Business Insider, Mike Blake-Crawford, Strategy Director at Social Chain, believes that likes are of mere surface value and offer little in the way of long-term growth:

“Likes are the currency of social media. It's going to separate influencers who have trigger-happy followers versus the ones who have a real connection with their audience and have the trust element."

It’s true that ‘likes’ are synonymous with social media platforms and ‘kudos’ among users, but the removal of the count feature highlights the fact that working with influencers focused on building long term relationships with their audience is the key to sustainable platform success.

Ultimately, what is good for the user is good for the brand. While the initial reaction has been something of a mixed bag, its motives regarding social health and anxiety are pure. And, that could count for a great deal.

What’s in a story? The link between ‘likes’ and Insta success

Naturally, with the removal of ‘like’ counting there comes change—a shift in marketing mindset. As we know, digital marketing is in a constant state of flux and as such, to succeed long term, the ability to adapt is key.

Based on that notion, Facebook and Instagram believe that the removal of ‘like’ counting on Instagram will push brands and influencers to post more original, value-driven content—which, in essence, is the aim of the game.

While influencers have reported a reduction in Instagram post performance since the removal of ‘like’ counting, as the platform evolves, there is an increasing number of ways to get creative and engage your audience on the platform.

Instagram Stories and video (IGTV) are among the most popular mediums for general influencer social media engagement, both of which prove more popular than your average Facebook post or Tweet.

Despite the fact that Instagram Stories do not display public engagement metrics—and never have—one-third of the most-viewed Instagram Stories are produced by businesses. Our human affinity for storytelling lends itself to the Instagram Stories format. It’s a medium that’s focused purely on connecting with the audience and vanity metrics including ‘likes’ and comments. And, that’s why as a medium, it’s so effective.

In addition to enduring the power of Instagram Stories (96% of US marketers alone plan to continue using Stories ads in the coming months), experts believe that IGTV could be the next big thing for Instagram marketers.

A brand that is known for its commitment to innovation, Netflix drives a wealth of brand engagement through IGTV by posting frequent content that entertains, amuses, and inspires.

Instagram: Has Losing the ‘Likes’ had a Negative Effect?

The brand’s IGTV channel launch content alone earned 967K views and more 6.6K comments. A testament to the value of video content in the social media age and an initiative that contributed to  the more than healthy viewer ratings of Riverdale (the show that Netflix was promoting with its video).

“The keys to brand success are self-definition, transparency, authenticity and accountability.” Simon Mainwaring

There is evidence to suggest that the removal of Instagram ‘like’ counting has had a negative impact on influencer post performance. But, there is no concrete data that shows a direct correlation between ‘likes’ and sales influence.

At this point, it’s impossible to say what the exact long term implications of the change will look like; however, a host of marketers and influencers believe that the removal of likes will place a greater emphasis on brand authenticity. 

By taking away the vanity metrics, brands will have to look at a broader range of insights to quantify the success of their Instagram content while finding increasingly innovative ways of driving audience engagement—and ultimately, that has to be a good thing, doesn’t it?

Dan Hughes
Dan Hughes

Dan is a content writer specializing in digital marketing, emerging tech, music and looking after a toddler. You can find out more about him and his work by visiting his Catchy Space.

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