Instagram made a change and pretty much broke the internet. The social platform owned by Facebook has been running a trial in Canada since May that hides the number of “likes” from the public. Last month, they announced they would be expanding the change to Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Japan and New England, according to Ethan Jakob Craft writing in AdAge.
The reason, Craft explains, is “in the name of shifting away from the app’s emphasis on popularity. And while its ‘like ban’ is only in an exploratory phase in certain regions, and Instagram is so far declining to comment on its plans for the U.S. market, the internet has been freaking out, rattling everyone from influencers to social media analysts to companies that peddle likes.”
Account owners will still be able to see the number of likes on their own content, but viewers will soon see only “and others” where it used to see a number.
Instagram says they want followers to focus on the content itself, not how many likes they get. The reaction has been mixed.
“I think [hiding likes] is going to provide more value to folks creating content, and consumers are going to be able to get more meaningful interactions,” said Nick Cicero, VP of strategy at real-time video intelligence platform Conviva. “Hopefully this starts to deter the business of selling fake influence,” he adds, as cited in the AdAge article.
Selling fake influence is a massive industry, creating likes via both human workers and fake accounts and bots. As Craft explains, you can buy likes for around a penny each, sometimes less. So that massive following of your favorite Instagram star is likely – not always, but often – created out of thin air rather than actual influence.
“When the initial like-hiding roll-out for the Canadian market was first announced at Facebook’s F8 developer conference in late April, the company explained its move as a potential strategy to combat social media-related anxiety, online bullying and the perceived pressure to rack up as many likes as possible,” Craft continues. “Potential repercussions for social media influencers weren’t mentioned.”
For 19-year-old Instagram influencer Mikaela Testa, she calls it a “sad day for those who have Instagram as a job.”
“I’ve put my blood sweat and tears into this for it to be ripped away, it’s not just me suffering too, it’s every brand and business I know,” the Australian explains in an article in Cosmopolitan. She claims she’s making upwards of $12K a month from her Instagram account and associated membership site.
Real job or not is debatable, but real likes are getting increasingly hard to discern. Vanity metrics are coming under increased scrutiny and brands realize that a “like” is not the kind of quality attention they need.
Likes are fast, cheap and easy, just like a lot of digital ads. The problem is too many brands don’t want to do the deep dive to understand the bottom-line impact of those metrics.
“By far the biggest challenge for social media marketers is measuring ROI,” explained this post in Marketing Charts. “Faced with an inability to quantify revenues driven by social, few are using revenue and conversion metrics as their standards.”
Is Instagram doing this for the health and well-being of its users? Maybe. Or maybe there’s a larger business reason underlying the move. Maybe both. Regardless, if it puts a lid on the rampant “like-buying” industry, I think it’s a win.