Any time Instagram makes a change — be that a new logo, a tweak to its algorithm or a major update to its user experience — controversy tends to follow. But experts say the hand-wringing over its newest move — which could remove public likes from users’ feeds — is probably overblown.
The social media platform has been testing the feature since May in Canada, and last week expanded the trial to Italy, Japan, Ireland, Brazil, New Zealand and Australia. Despite some misinformation circulated on the app in the wake of the announcement, users will still be able to see their own metrics, and influencers can choose to share these with brands.
The aim of the no-like feed, Instagram says, is to make the app a more pleasant and less competitive experience. The experiment debuted in the wake of a March 2019 study by the American Psychological Association that linked a rise in depression, psychological distress and suicidal thoughts among people 26 and younger to social media use. At F8, Facebook’s annual developer conference, Instagram head Adam Mosseri said that this feature was introduced to create a “less pressurized environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves.”
Mae Karwowski, CEO and founder of the influencer marketing platform Obviously, said the company has surveyed over a hundred influencers in Canada since the change rolled out, and 58% have said their like count has stayed about the same, while 33% said they were getting fewer likes. One response she heard from many, though, was that, “they liked that they had a little bit more range now — they didn’t have to post the photo that they knew was going to get the maximum number of likes because they know that potential partners are looking at every single post that they do. So you don’t just have to post that one sunset photo or that one avocado toast photo because you feel like you have to do that and you feel the pressure to keep your like count extremely high.”
A less repetitive feed would be good news for all users, not just those that use the platform professionally.
“On the other hand,” said Stephanie Cartin, co-CEO of Socialfly,”one of Instagram’s core values is community, and there is a feeling of belonging that comes with liking the same pictures as your peers.” Comments, however, will still be viewable to all, so they could replace likes as the standard metric of engagement.
One Vancouver-based brand, Native Shoes, said it hasn’t noticed a negative impact from the change in the past three months.
“We are fortunate that we are growing so quickly and recently our big product launch — The Plant Shoe — saw excellent engagement. That being said, we also make an effort to engage with our customers on as many channels as we can,” said Rebecca Boxall, Native Shoes’ VP of e-commerce and marketing. “The digital space changes constantly and, like all changes on its platforms, it’s something for us to monitor and be thoughtful about.”
Instagram does, at least, seem committed to its push into e-commerce, which in March expanded to allow users to checkout within the app when they click on a shoppable post. In May, it launched @shop, an account featuring curated brands, trends and influencers, including footwear and fashion labels Freda Salvador, Kurt Lyle and Aera. The app last year hit a billion monthly active users, and according to social media management firm Hootsuite, 60 percent of those users actively seek out and discover new products on the platform.
“We believe this change move will put more of an emphasis on Stories, IGTV, and Instagram Shopping, as brands will be able to track actionable metrics like swipe ups and purchases from these content formats, and calculate ROI and performance metrics,” said Zoe Marans, VP and General Manager at Mediakix, an influencer marketing agency.
Still, she said, the lack of public metrics may make it more difficult to determine pricing for sponsored posts and stories. “This may lead to more negotiation room as brands and influencers find new ways to work together, share messaging and determine effectiveness of ad spend.”