You may have heard the news: Instagram has decided to prevent many Australian users from being able to see how many likes other users’ posts have.
The Facebook-owned social media platform made the announcement yesterday, revealing Australia to be a test market for the change as it looks to curb what it perceives as unhealthy behaviour.
“We hope this test will remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love,” Facebook ANZ policy director Mia Garlick said in a statement yesterday.
The move won’t change user analytics, so businesses and influencers will still be able to see how their posts are performing, although nobody else will.
While removing public visibility of likes may itself seem like a minor change, the decision has sparked a widespread debate in local digital marketing circles over the last 24 hours, as businesses and influencers try to get their head around the likely effects.
Instagram has become a popular place to do business, with many retailers relying on the platform as their largest online customer engagement tool, while influencers build and command followings which they then monetise through brand partnerships.
Views on the effect the changes will have on businesses using the platform are mixed. Those SmartCompany has spoken with generally agree, however, that hiding likes will put a higher premium on quality content.
Max Doyle, managing director at Hello Social, a specialist agency which works with Microsoft, Woolworths and others, says businesses will need to invest more in their content to get the results they’re used to.
“It’s going to make the platform more challenging,” Doyle tells SmartCompany.
“You’ll have to invest more money, in a nutshell.”
However, Doyle sees a silver lining for businesses, particularly those new to the platform who, he says, will be able to better compete with established accounts that have built up large followings already.
“[Influencers] aren’t going to have as much of an advantage as they’ve had in the past,” Doyle says.
“If they’ve spent a lot of time, money and effort building a following in the last few years, they won’t be able to rely on that.”
Content is king, Doyle says, and Instagram appears to agree. In justifying the change the company has noted its ongoing efforts to improve user experience and curb emerging views about the negative mental health consequences of social media.
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Rebecca Henriquez is the owner of Tahitian Body, a natural skincare brand specialising in customers with sensitive skin.
Henriquez says 70% of her website traffic comes through Instagram, which prompted concern when she heard about the announcement.
“Its already hard enough to get your posts seen on the platform and encourage engagement, especially for a new brand,” she tells SmartCompany.
Henriquez believes it’s too early to tell whether the effect on businesses will be negative or positive, but is worried nevertheless because of the importance of the platform to her company.
“People may not like posts as much as they did, which then impacts how many of our followers actually see our posts, which then impacts our bottom line financially,” she says.
Also, I think this move is Facebook trying to de-influence influencers. They’re seeing millions/billions of advertising dollars that they want funnelled into paid promotion going direct to users outside their ecosystem.
— Adam Liaw (@adamliaw) July 18, 2019
Perception of influencers to change
Natalie McKenna, a lecturer at La Trobe University and owner of a PR agency which represents influencers, agrees the perception of influencers on Instagram will change as a result of the decision.
“When the viewer sees a large number of likes, it influences our perception of how powerful the profile or person is,” she tells SmartCompany.
“Now we have to click through to see the number of followers a person has and that will be a measure of influence.
“Most people won’t do that when flicking through the feed.”
The power balance between influencers and more traditional business accounts on Instagram has been a hot topic of discussion. Small business owners report finding it more difficult to gain traction on the platform in recent years as influencers have proliferated.
Judy Sahay, founder of digital agency Crowd Media Group, says the change will likely curb sneaky influencer practices.
“Hiding likes is a great way to stop people removing images if they didn’t achieve a particular number of likes,” she tells SmartCompany.
“Talking to influencers all the time, they seem to remove images when they don’t get enough likes on their posts, which is a complete waste of time.”
Is Instagram even worth it?
Kiri Yanchenko, founder of probiotic skincare brand AMPERNA, says it has become harder for her business to get results on Instagram.
“I used to be a blogger and it was far easier to grow my account years ago,” she tells SmartCompany.
“Lately, no matter what I do as a small business, I have no visibility when my content is relevant and I’m helping people.”
Yanchenko says she’s unsure whether the change will result in a bigger focus on quality content, but nevertheless, is already considering other options for her business.
“I actually wonder why I am spending money creating content in the first place,” she says.
“Google Adwords has more ROI for us, in future, I may invest more there and recycle content for Instagram if I choose to stay.”
“Best thing since sliced bread”
Other business owners are optimistic about the change.
Stevie Angel, director of inclusive activewear business Active Truth, doesn’t think the removal of likes will impact his business negatively.
“We are focused on engagement and conversation with our community,” he tells SmartCompany.
“The self-esteem and comparison issues people feel when using social media is a significant social issue and we see this change as a positive step in the right direction.”
Small business owner Prosper Taruvinga agrees the change will be positive, calling it the “best thing since sliced bread” and predicting it will increase the importance of quality content.
“Having no likes and vanity matrices will make the small-to-medium businesses to actually measure what matters: value, relevancy and impact,” he tells SmartCompany.
“Instagram is a tactic — a tool in your business toolbox. It should never affect how you run your business.
“Half the time, those likes and comments can be bought, which gives people a false sense of what the actual perception or the business is.”