Is the Instagram apocalypse upon us?

Katie Chandler
July 18, 2019
A neon sign of the instagram "like" icon

Our own Social Media star, Katie Chandler unpacks what the disappearance of Instagram likes means for brands.

So, as many of you may have noticed, there has been a sneaky change to the way the Instagram world operates. But, what does this mean for brands currently operating in the social sphere? Let’s unpack a bit behind the logic and the effects of the loss of the like.

If you’re not quite across the change, it’s simple – but effective. The total number of likes will now only be visible to the poster, meaning you can no longer see how many likes other users get.

This test means that content will now look like the below:

The prototype was originally leaked back in April. It sparked debates wondering whether or not this was a hoax, and if true, how it would impact brands and influencers on the platform. Since then, in classic social media style, the app has slowly been rolling out the change and now it has officially hit Australia!

So, what does this mean?

For users, this has been heralded by most as a step in the right direction for mental health, and a much needed move away from the popularity contest of the social media monster that particularly impacts younger generations. This isn’t new information to us. The negative effects of Instagram have been long documented, with research showing that the ‘highlight reel’ nature of the app can warp the perceptions of many of the more than 700million worldwide users.

For influencers, on the other hand, some are lamenting the change. The concern is that this new approach could drastically reduce not only their impact on the social platforms and the community they command, but to their own bottom line. As is currently the case however, it can be assumed that influencers with genuinely engaged fans will continue to enjoy the same successes. This change simply claims to support the spread of content that is actually engaging by cutting out the comparative aspect to posting.

For brands, the effects remain to be seen.

One potential issue is founded in the psychology of user behaviour on social media. Likes or reactions are often encouraged by a kind of ‘crowd mentality’ where users are more likely to engage with content that already has a number of likes than content that does not.

Firstly, because users immediately view content with X number of likes with more favour. This is founded in the concept of positive reinforcement as we feel a sense of belonging in a group – a sort of similarity bias for social circles.

Secondly, some users may be averse to being the ‘first’ like, or, liking content that appears ‘unpopular’. This ties into the effects of out-group mentality as users feel they are stepping away from group norms, and thus putting themselves at social risk.

But how does this impact brands? Well, I’m glad you asked…

Facebook’s algorithm supports the spread of content that is more engaging. This content is therefore served to more users, resulting in lower CPM’s across paid content, and higher reach and impressions on both paid and organic. By reducing the importance of the like, and potentially warding off users from double-tapping the kind of content they normally would, engagement rates could plummet. This means that the seemingly minor change could totally alter the way branded content performs, as well as what metrics are used to asses this performance.

As such, this could potentially make it harder for brands to cut through the clutter and communicate their agendas – but, with #sponcon being a big part of how the platform makes money I wouldn’t bet too hard in the favour of the altruistic ‘let’s help the users’ claim.

Alternatively, as spouted by Instagram, this change could pave the way for genuinely engaging content to be championed across the platform. By taking away the visibility of comparative performance, user behaviour may be reconfigured to respond to posts based purely on the effectiveness of the content, rather than the implication of the response of other users.

Does this sound a little Black Mirror-ish? Do we really place this much importance on a simple number of likes?

You betcha. That’s why I have a job after all 😉 This change will hopefully encourage brands and agencies alike to think more creatively and produce better quality content. For the minute though, this is just a test, with no clear decision on whether it will be the new normal for the rest of the world. But it certainly supports the current trend implying that private is the future of Instagram.

Have any thoughts or feelings on the above? Questions maybe? Let us know! Or like, shoot us a DM, or chuck us a like – whatever, we all only exist in the social sphere anyway… or do we?

Written by

Katie Chandler
Katie Chandler
A social media native hailing from Zimbabwe, Katie uses her creative nature and analytical mindset to develop, implement, and optimise social performance. Specialising in all things social, from content creation and strategy, to media buying and reporting, she has a forward-thinking and passionate approach to social excellence.

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